Posted: Saturday July 16, 2005 5:59PM; Updated: Tuesday July 19, 2005 8:57AM
With Raymond Felton (left), Sean May and Rashad McCants gone, Roy Williams is loading up for the Tar Heels' future.
Bob Rosato /SI
On the face of it, it appears North Carolina coach Roy Williams has had a rough go of things since he cut down the nets last April in St. Louis. His top seven scorers -- three seniors and four underclassmen -- all left to graduate or enter the NBA draft. On Friday, Williams' former employer, the University of Kansas, revealed he had improperly arranged for payments to some of his former players after they had graduated. The offense is a minor one, but for a coach who prides himself on his pristine reputation -- and who in the past has been quick to blow the whistle on others he believes have run afoul of NCAA rules -- the revelation was more than a little embarrassing.
But with the summer recruiting scene in full throttle, Williams is earning some important victories that will ensure that the Tar Heels' future is much smoother than their recent past. He is following last year's first-rate haul, highlighted by 6-foot-3 combo guard Bobby Frasor and 6-9 power forward Tyler Hansborough, by locking up a backcourt that bears a striking resemblance to the one he just lost to the NBA. Point guard Tywon Lawson, who played last year for Oak Hill Academy but will compete elsewhere next season, looks a lot like Raymond Felton, only with a little more offensive polish. Wayne Ellington is a silky smooth 6-4 shooting guard from Merion Station, Pa., who resembles Rashad McCants, only without the baggage.
Williams is also hot on the trail of some big men who are considerably better than Sean May was at the same age -- Brandan Wright, a 6-9 dunkaholic from Nashville, Tenn.; and center Spencer Hawes, a 6-11 center from Seattle who can score from anywhere with ease. Should Williams lock up either or both of those guys, the Heels will have a recruiting class every bit as good as the Greg Oden-led bunch that is headed for Ohio State.
It doesn't hurt that Lawson bonded with Hawes during a Nike-sponsored trip to France this spring.
"Spencer and I talk every day," Lawson said last week in Augusta, Ga., where he was playing for the D.C. Blue Devils at the prestigious Nike Peach Jam tournament.
Both Hawes and Wright were also playing at the Peach Jam, providing Lawson with plenty of opportunities to press his pitch.
"I've been telling both those guys they should come with me to Carolina. I tell them you'll play with a good point guard in a good program, and together we'll win a lot of games."
Like every other big-time coach in America, Williams spent much of last week in Georgia checking out both the Peach Jam and the Adidas Showtime AAU tournament in suburban Atlanta. Coaches are not permitted to talk on the record about players until they've officially signed letters of intent, but Williams was clearly pleased at the progress he has been making on the recruiting trail, especially in light of the major hit his program took last spring.
"In the old days, you could have one really good class to form your nucleus, and then you could add here and there to build around it," he said. "Nowadays, with kids leaving so quickly, you better have a pretty doggone good recruiting class every year. We have four very good freshmen coming in this year, and I'm just trying to follow that up with another strong class."
That is exactly what Williams is doing. The rest of the ACC better beat up on North Carolina next season while it can. It won't be long before the Tar Heels are once again winning a lot of games.