Monday, May 17, 2010

Knox to be a Tar Heel? It looks like it.

After dinner at Shula's 347 Grill in Chapel Hill, the North Carolina coaching staff and potential Alabama transfer, Justin Knox, all looked very happy. That's great news for battered Tar Heel fans everywhere.

It's been reported that Georgia Tech and UNC are front-runners in the race to land one of the best of the few recruits left to be had, and it's hard to imagine that this revelation doesn't lock things up for the latter. Knox, a 6-foot-9, 245-pound big man has been cleared to play this season, and the departure of David and Travis Wear — better known, on the defensive end of the floor, as Bum and Bummer — has left UNC's front line shallower than a plastic pool. (I was gonna say Lawrence Taylor, but figured it was too soon.)

My personal opinions aside, Knox would be as good a fit as any for North Carolina. Despite their lead-footedness, the Wear twins did give UNC depth that it will certainly lack should Roy Williams prove unable to scramble together the best of what is still available. Signing Knox would be the equivalent of nabbing a veteran free agent in the professional ranks, and veterans are as hard to find as big men in Chapel Hill right now.

I can't say that I know a single thing about Justin Knox other than what I've read and what a good friend (and Alabama transfer as well) has shared of his experiences watching him in Tuscaloosa. But if there is one thing that your run-of-the-mill Tar Heel fan learned from last year's 20-17 campaign, it's that you don't plug in a crop of freshman, regardless of what Ronald McDonald thinks of them, and reliably expect to win a championship.

Five years ago, none of these kids coming in (we all know who they are by now) would be in the starting lineup. That doesn't mean that a young player wouldn't see significant minutes as a Tar Heel, but there's a barometric difference in having your name called in front of 21,750 just before tip off. (I know, I know, no one's ever there before the game, but it's for the effect ... you get me.) It's my opinion that North Carolina is a lot closer to a national championship by virtue of its 2009 title, rather than one that may lie ahead. A blessing might come in the form of an NBA lockout, thus keeping the 2010 class in place for at least one more season, which would help, but unless that happens it's important to understand that Tyler Hansbrough, that is a dominant, three- or four-year player is less likely to walk through the door these days.

That makes the ability of a sign-and-play transfer like Knox that much more important. His numbers, 5.7 ppg and 5.1 rpg in 2008-09 and 6.3 ppg and 3.7 rpg last year, aren't gaudy, so don't get too carried away. But his intelligence (he was on the SEC All-Academic team last year) and size would provide the Tar Heels with what I think they need more than anything -- a competent role player. He's an above average free-throw shooter, too.

I see the 2010 lineup looking something like this:

PG - Larry Drew
SG - Will Graves
SF - Harrison Barnes
PF - John Henson
C - Tyler Zeller

Do I think that Dexter Strickland, Reggie Bullock and Kendall Marshall are also potential starters? Absolutely. But my intuition is that Williams will do the best he can to stick to the script of starting as many upper classmen as possible. If Leslie McDonald could find the shooting touch that the Tar Heels hoped he would last season, and Justin Watts finds his comfort zone, then North Carolina has a very respectable and super-athletic bench.

So, where the Wears' transfer certainly came unexpectedly, it plays right into the hands of the offensive scheme that predicated the Tar Heels' two most recent championship runs. What UNC loses in size it has gained in athleticism, and at the college level athletes win. But as I said before, I'm not ready to climb to the highest point in Chapel Hill and proclaim North Carolina's return to the national scene just yet, but I do think the storm has passed.


katherine said...

What's your starting five if Graves isn't included...

Brandon Staton said...

I'm a huge fan of Reggie Bullock. Saw him play in person in Raleigh this winter. He has a really quick release on his jumper, reminds me of Ray Allen. He's big and strong, definitely a good 3-point threat, potentially. I could see him playing the two instead of Graves, but I think we're more likely to see Strickland in that instance.

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