By R.L. Bynum
Last summer, Coach Hubert Davis worked hard to keep a player and it worked out pretty well even after he was unable to do that.
It’s hard to know now but that pattern may be repeating itself this summer.
Instead of Walker Kessler, a five-star recruit, returning for his sophomore season, the Tar Heels got an impactful fifth college season from Oklahoma transfer Brady Manek. Instead of getting five-star forward G.G. Jackson for one season as a freshman, UNC is getting Northwestern transfer Pete Nance, another player who will play his fifth college season in Chapel Hill.
If Jackson, as expected, enrolls at South Carolina to play next season, he’d be the first player to decommit from UNC and play for another college without extenuating circumstances since Tom McMillan opted to play for Maryland in 1971.
Two other notable commitments in the 2000s went elsewhere. J.R. Smith committed to Carolina in 2003 but decided to go directly to the NBA. JamesOn Curry had his Carolina scholarship offer rescinded in 2004 after he pleaded guilty to drug charges. Curry played at Oklahoma State.
It remains to be seen if Nance can have the same sort of impact as Manek.
Carolina originally expected Jackson to join the program after what would have been his upcoming senior high school season. Had he decided to re-classify before Nance committed to transfer to UNC, Jackson could have played for the Tar Heels next season if Davis agreed to go in that direction.
The question is, given the terrific chemistry of the returning four starters from last season’s Final Four team, would a player such as Jackson, who would likely demand the ball more, have disrupted that chemistry next season?
ESPN ranks Jackson, who averaged 22.1 points and 10.9 rebounds during his junior season in high school, No. 3 in the Class of 2023.
Jackson clearly is talented but recent college basketball history has shown that experienced talent is more valuable in NCAA tournament play than young elite talent.
Duke had four freshmen last season who were first-round NBA draft picks in Paulo Banchero, Mark Williams, A.J. Griffin and Trevor Keels, but that wasn’t enough to overcome an experienced Carolina team in the Final Four.
The 2019 national championship Virginia team started three juniors. When Baylor won the 2021 national title, every starter in the NCAA championship game was an upperclassman. The Kansas team that beat UNC in the NCAA final started three upperclassmen in that game.
Carolina figures to start five upperclassmen next season with at least one and probably two fifth-year players. That’s a big reason that they will be highly ranked in the preseason polls.
Having Jackson for the 2023–23 season would have been huge for Davis considering who he might lose after next season. With Jackson’s change of heart, that wasn’t going to happen.
Carolina might just be better off next season with experienced talent in Nance rather than elite young talent in Jackson had the South Carolina prep star decided to re-classify sooner.
Time will tell.
|5th year||Leaky Black||3||6–8||200|
|5th year||Pete Nance||5||6–10||225|
Photo via @NUMensBball