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ASK MOST coaches to tell a story about recruiting a star player, and they'll regale you with tales of high school state-championship heroics and 50-point performances in AAU tournaments. Ask North Carolina coach Roy Williams to recall his recruitment of Harrison Barnes, and he proffers a tale of a sunrise trip to the track at Ames (Iowa) High. "It was six in the morning, totally dark, and nobody else was there, but Harrison was working out," Williams says. "He's a gifted athlete, but his mind is probably the strongest part of his game."
When Barnes committed to North Carolina, it was a rare moment of good news for a program that has been reeling. The Tar Heels went 20--17 last season (5--11 in the ACC) to miss out on the NCAA tournament for just the third time in 36 years. The turmoil continued through the off-season. In addition to losing two starters to graduation, the team also lost sophomore Ed Davis (NBA draft), sophomore twins David and Travis Wear (transferred to UCLA), and senior Will Graves (dismissed on Oct. 7 for failing to follow team rules).
Yet Williams's ability to land the consensus best high school player in the country has brought hope back to Chapel Hill. During the Tar Heels' two-game exhibition tour to the Bahamas in August, Barnes had 44 points and 13 rebounds, and he hit 7 of 10 from three-point range. He is the first freshman to be voted to the preseason All-America team since voting began in 1986.
To shore up the lack of frontcourt depth, Williams brought in Justin Knox, a 6'9" transfer from Alabama who will be eligible to play right away because he has already earned his degree.
UNC has a glut of perimeter talent (notably its prized freshman recruits, 6'3" point guard Kendall Marshall and 6'7" shooting guard Reggie Bullock), but in the end its best chance to make the Final Four will be for Barnes to deliver on his sky (blue) high expectations.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Coach Roy Williams (8th season)
2009--10 record 20--17
ACC 5--11 (T-9th)
NCAA tournament Not selected