UNC Basketball: Ranking Each Tar Heels Freshman by Importance

Rollin YeattsFeatured ColumnistSeptember 19, 2012

UNC Basketball: Ranking Each Tar Heels Freshman by Importance

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    What is it that makes a particular recruit "important" to a college basketball team? Is it his skill set, his attitude or is it just that he fills a positional need?

    This is the thought process in attempting to rank the 2012 class of Tar Heels.

    Yet again, a stellar crop of freshmen will be presented to the UNC faithful sitting in the Dean Dome for "Late Night With Roy Williams." J.P. Tokoto, Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige and Joel James will get their first real taste of what it means to be a Tar Heel in the new millennium, as they witness their 62-year-old coach wipe the dance floor with them.

    But what will we see from these freshmen when the lights come on, and the competition is tougher than Roy Williams' latest jig?

    That's the burning question in all the souls of true Tar Heel fans after losing four top-notch starters to the NBA. The good news is we are only a month away from these replacements unleashing their talents on the hardwood.

    All four of these recruits were needed for the 2012-13 season, but some will be more important than others due to the amount of depth at their position.

    So whose recruitment was most important to the 2012-13 squad of Tar Heels? Read on.

4. J.P. Tokoto

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    J.P. Tokoto could bump up a spot, depending on how Roy Williams uses Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston.

    It's almost definite that Bullock will be the starting small forward, while Hairston has the size and ability to back him up. If he is used more as a shooting guard, then that will open up some playing time for Tokoto, making his stock rise a little more.

    However, I truly believe Hairston and Bullock will suck up a lot of minutes at the 3, leaving the freshman with table scraps to feed on.

    There is no doubt J.P. Tokoto will make an impact with his electrifying play and high-flying dunks, reminiscent of the great Vince Carter. Tokoto will quickly become a fan favorite, as he comes off the bench and shows the Carolina faithful what they have to look forward to in the future.

    In the end, this team is stacked with so much backcourt talent, J.P. Tokoto wasn't a great "need" for the 2012-13 season. Therefore, his importance is ranked the lowest of the four freshman. That certainly isn't a reflection of his talent or his future importance with UNC.

3. Brice Johnson

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    Brice Johnson is in somewhat the same predicament as J.P. Tokoto, but there isn't quite as much talent in the frontcourt, so it will be more difficult to get lost in the mix.

    Though Jackson Simmons has more experience, I don't see him sucking up Johnson's minutes. Johnson is just too talented to leave on the bench. In my opinion, he actually brings a broader skill set to the position than James Michael McAdoo.

    But don't make the mistake of thinking he will take minutes away from McAdoo. It's not happening.

    By all accounts, we can fully expect this to be McAdoo's final season in Carolina Blue. I also feel he will get more playing time than anyone else, so minutes will be hard to come by for Brice Johnson.

    However, if he can outplay Desmond Hubert, he could get time behind both Joel James and McAdoo. He has the skills to play either post position in Roy WIlliams' system, so it will be interesting to see how it pans out.

    With the loss of both John Henson and Tyler Zeller, his recruitment became extremely important to solidify Carolina's future frontcourt—not to mention adding much-needed depth at the position for 2012-13.

2. Marcus Paige

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    This is where things start to get tricky. I've labeled Marcus Paige as having the biggest impact on the 2012-13 Tar Heels, but he doesn't finish as the top dog on this list.

    It's all about the wordplay.

    While I feel his scoring ability and overall talent will have the greatest impact on this squad, I don't feel he is of the highest importance to this team. And that's especially strange, considering he is a point guard in Roy Williams' system—not to mention my obsession with quality floor generals.

    Please hear me out.

    The Tar Heels did lose the best pure point in the country to the NBA when Kendall Marshall decided to leave after his sophomore campaign. But they return Dexter Strickland, who has been working hard at learning the point position.

    Will that be to spell Paige or to start over him? Again, that's a Roy decision we'll have to wait on.

    Also due to arrive in Chapel Hill in 2013 is another top point guard, Nate Britt. The two may run as dual point guards, which may be why we have yet to see Roy Williams try to recruit a shooting guard for next season.

    As you can see, North Carolina wasn't "hurting" for a point guard. But that isn't to say Paige wasn't needed. He certainly was.

    However, there is one other freshman whose recruitment was more important—at least in my ever-humble opinion.

1. Joel James

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    Yes, the young, overlooked, beast of a man-child ranks highest on my list today. In my book, Joel James was needed more than any other North Carolina freshman this season.

    With the departure of Zeller and Henson, not only did the Tar Heels lose outstanding talent in the frontcourt, but they also lost some height.

    James is the tallest player on the squad at 6'10"—two inches shorter than his predecessor, Tyler Zeller. They also lost two inches at the opposite post with McAdoo replacing Henson.

    While his height doesn't quite reach the typical Carolina seven-footer status, his strong frame should more than make up for it. Weighing in at 260 pounds, he is already 10 pounds heavier than Zeller in his senior season.

    "He's got a load; there's no question," Williams told The Associated Press. "When he whacks you, you're going to know you've been hit. And we've got a tremendous need for size. I think he can do some good things for us."

    Williams also took it upon himself to quote Zeller after going up against James in a pick-up game. Zeller said James "hit him as hard as anybody had ever hit him in his four years."

    That should say something, considering Reggie Johnson resides in the ACC.

    With all the shooting talent and finesse in the backcourt, the Tar Heels needed some brute force in the paint. McAdoo is also more on the finesse side of things, leaving James to be the lone juggernaut in the middle.

    James will not blow up stat sheets—at least not this season. He's only three years into his basketball career, and there is still much molding to be done. But James is a defensive-minded player that welcomes physicality.

    That should make for some entertaining match-ups against the bigs of Miami and Duke.

    Roy Williams found a diamond in the rough with Joel James, and he found him just in time. No 2012 recruit was needed more than James.