What had been speculation for weeks became real reporting yesterday, quickly followed by an official announcement: top 2023 recruit GG Jackson, ranked by some as the No. 1 player in his class, has decommitted from North Carolina. Reports expect him to reclassify to the 2022 class and commit to South Carolina in the coming days.
The decision won’t have a major effect on this year’s Tar Heel squad, especially after head coach Hubert Davis secured coveted transfer Pete Nance to replace the departed Brady Manek. But if Nance struggles, North Carolina fans will quickly be faced with number of “what if” questions, especially if Jackson is successful a few hours south.
But there are longer term impacts of Jackson’s decision, starting in the 2023 recruiting class. UNC now has a lone commitment, 5* combo guard Simeon Wilcher, expected to arrive in Chapel Hill in a year’s time. With the class centered around Jackson, Davis and his staff will now be playing catch-up with many top 2023 prospects. Case and point: 247 lists just five current “targets” for the Tar Heels in 2023, most of whom appear focused on other schools. The lone 5* on the list, Isaiah Collier, has eliminated UNC from his Top 5. 4* JJ Taylor is thought to have Kentucky and Illinois atop his interest list, and fellow 4* Jamie Kaiser has multiple “Crystal Ball” predictions for Maryland. 4* guard London Johnson still has the Tar Heels amongst his top schools, but conceivably would compete for playing time with Wilcher and potentially a senior RJ Davis.
That leaves one primary 2023 target: 4* power forward TJ Power. Much like fellow Duke target JP Estrella, Power has seen his stock skyrocket after stellar performances on the summer circuit. The 6-foot-8 forward secured offers from Kansas and UCLA earlier this summer after taking official visits previously to Indiana, Iowa, Notre Dame, and Virginia. With the Jackson news, UNC put their hat in the ring and offered; just two days later, Duke head coach Jon Scheyer offered as well.
Until other 2023 UNC targets emerge, Power will likely be a priority for the Tar Heels, which makes it all the more interesting that Scheyer jumped into the fray. The Blue Devils already have Top 10 power forward Sean Stewart committed in the 2023 class, and are seen as the favorite for fellow big man Estrella. In that context, Power appears to be a luxury recruit for Duke, so it will be interesting to track how legitimate the Blue Devils’ interest is and whether Power reciprocates given the stiff competition he might face for early playing time.
The true impact of Jackson’s decision may not even be felt in 2023: both Dontrez Styles and Puff Johnson will be juniors then, and likely ready to step in to a larger role as experienced players (assuming, of course, that one or both of them didn’t feel “recruited over” by Nance’s transfer this season). The Tar Heels also have 2022 4* power forward Jalen Washington joining the team this year.
Instead, the impact of Jackson’s decommitment may be more long-term. Jackson was a coup for Davis’ early forays into recruiting, especially in comparison to Scheyer’s unprecedented success in his first recruiting class. Perhaps more important than his impact in Chapel Hill would have been his projected impact at a representative of the Tar Heels in the NBA for years to come. The surprising reality is that UNC has had just two players drafted in the top 10 since 2008, Harrison Barnes and Coby White. Just 10 Tar Heels are currently on NBA rosters. Contrast that with the Blue Devils, who have had two No. 1 overall picks in the past three years, nine more top 10 picks since 2014, and 18 players currently on NBA rosters. More importantly, two of the league’s most recognizable young players, Jayson Tatum and Zion Williamson, are walking advertisements for the Duke program.
Obviously, securing NBA-caliber talent doesn’t always directly translate to college success, with the 2022 Duke team’s struggles against UNC a paramount example. But the most straightforward way to maintain consistent excellence is to have top talent, even if that also leads to young teams that are more vulnerable to the randomness inherent in March Madness. As it stands, Duke has a much more convincing recruiting pitch to the top talent that it is the program that will prepare them not just for the NBA draft, but for an NBA career. That pitch will be tantalizing also to high 4* recruits who have NBA aspirations, even if they may not be obvious “one and done” candidates. GG Jackson represented North Carolina’s most obvious candidate for an NBA star in the near future, and his departure means Davis and his staff won’t be able to make a convincing pitch to top talent that they can prepare them for the NBA in the foreseeable future.
There’s also the matter of perception versus reality. The reality of the Jackson situation appears complex, and there were likely issues on both sides that led to this divorce. But the perception, rightly or wrongly, may be that the Tar Heels chose to bring in Nance rather than give Jackson the time he needed to decide whether he would reclassify or not. In the ruthless world of recruiting, that’s a weapon that opposing coaches can likely use in recruiting battles against North Carolina, regardless of what actually happened behind the scenes.
GG Jackson’s decision doesn’t impact a 2022 Tar Heel squad that will be a national title favorite. It hurts, but doesn’t devastate, the prospects of the 2023 team. But unless Davis pulls a rabbit out of his hat soon, it’s likely that losing Jackson will hurt North Carolina’s recruiting pitch to top prospects in the long-term, especially when competing with fellow blue blood programs that have produced more recent NBA stars. Five years from now, that may be the lasting impact of the Jackson saga, rather than what his presence for a year in Chapel Hill might’ve meant on the court.