Smith, Coleman Make Strong Cases

While North Carolina is presently occupied with its upcoming showdown against Wisconsin, soon the Tar Heels will enter arguably the most important recruiting cycle of the Roy Williams era.

Because there’s just one recruit in UNC’s 2015 class and multiple upperclassmen on the current roster, the Heels will hit the road this spring with ample scholarships at their disposal and numerous priorities.

This past weekend I stood face to face with two of the players who already feature prominently into the squad’s priorities at point guard: Dennis Smith and Matt Coleman.

Smith competed at the Super 60 Showdown in Knightdale, N.C., and Coleman attended the Virginia Top 80 event in Norfolk.

Smith is a junior who looms as a potential one-and-done talent and is undertaking a fierce recruitment involving UNC, Duke, N.C. State and others, while Coleman is a sophomore who doesn’t yet possess a UNC offer.

The two nevertheless are linked at least somewhat in a communal fashion, given that Carolina already holds a pledge from fantastic sophomore guard Jalek Felton and has offered other junior point guards Seventh Woods — to whom they’ve always been closely connected — and Kobi Simmons. Even if everyone wanted to commit, they can sign only so many.

By the 2016-17 season, Marcus Paige will be gone, Nate Britt will be a senior and Joel Berry a junior. While two point guards would appear to be serviceable depth for many programs, Roy Williams always has wanted three scholarship players at that position and certainly would love to sign an impact scorer.

As a natural talent, Smith would be the most gifted point guard Carolina has signed at least since Tywon Lawson from the Class of 2006. He has improved his jump shot significantly and could become a dominant offensive player quickly upon his arrival to college.

Smith isn’t a classical playmaker and definitely will need to sharpen his defensive technique, decision-making and maintain focus throughout a game, but he had the switch turned on this past Saturday in Knightdale and by far was the event’s most impressive player. (Fellow blue-chip junior Edrice Adebayo also was in attendance, among other high-majors.)

Many fans have lamented this season the Tar Heels’ lack of a guard who can break his man down off the dribble, and that’s exactly what Smith does. He’s a much-improved shooter but still frequently utilizes quick, shifty drives that, at 6-2, he can finish with blossoming upper body strength or arguably the best agility of any guard in the junior class.

He doesn’t possess Woods’s fullcourt speed or one-footed leaping ability, but he certainly would thrive in a fullcourt setting. Smith travels with Adidas-backed Team Loaded and some view his affiliation as a hindrance, but he has made multiple visits to Chapel Hill and appears to be a top target for the UNC coaching staff.

Moving to Coleman, it would be overstating the case to identify him as Smith’s antithesis, but he certainly is a more traditional floor leader. In fact, watching him closely on Sunday, the first thought that popped to mind was, “This is a Dean Smith point guard.”

Coleman runs the show, directs the action, moves without the ball better than nearly any high school point guard you’ll see, and possesses an intrinsic understanding of offensive rhythm.

But he also can score. He doesn’t shoot as well as Marcus Paige or pass as well as Kendall Marshall, but he bears some favorable qualities of both. He’s the floor leader and started for the Boo Williams 17-under team as a rising sophomore for that reason, proving himself at an early age against national competition.

A southpaw, Coleman is quick and fast and a clever finisher on drives with either hand. He has improved his mid-range shooting and hits some threes as well, but right now he remains very streaky from deep.

He enjoyed a huge sophomore year and the Hampton Roads area fans — who know their basketball in a talent-rich area — rave about him. Coleman visited UNC for the Duke game and believes that all of those schools interested in him will offer by the end of April, because as he said on Sunday: “I’m going to prove why they need me.”

He holds offers from Virginia (his mother is a UVa graduate), VCU, Connecticut and others, while the Tar Heels join Kansas, Arizona, Syracuse and Ohio State on the interested list.

The next question, then, is whether the Smith and Coleman recruitments work in conjunction, keeping in mind the other relevant guards.

Smith could become Carolina’s first one and done player since Brandan Wright in 2007, and if that’s the case — or at least appears it will be the case — he likely wouldn’t affect Coleman at all.

More likely, Smith, Woods and Simmons overlap and UNC certainly would be happy to land any one of the three, while getting two may prove highly challenging. Moreover, if UNC were to sign two blue-chip guards from the 2016 class, that likely would put them out of the Coleman sweepstakes.

The Coleman recruitment must include an accounting for Felton, whom we and many others list as a point guard. That said, Felton stands 6-3 with long arms, and thus he easily could split point guard duties and defend the opposing shooting guard. He told Inside Carolina earlier this month that he expects to play the “two-guard role” at UNC because of his scoring ability.

At this early stage, then, I’d be surprised if Felton’s presence on the commit list would deter UNC from offering Coleman, or that Coleman would shy away from UNC for that reason. But only time will tell.

Clearly, the Tar Heels are fortunate to have so many elite guards within a three hour drive from Chapel Hill, and the upcoming cycle — as critical as it is — likely will prove a more local and regional affair than their most recent efforts.

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