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Heel Tough Blog: The Recruit That Got Away

In all college athletics, recruiting is the foundation to success. Coaches spend hours, days, weeks, and months hand picking athletes to play for their program. If you’re Roy Williams, recruiting is more than simply finding talent. Coach Williams spends countless hours seeking players who are highly talented, players and families he can build a relationship with, players he wants to represent the Carolina family, and players who want to grow on and off the court. When all that is found, insert the challenge of recruiting against other college basketball blue-bloods amidst NCAA allegations. Roy and his staff have won quite a few recruiting battles, they’ve also lost some. There is always the “what-if” recruit, the one that got away and can keep fans wondering. When I thought of “the one that got away” recruit for North Carolina, I pondered Jaylen Brown (Cal) and Kevin Knox (Kentucky), but landed on Brandon Ingram (Duke). 

Ingram’s recruitment was as exhausting for Roy as it was for fans. His recruitment lasted what seemed like forever, truly three years, and contained no shortage of favoritism toward North Carolina. Williams watched Ingram as a sophomore at nearby Kinston High School, the alma mater of former Carolina standouts Jerry Stackhouse and Reggie Bullock. The deck was stacked in Carolina’s favor; Ingram being from Kinston, Ingram playing on Stackhouse’s AAU team, Ingram having a close relationship with Stackhouse and Bullock, Ingram being a seemingly good fit in the Carolina system, Ingram being a regular at the Dean Dome, and Roy giving Ingram as much time, effort, and attention as he had any recruit. Ingram was a North Carolina lock, then...false NCAA allegations. 

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I tagged Ingram as “the one that got away” for four main reasons:

*For most of his long recruitment, Ingram was a UNC favorite. 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions had Ingram 100% to UNC. 

*Ingram shunning Carolina, feels like what was the start of the North Carolina recruiting challenges. 

*With Ingram, does Carolina win the 2016 national championship? One cannot definitively say or assume, but it’s debatable. 

*It felt like Roy pushed J.P. Tokoto out to make room for Ingram, then missed. 

Had Ingram chosen Carolina, no one knows how it would have played out. I feel confident saying Ingram would have pushed Justin Jackson and Brice Johnson for minutes. He would have given Carolina a proven scorer and more overall depth. According to, Ingram averaged 17.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2 steals per game, stats that seemingly could help any team. 

In the end, I wouldn’t change how it played out. Without Ingram the Carolina fan base got to grow a fond appreciation for Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson. We got to witness Brice have a historical senior season, we got to see Marcus and Brice help the Heels win the ACC regular season, be crowned ACC tournament champions, and although we got our hearts broken, we made it to Championship Monday. As we know, the following year, “redemption” was made. The 2020 recruiting class appears to be the needed recruiting “redemption.” 

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