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UNC Coach Roy Williams Confronts Recruiting Obstacles

UNC's head coach is aware that the NCAA investigation isn’t his only obstacle on the recruiting trail.

Roy Williams recently posed a question to "very knowledgable" high school coaches and players.

Outside of Kentucky, UNC's head coach asked, what school has the most early NBA entrants in the last 10 years?

“There’s 351 Division I teams, one kid gave me 349 names,” Williams said. “But we’re the second most. But it’s promoted that North Carolina guys stay around.”

Williams said at the ACC Operation Basketball event last week that recruiting has been “more difficult” with the ongoing NCAA investigation looming over his program.

“I know that because of the stuff that’s been going on for the last two and a half years, I know we’ve suffered,” he said. “I’m not saying that’s the only reason, but you go back and look. We had a pretty good run of a lot of McDonald’s All-Americans and all of a sudden we don’t. Maybe they think I got dumb a lot quicker. I can get dumb with the best of them but I don’t know that it was that fast.”

North Carolina signed 15 McDonald’s All-Americans (including J.R. Smith) in his first seven seasons in Chapel Hill and 11 in his last six.

None of the Tar Heels’ 2015 signees – Luke Maye and Kenny Williams – played in the prestigious game. It was Williams’s first recruiting class at Carolina, in which he signed a player, that none made the McDonald’s game.

Duke freshman Brandon Ingram said publically, on multiple occasions, that had UNC’s NCAA situation been resolved, he’d likely have signed with the Tar Heels. Other recruits have said publicly, and privately according to InsideCarolina sources, that they were scared off by potential NCAA penalties.

And the evidence supports it.

Of the 37 players who received a Carolina scholarship offer in the classes of 2015 and 2016, only nine took official visits to Chapel Hill. That's an unprecedentedly low ratio for the Williams era at UNC.

But the NCAA isn’t the only issue the North Carolina staff is dealing with, and Williams knows it. Among grassroots travel coaches, trainers, players and parents there’s a perception that Carolina isn’t amenable to “one-and-done” players.

“The media promotes the idea of our guys staying more than anybody,” Williams said. “Look at last year, we had either 15 or 16 (players in the NBA) and some other school had 10. But it’s promoted that ‘oh you go to North Carolina, Roy puts his handcuffs on you’ and stuff like that. We fight myths all the time in recruiting.”

Since his arrival in 2003, Williams’s teams have lost 21 combined seasons of eligibility among the 14 players (not including P.J. Hairston) who left early for the NBA.

“Tyler Hansbrough stayed around,” said Williams. “Marcus (Paige) stayed around. We had Brandan Wright and Marvin Williams; I would recruit them today if they told me they were going to be there one year. I’d be the happiest guy in the world to coach them for one year. What John (Calipari) has recruited, what Mike (Krzyzewski) has recruited, I tried to recruit those same guys.”

Williams also dismissed the notion that he targets players more likely to stay in college for multiple years or that the lack of recent recruiting success is because he hasn’t embraced relationships with culturally prominent celebrities.

He said he tells all the players he recruits one thing.

“I tell them, ‘while you are here, I want the University of North Carolina and our basketball team to be at least one of the most important things in the world to you… while you are here.’ I am old school. I am old fashioned, but I don’t think I’m that much different from other guys. If somebody tells me I have to hang out with somebody to be successful as a coach, I’d probably have a problem with that. And I happen to like Drake, and I happen to like LeBron.”

To combat the negative recruiting and stigmas that – fairly or unfairly – have been attached to the UNC program, Williams and his staff has been far more aggressive with players in the classes of 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. They’ve shown a willingness to step out of their traditional comfort zones to build relationships.

Twenty-two offers to the class of 2016 was the most for UNC under Williams and the Tar Heels offered and received a commitment from Jalek Felton before the spring semester of his sophomore season.

Several players in the classes of 2018 and 2019, who already have ACC offers, have visited North Carolina. Sixteen recruits visited for “Late Night with Roy” last month, seven of which are in the freshman or sophomore classes.

A favorable response from the NCAA could be a boon for Williams moving forward. Until then, he wants to make it clear that coming to North Carolina doesn’t mean staying in school longer than players believe they should.

“I say that we’ve gotten to be a bus stop,” said Williams. “I’ve said that publically between high school and the NBA, but while you’re at my bus stop enjoy the crap out of it. And while you’re there work your butt off and when it gets to be time for you to leave, I’m with you.”

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