Believe it or not, Carolina returned to the practice court earlier this week as they’ve begun their summer portion of their off-season program. With so much uncertainty around the college football season, this is a good sign for basketball to be able to conduct their summer practices without an interruption or delay due to COVID-19. With that being said, there’s a lot of work for Roy Williams and his staff to get done during this time. We all know how disappointing last season was for the coaches, players, and us the fans. Normally summer ball is used as a way for the guys to compete in pickup games against former Tar Heels and current pros, while also learning the basics of the “Carolina Way” both on the court and off. But when a blue blood program like Carolina, goes 14-19 and sets many records in a bad way like they did last year, that doesn’t allow time for fun, as expectations are still high in and around Chapel Hill.
On the surface you’d think a team that went 14-19 wasn’t a veteran team, and probably wouldn’t be losing a lot of production, but that’s quite the opposite for Carolina. The Tar Heels will be using their 4th point guard in as many years as Cole Anthony left for the NBA after averaging 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.0 assists in his lone season in Chapel Hill. Brandon Robinson graduated, and gone are his 11.8 points. While Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce weren’t the players we thought they were going to be upon transferring into the program, they would have provided much needed depth this season. Lastly Jeremiah Francis transferred to New Mexico and Brandon Huffman left for Jacksonville State, leaving potential depth issues in the front and back courts.
How does Carolina plan to replace all that lost production? Well Garrison Brooks returns, and we’ll be a trendy pick to be ACC Player of the Year, and will show up on some pre-season All-America ballots. Armando Bacot, Leaky Black and Andrew Platek all return, but all need to take major steps forward if Carolina is going to compete in the ACC, and nationally. The answer to the aforementioned question, is they are going to rely heavily on production from freshmen, something they haven’t had a lot success and experience in doing. It helps that they brought the nation’s #2 recruiting class, so there’s not a shortage of talent like there was a year ago. With all that talent, comes expectations. Some realistic, some maybe not so much but that’s what you sign up for when you put on that North Carolina jersey. With that in mind, we thought it would be fun to rank the players in terms of impact they’ll have on the upcoming season:
Caleb Love: This was one was easy just for the simple fact that he’s going to play right away, and is the best player in this loaded class. The 5 star point guard from Saint Louis, is tasked with running the offense the way Roy Williams wants it to be run, and many people around the program believe he’s the perfect fit. The comparisons to Coby White will be made, and if he has the kind of impact that Coby had, it figures to be a fun season inside the Smith Center. Love is a known scorer, and while he’ll have to learn how to set his teammates up, he knows he can dump the ball into Garrison Brooks whenever they need a bucket.
R.J. Davis: This may surprise some folks, but I selected Davis second, assuming that Carolina is a threat in the ACC. The Tar Heels are going to need a lot of quality production from both Love and Davis to be competitive. While Davis figures to mainly play the shooting guard position, Davis has position flexibility despite only being 5-11, and 164 pounds. He’s going to need to put the ball in the basket at a consistent rate, and when asked run the offense when needed. It’s a good thing that both of those responsibilities, Davis excels at.
Walker Kessler: The second 5 star prospect to appear on our rankings, is also the first post player as well. Kessler has a game similar to Luke Maye's, meaning he can step and routinely knock down long range jump shots, which will help with Carolina’s spacing, and offensive versatility as a whole. The 7-0, 245 pound center picked Carolina over Duke, despite not knowing what his role would be in his first season. It’s known that Garrison Brooks will be a starter, and the focal point of the offense. The question is does Armando Bacot take the next and live up to his potential? If he does that means Kessler will come off the bench, which takes the pressure off of him to produce. If he beats out Bacot for playing time, his versatile offensive game, and ability to get up and down the floor will be a boost. Although he’ll need to become a much more willing defender and rebounder.
Day’Ron Sharpe: The final 5 star prospect in this class, falls into the same category as Kessler, I only put Sharpe behind Kessler, because of the versatility Walker possesses on offense. Sharpe a 6-10, 246 pound big man, could very well push Bacot and Kessler for big time minutes right away. In terms of putting him beside Brooks, Carolina would lose some floor spacing, but could beat up on opponents with size and strength on the interior. If he’s coming off the bench, there will be times he can be the first option inside, but if not, he plays with a motor that’s hard to contain which will ultimately lead to him being successful no matter the role he’s in.
Donovan “Puff” Johnson: The younger brother of former Tar Heel and current member of the Phoenix Suns Cam Johnson, can only hope to match the production his brother put up in his two seasons at Carolina. As you can imagine, their skill sets are very similar in that they are lengthy perimeter players that can shoot it from anywhere. Puff figures to be a guy that’s role will grow the longer he’s on campus, but he will be asked to score the ball as a freshman. While it’s most likely going to be from behind the three point line, he needs to be confident to let it fly, as Carolina shot only 30.4% from bonus land a year ago. He’ll need time to add some weight to his frame, before he can score in other ways, but Puff should be able to contribute his first season in Chapel Hill.
Kerwin Walton: Considering how much excitement revolved around his recruitment, you may be surprised to see Walton listed this low, but it’s not a knock to Kerwin. With 3 other highly talented players as well in this class, combined with some talent and depth returning, it was inevitable for a newcomer to be buried at the bottom of the rotation. Walton, a lot like Puff Johnson will be a guy that will only get better during his time in the program, and will be a guy that Roy Williams can build his backcourt around in the future. For his freshman season, he won’t be asked as much as Puff to score the ball, but will need to make the most of his opportunities learning how to play in the ACC. At 6-5, 195 pounds he has the frame to be a big time player in the future, once he refines certain areas of his game.