Heels to Sign Nation's No. 1 Class

The North Carolina basketball program will receive five Letters of Intent on Wednesday that comprise the consensus top-rated recruiting class in the country.

Officially becoming Tar Heels are John Henson, Leslie McDonald, Dexter Strickland, David Wear and Travis Wear.

"Get a pen and paper, add up the numbers," says Dave Telep, of Scout.com. "Look at the star power in Henson, two really solid college frontcourt guys in the Wears, a replacement for Marcus Ginyard in McDonald and a guy who can give you scoring punch in Strickland. When you add up the numbers and look at the overall impact, UNC finished with the No. 1 class."

Rob Harrington, of PrepStars.com, concurs with the No. 1 rating. "It's the best class from top to bottom," he says. "It's a big class and there's no filler. All of those players were highly recruited by major programs – in other large classes, you typically have a player the coaches took a flier on, but Carolina didn't do that this year. If you look at the schools they beat for the fourth- and fifth-ranked players, they all have extremely impressive offer lists.

"The strong suit of the class is the skill level and the basketball intelligence. It isn't a knock-your-socks-off class athletically, nor does it boast the strongest kids, but for skill and understanding how to play – the things Roy Williams always talks about – it's a home run."

This marks the second time in the last four years that UNC has signed the No. 1-ranked class.

The headliner in the 2009 haul John Henson, a 6-10, 200-pound frontcourt prospect at Tampa (Fla.) Sickles, ranked the No. 1 power forward in the class by Scout.com and the No. 3 overall prospect in the nation. But his ranking alone doesn't fully explain his seemingly limitless potential.

"What really makes this a signature class for North Carolina is the presence of Henson, who in my opinion is one of the best guys Roy Williams has recruited or will ever recruit," Telep says. "He's really everything you want in a prospect. He's athletically gifted, intelligent on the floor, has great natural instincts and has shown no signs of peaking. I see how important he is to UNC's recruiting class and it's easy to see how important he'll be in the lottery one day, too. It's safe to say that Henson is going to immediately impact UNC, the ACC and the national landscape. He's that good."

Rounding out the frontcourt are the Wear twins, 6-10 Top 50-ranked post players from Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei that have bulked up in the last year in preparation for playing in the paint in the ACC, yet made their mark with their skills facing the basket. "They combine size, skill and a great work ethic," Telep says.

Dexter Strickland will come to Chapel Hill from Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick, where he developed a reputation as an athletic 6-3 scoring guard who is also a capable ball handler.

"I actually believe that Strickland may be a better long term prospect than anyone on the current team," Harrington says. "Henson unquestionably is as well, but I think Strickland's size and athleticism - if he can become a point guard - fits the physical mold to be an NBA guard. I think it's fair to call him a combo guard. He isn't as polished from a point guard standpoint as Tywon Lawson or Raymond Felton were when they came in, but he's potentially a better pro prospect."

Joining Strickland in the backcourt is Leslie McDonald, a 6-4 wing out of Memphis (Tenn.) Briarcrest that has the size and athleticism to play multiple positions.

"What Leslie McDonald brings to the table is versatility," Telep says. "I think in college he could be a multi-position, fill-in-the-gap guard. He doesn't have to have the basketball to be effective. He's a jack of all trades player who can fit in wherever he's needed."

With five seniors on the Tar Heel roster this season, as well as two juniors considered likely to make the NBA leap, there will be big opportunities for the freshmen to compete for minutes – major minutes – from the start of preseason practice next fall. In fact, one can go so far as to say that a number of freshmen will be relied upon to play key roles next season. Henson is an obvious pick for making a big impact early on, despite what will be a crowded frontcourt.

"I think Henson, by virtue of the fact that he'll be such a difficult matchup for other teams, is the pick for biggest freshman impact," Harrington says. "Even though his game isn't complete and he's very thin – and UNC will already have a frontcourt in place with Deon Thompson, Tyler Zeller and Ed Davis - I think Henson will have to play. He'll have to be in the rotation because he'll be the best shotblocker of the group and he'll be the longest player in the group.

"There's a lot of playing time in the backcourt. Strickland's quickness and ability to play up tempo will allow him to compensate for his lack of polish. He puts more pressure on the opponent, and assuming Lawson is gone, Drew is more of a set up point, so they'll need a guard who can apply more pressure on the defense.

Telep suggests that the frontcourt depth is so significant that it may reshape the Tar Heel perimeter game.

"The talent level is really high right now – every kid hasn't been promised anything," Telep says. "There will be an absolute fight for playing time. I don't know what to expect. I think the team will be so good in the frontcourt the next few years it'll alter what they do on the perimeter. When you have guys like Zeller and Henson running the floor, UNC's makeup as a team is going to look a little different. McDonald and Strickland are both capable of playing heavy minutes and they are competitive guys. McDonald is more of a defensive mind, while Strickland has defense in his background, but I see him as the guy more likely to get points. Both of those guys are going to be in the mix."

It's not easy finding flaws in the nation's No. 1 haul, yet no class – and no roster – is perfect. When the scouting experts look at the 2009-2010 roster, they see a couple of roles that will need to be filled by evolving the personnel or acquiring recruits in the following class.

"Taken as a whole, in the post Tyler Hansbrough era, there is a need still for a warrior," Harrington says. "That's not to say anyone is soft, but there is still a place for the junkyard dog. Hansbrough has enough of that, but once he's gone I think they'll feel it, not just the statistical production but the mentality in games and in practice. So if there's one thing missing looking ahead, either they'll have to find it or someone will have to develop it."

Telep sees a type of player missing that the UNC staff is already looking to acquire in its 2010 recruiting class. "Eventually they're going to need a high-flying, super-athletic wing player to give them a different look. But trying to find faults in the talent that is in UNC's program and is in this class is like looking for pimples on the prom queen."


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