When North Carolina’s season ended in the Sweet 16, it was clear that the Tar Heels were losing many important pieces.
Three key players — Kenny Williams, Luke Maye and Cam Johnson — were seniors, and freshmen Nassir Little and Coby White left early for the NBA draft.
Those five players were the Tar Heels’ top five scorers from the 2018-19 season. Backup point guard Seventh Woods also announced he was transferring.
To make up for those losses, Roy Williams, who had only two players signed to the 2019 recruiting class, had to make some moves, and do it quickly.
He did that.
He first signed the top guard and No. 3 player in the class of 2019, Cole Anthony, on April 23. Later that day, four-star guard Anthony Harris signed. Three days later, Williams landed graduate transfer Christian Keeling, a 6-foot-4, 175-pound guard, who averaged 18.7 points per game at Charleston Southern last year.
And on Thursday, UNC got another one when Justin Pierce, a 6-7, 215-pound grad transfer guard who averaged 14.9 points per game at William & Mary last season, announced he was committing to UNC as well.
“We’re very excited to have Christian and Justin join our program,” Williams said. “They are both outstanding students who can be tremendous additions to our team.”
It was a good two weeks for Williams, who in recent years has battled with the perception one-and-done players don’t perform well at UNC. From 2013 to 2017, UNC landed six McDonald’s All-Americans. Only one — Tony Bradley — left for the draft after one year. Five of those players stayed at least three years.
But Little, and especially White, who started at point guard and was the team’s second leading scorer, have helped change that perception. Both are projected to be lottery picks in this year’s NBA draft.
And for the second straight season, UNC has landed two McDonald’s All-Americans. Five star-forward and McDonald’s All-American Armando Bacot, who is 6-10, 250 pounds, signed with UNC during the early signing period in November. Anthony, who is 6-3, 185 pounds, was also a McDonald’s All-American and won the game’s MVP award.
“It really felt like a family to me,” Anthony said last month on ESPN. “I just really love Coach Williams, Coach (Hubert) Davis, and if it was up to me, I’d be on campus tomorrow.”
The Tar Heels are reloaded, and Williams got what he wanted: A talented point guard, some shooters, and guards who can rebound. Both Pierce and Keeling led their teams in rebounding last year.
The Tar Heels have the talent again. And with some experience returning from last year’s team, UNC has the potential to be a deep team. The only question is whether they can make these puzzle pieces fit in such a short time.
Here’s what UNC’s 2019-20 roster currently looks like:
F Garrison Brooks (Jr.) - 7.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg. UNC’s defensive MVP last season.
F Sterling Manley (Jr.) - 3.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg. Missed 18 games with knee injury.
F Brandon Huffman (Jr.) - 1.1 ppg, 0.9 rpg. Played limited role off bench.
F Walker Miller (Jr.) - 0.8 ppg, 0.4 rpg. Non-scholarship player.
F Ryan McAdoo (Jr.) - Sat out 2018-19 season due to transfer rules.
G/F Leaky Black (So.) - 2.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg. Missed 13 games because of a ankle injury.
G/F Brandon Robinson (Sr.) - 3.4 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.4 apg. Role increased as season went on.
G Shea Rush (Sr.) - 0.1 ppg. Non-scholarship player.
G Caleb Ellis (Sr.) - 0.5 ppg. Non-scholarship player.
G Andrew Platek (Jr.)- 1.1 ppg. Played limited role off bench.
G K.J. Smith (Jr.) - 1.1 ppg.
F Armando Bacot - Five star recruit, McDonald’s All-American, ranked No. 20 in the nation.
G/F Justin Pierce - 14.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 4.1 apg at William & Mary
G Christian Keeling - 18.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 2.8 apg at Charleston Southern
G Anthony Harris - Four-star recruit, ranked No. 67 in the nation.
G Jeremiah Francis - Three-star recruit, ranked No. 169 in the nation.
G Cole Anthony - No. 3 recruit in the nation, top point guard, McDonald’s All-American game MVP.
Projected depth chart
Update: UNC announced on Monday that both Keeling and Pierce have officially signed.
Williams on Keeling: “Christian is a perimeter player who gives us scoring and experience. He’s also one of the nicest young men I’ve ever had the opportunity to recruit. He is close friends with Brandon Robinson, who speaks highly of him. Christian is a fun guy who I expect great things from.”
Williams on Pierce: “He is a versatile player who can play multiple positions. The stats show he did a fantastic job rebounding the ball and he can shoot the three. He has the ability to make plays for other people.”