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Times Have Changed In Chapel Hill

Recruiting has become a lot tougher than it used to be.

North Carolina v Duke
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 07: Armando Bacot #5 of the North Carolina Tar Heels defends a shot by Vernon Carey Jr. #1 of the Duke Blue Devils during the first half of their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 07, 2020 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

This article at ties together some things we’ve talked about for a while, although unintentionally.

First, the comparison between Roy Williams and Dean Smith. Ol’ Roy has won three championships at UNC, even if two of them are possibly tainted by the academic scandal, and has done that in 17 years. It took Smith 21 years to win his first.

On the other hand, for most of the first 13 years of his career, like everyone else Smith had to deal with John Wooden and UCLA, so he gets something of a pass.

On the other hand though, Smith recruited brilliantly and for years his players dotted NBA rosters and All-Star teams. It doesn’t take long to run them down: Charlie Scott, Bob McAdoo, BobbyJones, Mitch Kupchak, Phil Ford, Walter Davis, James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, and that’s just off the top. There were plenty more.

But not so much with Williams. Part of that you can fairly put down to the long-running scandal because the bad publicity and uncertainty certainly affected recruiting. That’s easy for Duke folks to prove: Brandon Ingram said as much and would almost certainly have followed his mentor Stackhouse to Chapel Hill if things were predictable.

The second thing is that success breeds success.

As a small child, JJ Redick saw Christian Laettner take down Kentucky in 1992 and decided then and there that he was going to play basketball for Duke.

The same thing could happen with lots of Duke players like say Kyrie Irving, Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish or, perhaps most of all, Zion Williamson. How many kids have watched him play at Duke and thought “I want that” for myself? Are there future Redicks out there? We won’t know for a while but it seems likely.

And as we said the other day, we expect Duke, and also Kentucky, to explain to recruits the impact that their decision will have on their NBA careers and lifetime earnings. We’re reasonably sure both programs take spreadsheets on recruiting visits.

As things are now though, getting recruits to the league is a huge part of the game and Duke and Kentucky are doing it better than anyone else and far better than UNC.

And that just makes it harder for UNC to keep up. Recruiting has become very much like the facility wars only it’s hard to catch back up when you fall behind.

Of course other than last year’s disaster, it’s not like UNC isn’t winning. They won a national championship in 2017 and both Butler and most spectacularly Virginia have proven that you can win at a high level without elite recruits.

It’s just that UNC expects to get those guys though and lately, it hasn’t been easy.