Eleven McDonald’s All-Americans will be in FedExForum on Sunday evening for the Elite Eight battle of blue bloods between Kentucky and North Carolina, the two teams with the showiest recruiting profiles of those left in this NCAA Tournament.
UNC has six McDonald’s All-Americans on its roster and UK has five. Only Duke, which couldn’t get out of the tournament’s first weekend with its seven McDonald’s alums, had more nationally this season.
UCLA — with three such players — was the only other NCAA Tournament team with more than two McDonald’s All-Americans on its roster, and Kentucky eliminated the Bruins from contention here Friday night.
Here’s a closer look at how UK and UNC match up from a recruiting standpoint (all numerical rankings are from the 247Sports composite):
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By the numbers
Kentucky’s active roster includes five McDonald’s All-Americans (sophomore Isaiah Briscoe and freshmen Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Malik Monk), plus two more top-50 recruits: freshman Wenyen Gabriel (No. 14 in 2016), sophomore Isaac Humphries (No. 50 in 2015), as well as five-star shooting guard Hamidou Diallo, who is sitting out as a midseason enrollee (though he is eligible to play).
North Carolina has six McDonald’s All-Americans (seniors Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks, juniors Joel Berry, Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson, and freshman Tony Bradley). The Tar Heels have another three players that were Top 100 recruits: sophomore Kenny Williams (No. 97 in 2015) and freshmen Seventh Woods (No. 49 in 2016) and Brandon Robinson (No. 61 in 2016).
The other two UNC players with 247Sports composite rankings as recruits are senior Nate Britt (No. 121 in 2013) and sophomore Luke Maye (No. 156 in 2015).
As the information above illustrates, UNC has built its success on getting highly touted high school players to stick around for multiple seasons. None of the six McDonald’s All-Americans on the Tar Heels’ current roster have put up eye-popping numbers as freshmen.
Justin Jackson is the only player in that group that has averaged double-digit scoring or played more than 20 minutes per game as a freshman, logging 10.7 points in 26.7 minutes per game in his first year at UNC. First-year stats for the others: Kennedy Meeks (7.6 points in 16.3 minutes), Isaiah Hicks (1.2 points in 7.3 minutes), Joel Berry (4.2 points in 13.2 minutes), Theo Pinson (2.8 points in 12.5 minutes) and Tony Bradley (7.3 points in 14.8 minutes).
Of those players, only Jackson is projected as an NBA Draft pick this year.
UNC has some interesting players among those who came to campus as walk-ons. Sophomore Luke Maye was actually a top-200 recruit nationally and had scholarship offers from Notre Dame, Gonzaga, Virginia, Tennessee, Clemson and several others, but Coach Roy Williams convinced him to commit to the in-state Tar Heels as a preferred walk-on with the promise that he would become a scholarship player after his freshman season.
Senior guard Kanler Coker was a quarterback with the football team before an injury forced him to give up that sport. He joined the basketball Heels as a walk-on, but he has since been put on scholarship.
Junior forward Aaron Rohlman won a walk-on spot at UNC in an open tryout before this season. The team’s other walk-on — freshman forward Shea Rush — was a high school basketball standout in Kansas, playing for one of Williams’ former players, Billy Thomas. According to his official UNC bio, Rush enjoys making hats (specifically fedoras) in his spare time. His father is former UCLA player JaRon Rush.
North Carolina will lose several key players after this season, but the Tar Heels don’t have a stellar recruiting class lined up to replace them.
According to the 247Sports composite rankings, UNC has the No. 30 class nationally for 2017 — a four-player group led by combo guard Jalek Felton (the No. 26 prospect in the class). None of the Heels’ other three commitments are in the top 200.
UNC is still in the mix for five-star small forward Kevin Knox, who is the No. 8 overall recruit in the 2017 class. Knox is also considering Kentucky, Duke and Florida State, and he is expected to announce a college decision next month.