LOOKING AHEAD TO 2007
by Eric Bossi
After Roy Williams wrapped up what promises to be one of the most impressive recruiting classes in some time for the class of 2006, North Carolina fans are eagerly anticipating what Williams and the Tar Heels have in store for 2007. Adding to the anticipation is that the Heels find themselves in a unique situation regarding scholarships. Technically, there is only one available scholarship for the class of 2007, but anybody who follows college basketball and recruiting in this day and age knows the very real possibility that another scholarship becomes available.
Instead of spending time trying to figure out exactly how many or how a scholarship or two may open up, let's instead focus on the known targets out there. Certainly many of the 2007 prospects have been covered in depth, but the midway point of the college and high school season serves as a perfect time to take a look at the class of 2007 and cover each player's strengths, weaknesses and any of the latest juice on what's happening with their recruitment.
Kevin Love - Given the attention that the North Carolina staff has already given the 6-9 power player from Oregon, it could be argued that Love has emerged as the Heels top priority in the class of 2007. For good reason, too, because he's one of the most polished young post players in years. He cleans the glass, scores inside and out, has tremendous footwork, incredibly strong hands and ignites fast breaks with his crisp outlet passing.
There have been plenty of young big men who posses some and at times all of the skills that Love has at his disposal, but few have ever shown the ability to put them all together on a consistent basis. This is where Love sets himself apart. He never seems to have an "off" game and that is due in large part to his fiery personality and refusal to let the guy lining up across from him beat him. Where several young players fall into the trap of relying on their natural athletic ability, Love has found a way to maximize what he has athletically while perfecting and honing his skill level.
The general worry, or critique with Love has been that he is only an average run/jump athlete and that he has appeared to have room for significant conditioning improvement. These concerns are legitimate, but considering that he's had knee troubles in the past, it is a great sign that he's come out this winter in much better shape than before.
On the recruiting front, Duke, North Carolina and UCLA are the three front runners, with schools like Arizona, Kansas, Ohio State, and Washington among others finding themselves in his second tier. He's been to UCLA unofficially and has made no secret about the fact that he'd like to play with another UNC target and summer teammate, Kyle Singler. Thanks to recent commitments of Nolan Smith and Taylor King to Duke, neither the Blue Devils nor the Tar Heels have two available scholarships at the moment, but it is a safe bet that they or any other school would find room for the duo. Although he hasn't committed to a timeframe, most expect that he'll decide sometime in June or July.
Also Claiming UNC Offers
Derrick Rose - Known lovingly as "Pooh" to those closest to him, the six-foot-two inch floor general is one of the most publicized players to emerge from Chicago in quite some time. When you take a second to realize how much talent the city produces and how quickly, and often, the hype machine gets cranking regarding young players from Chi-town, you can't help but wonder if the expectations and hype aren't unreasonable.
Then you watch the Simeon star do what he does and you quickly understand why his game has generated such a buzz. For lack of a better description, Rose does things that no other guard in the country can do and he does them several times a game. While it would be easy to attribute his on-court exploits to his sublime athleticism and lightning fast first step, simply calling Rose an athlete would be a discredit to what he does.
He's a basketball player and a darn smart one at that. He understands floor spacing, gets his teammates involved and attacks as soon as he senses confusion or weakness in a defense. He's most lethal on slashing drives along the baseline that he finishes with slick passes, towering jams or hanging floaters but he's been expanding his game. He gets excellent elevation off the floor for jumpers, breaks down defenders at will with the dribble and is learning to use his gifts on the defensive end of the floor. The knock against Rose is that he is too passive at times or tends to disappear for long stretches and that has certainly been the case on occasion. Still, the positives he brings to the table far outweigh the negatives and people sometimes forget that he's just starting the second semester of his junior year in high school.
Famously soft spoken and shy, Rose has elected to let his older brothers Alvin, Dwayne and Reggie handle much of his recruitment. Of the group, Reggie -- the career scoring leader at Chicago (Ill.) Hubbard High and a former Division I hoops player -- has emerged as the spokesperson. General thought says that Illinois and North Carolina are the early leaders but it would be foolish to rule out other schools such as DePaul, Virginia, Louisville, Memphis and Kansas this early in the game. Rose will most likely break a Simeon tradition and commit sometime during the summer rather than waiting until the end of his senior season.
Kyle Singler - Even though he's just starting the second half of his junior season, the 6-8 forward has already drawn comparisons to some heavy hitters. Some have compared him to Larry Bird while others have compared him to Dirk Nowitzki. No matter who he gets compared to, there is little doubt that few, if any, players in the class of 2007 can match his versatile inside/outside ability.
A quiet kid who goes about his business, it is easy to watch him play and not realize exactly how much he's getting accomplished. He hits deep jumpers with ease, but never seems to settle for them. He gets to the rim off the dribble when he needs to, but always seems to be under control. He handles the ball when necessary, firing laser beam passes to open teammates for easy baskets, but never seems to force anything. On top of all that he's a pretty good defender and a sensational rebounder.
Because of his lack of flash, critics have misinterpreted his fundamental and clean style of play to question his athleticism. Still, he elevates effortlessly for alley-oop finishes and never seems to have any trouble creating space for his shot. He also starts at quarterback for his high school football team, his father played football at Oregon State and has has uncles who played either football or basketball at schools like Texas, Oregon and Stanford. Throwing out athleticism as a concern, he would benefit from continuing to improve his ball handling and there is a question as to whether he is more suited to play as a big small forward or a supremely skilled face up four man, certainly a dilemma that any coach or fan would be more than happy to deal with.
As recently as late December, Singler told the Portland Tribune that his top three were Duke, Kansas and UCLA, while other newspapers and sources have reported him to have a top five that also includes North Carolina, Arizona and sometimes Oregon or Washington. While his buddy Love has been quoted often as saying that there is a great possibility that he and Singler play together in college, Singler himself has been a bit more reserved on the subject. Much like Love, Singler figures to make a summer decision but it would not be a surprise to see his recruitment stretch into the fall.
Eric Wallace - Of the four North Carolina recruiting targets reported to have garnered early offers, Wallace may be the biggest mystery. While there is zero doubt about his ability to run and jump, or whether or not he has shown flashes of being a great player, there are questions as to just how high a priority the homegrown product remains for the North Carolina staff.
After bursting onto the scene as a freshman and making the underclassmen All-Star game at the prestigious ABCD camp prior to his sophomore year, Wallace was considered by many to be a top 10 prospect in the class of 2007. Due in large part to the early notoriety he enjoyed, few -- if any -- prospects in his class have been scrutinized as closely as Wallace. After some sub par outings last summer, and a near transfer to LeBron James' high school in Ohio, some of the criticism has been quite pointed and quite personal.
The critics will argue that he is just an athlete who can't shoot or dribble and those are certainly areas of his game that need to be improved. However, Wallace isn't going to lose his top flight athleticism, has a college ready body, plus he rebounds well, generally plays hard and is a much better passer than most give him credit for. It is probably a bit unfair that he's been this scrutinized at such a young age, and he's a likeable kid who has the talent and ability to turn things around. Prepstars.com analyst Rob Harrington recently cited Rajon Rondo as a player who experienced a similar rise to, and fall from, glory like Wallace's and there is nothing to suggest that Wallace can't end up on top like Rondo did.
Along with North Carolina, area schools like Clemson, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech have continued to monitor his progress closely, while coaching staffs from the likes of Florida, Arizona, UConn and Baylor have shown serious interest as well.
Strong Candidates For UNC Offer
Tyrel Reed - Reed is a kid who North Carolina and Roy Williams have been familiar with since Williams' days at Kansas. His father worked Kansas basketball camps and North Carolina watched him several times during last summer. Williams was out to see him in the fall and will be making a return trip to Kansas soon -- perhaps as early as this week -- to watch him. A smart playmaker who is big enough and shoots well enough to slide over to the two, Reed has drawn comparisons to Kirk Hinrich for both his physical features and style of play. North Carolina currently sits atop his list with Kansas, while others like Georgia Tech, Stanford, Kansas State, UNLV, Tennessee, Iowa and Virginia have all expressed strong interest.
Julian Vaughn - Of those yet to draw a scholarship offer, Vaughn is certainly among the most realistic possibilities to get one. The sweet shooting big man who is filling out physically and improving his game around the basket has made it clear that he is interested in North Carolina as well. He's already been on campus several times and it is quite clear that he's enamored with all the schools on Tobacco Road, considering he's also made several stops at Duke, North Carolina State and Wake Forest as well. Aside from his trips to the triangle area, Vaughn has also seen assistant Steve Robinson at several of his practices and games. Roy Williams will undoubtedly be on-hand for at least one of his games this season.
Also Listing UNC
James Beatty - A homegrown product who has yet to establish himself on the national radar, Beatty is a longshot to earn a scholarship offer from the Heels. Still, the 5-11 floor general does have some potential and is being watched closely on the mid to high major level. He runs his team, creates easy scoring opportunities for his teammates and has shown that he could develop into a scoring threat as well.
Matthew Bryan-Amaning - Frustration runs high in those that have watched the athletic 6-9 power forward from England. He runs extremely well, moves fluidly around the perimeter and gets off the floor to grab rebounds above the rim. He shows just enough signs as a scorer on quick spins in the lane and 12-foot jumpers to get people excited and then he goes quiet for long stretches of games. He's clearly a high major level talent and probably has the potential to be a top 50 type player nationally. However, he's got to start being more consistent if he'd like to draw offers from some of the elite schools who have taken an early look at him.
George Goode - After watching him some during the summer, the Tar Heels inquired about this slender forward with a pure stroke from the perimeter, but they have yet to venture out to Kansas City to take a look at him. He's a natural face up power forward looking to make the transition to the wing because of his shooting ability and is capable of putting up points in a hurry. He's got long arms, good athleticism and plenty of upside -- and coaches from places like NC State, Arkansas, Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, UNLV and several other high major programs have been out to see him.
James Hickson - Although he hasn't attracted a scholarship offer yet, it wouldn't be a surprise to see this explosive athlete get a long look from the Carolina staff. He isn't well known yet outside of the East Coast, but he's a big time talent just waiting to explode. More than a gifted run/jump guy, Hickson is developing the ability to step out and hit mid-range jumpers and those who have seen him extensively love his long term potential.
Michael Holmes - A tough but undersized power forward who plays the game in a hurry. He's a ball of energy who barrels through the lane on athletic drives, runs the court and is an exceptional rebounder for his size. In order for him to attract more attention and scholarship offers from the elite programs he's going to have to slow things down a little. It's good to have energy and you would never want to take away from his enthusiasm, but sometimes his whirling dervish style gets him into trouble.
Jamelle Horne - This athletically gifted small forward is a highlight reel type finisher on the fast break. His ability to finish above the rim, get on the offensive glass and ever improving jump shot earned him some early looks from the Carolina staff. Things don't look to have progressed that far since the summer in terms of the relationship between he and Carolina and it would be a bit of a surprise if Horne left the West Coast for college.
DeAndre Jordan - After bursting onto the national scene last April with an incredible performance at the Kingwood Invitational, the 6-10 Houston product continues to entice. He's a top shelf athlete who elevates quickly to block shots on defense and he's a capable scorer on offense. He uses quick spin moves to get to the rim for dunks and can spin to either shoulder for short turnaround jumpers or jump hooks. He's got to add weight to his frame and learn to better control his emotions. He's got the ability to develop into an elite prospect and has continued to mention North Carolina as a school he's interested in.
Dallas Lauderdale - During the late summer and early fall it was reported that this underrated big man from Ohio was a near lock to commit to Ohio State. Now it's mid January and the 6-9 and growing center has yet to commit, but the Buckeyes remain among the favorites. That being said, it isn't entirely clear how seriously North Carolina has pursued him even though he has listed the Heels in his top five. Still, he's got good hands and soft touch around the basket and has continued to improve each time out.
Isaiah Rusher - A big and strong defensive minded post man, Rusher drew early looks but hasn't mentioned North Carolina much lately. Reports this winter are that he hasn't developed as much as hoped and most expect him to follow his close friend, PG Jai Lucas, to college.
Michael Sanchez - This strong bodied power forward generated a pretty good buzz late last spring when he led his Arkansas Hawks team to the finals of the 16U division of the Tournament of Champions. He plays hard around the basket, runs the floor pretty well and has the skills to face up and hit jumpers to 17 feet. The Heels have remained in contact along with schools like Arkansas and Oklahoma. He comes from an athletic family and his sister plays basketball at Oklahoma.
Nick Sidorakis - Relatively unknown outside of the Midwest, he's a coach's son with a big time stroke from the perimeter. Primarily a wing scorer, he needs to improve his lateral quickness. He drew a fall visit from the North Carolina staff, but things do not appear to have progressed any further.
Chace Stanback - A long and skinny wing, Stanback will be one to watch this spring and summer. He's yet to mature physically but has a big time feel for the game, smooth stroke from deep and a nice handle. As he develops physically and finds a comfort zone with his game, he's got the ability to catapult onto the national scene and see his profile rise. His father played football at UNC and he has family from the area but has only had limited contact with the UNC staff to this point.
Corey Stokes - One of the most physically impressive wing prospects in the class of 2007, Stokes has been compared to Mitch Richmond and Martell Webster because of his body and deep range. He can light up the scoreboard in a hurry but sometimes goes relatively quiet because of a deep and ridiculously talented high school team. He mentioned North Carolina early in the recruiting process as a school he'd like to hear more from but hasn't heard much from the Carolina staff to date.