North Carolina Basketball: Ranking the 5 Most Hyped Recruits in 'Heels History
When it comes to North Carolina basketball, hyped—and many times over-hyped—recruits are the norm. It's just a part of the territory for distinguished programs such as UNC.
But with that, ranking the five most hyped recruits in Tar Heels' history becomes quite the daunting task. Including the latest recruits, Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks, Chapel Hill has housed 67 McDonald's All-Americans since its inception in 1977.
With all the star recruits that have landed at UNC, many players are virtually interchangeable. However, these five recruits stand above the rest.
Given the fact recruiting hype has never been at the level it is today with the internet and 24-hour media coverage, modern-era recruits have a little more weight in these rankings. Recruiting hype used to travel through word of mouth and the occasional newspaper.
In 2013, you couldn't avoid Andrew Wiggins talk if you wanted to.
The recruiting trail has simply become a whole new demon. But even so, that didn't keep a couple pre-90s Tar Heels out of this top five.
5. Jerry Stackhouse
Though it never culminated into a championship, the class of 1993 may have been one of Dean Smith's best recruiting performances. He landed the No. 1 and No. 2 recruits—one of which was the legendary Jerry Stackhouse—along with his teammate at Oak Hill Academy, Jeff McInnis.
We'll get to that other guy in a minute.
Stackhouse first became a star during his sophomore and junior years in Kinston, N.C.—the very same town in which Reggie Bullock was raised. In 1991-92, Stack led his team to the state finals and earned the honor of being the Player of the Year for the state of North Carolina.
Then he really gave his ranking a boost after dominating the 1992 Nike All-American Academic camp against the highest-rated prospects in the land.
But work ethic has always been a key to Stackhouse's game, and he wasn't willing to settle on his accomplishments. For his senior season, he decided to attend one of the nation's most prestigious high school basketball programs, Oak Hill Academy.
There, he teamed up with future Tar Heel point guard Jeff McInnis to lead Oak Hill to a 36-0 record and the national top ranking in 1992-93.
But his work still wasn't complete.
Not only was Stackhouse the top-ranked recruit by many outlets, he and McInnis also became Dean Smith's top recruiters. At the 1993 McDonald's All-American game, McInnis happened to be bunking with the nation's other top recruit.
The Oak Hill teammates used their time wisely, pushing UNC on the undecided prospect.
Stackhouse would score 27 points in that game and snatch up the McDonald's MVP hardware. But most importantly, Stackhouse and McInnis' recruiting efforts surely helped the next recruit on this list with his college decision.
4. Rasheed Wallace
Rasheed Wallace was that other top recruit in 1993. He and Stackhouse had a share in the top ranking. Some outlets had Wallace and some had Stackhouse as the No. 1 overall.
Stackhouse was widely considered the top prospect with his incredible athletic ability and shooting prowess. But Wallace was an extremely versatile and athletic big that was virtually unstoppable at the prep level.
And his late decision prompted months of speculation on which program he would choose, earning Wallace a higher rank on this list.
He actually teamed up with Stackhouse for the first time in that 1992 Nike All-American Academic game. And as impressive as Stackhouse was in the game, he admitted to Grantland that Wallace was even better:
Everybody was talking about us. We won and I had a good game, [but] Sheed actually closed the game out better. He was unstoppable.
Wallace would follow that up with an outstanding senior season for Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia. But because he was so selfless, pulling himself in blowouts so others could play, he only averaged roughly 19 minutes per game. However, he still managed to produce an average of 16 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks in that time.
That was good enough to earn the USA Today High School Player of the Year in 1993.
Wallace would then be named to the 1993 McDonald's All-American squad, where Stackhouse and McInnis did their best recruiting work on Philly's big man. A few days later, Coach Smith locked him up with a visit nobody expected.
Just one day after winning the infamous national championship over Michigan's Fab Five, Coach Smith was back in Philly to put a final stamp on Wallace's recruitment. That's a pretty solid indicator of how important Wallace was to Smith.
With the combination of the great Dean Smith, a national title and two new friends in Stackhouse and McInnis, UNC was an offer 'Sheed couldn't refuse.
3. Joe Wolf
If sports media had anywhere near the level of accessibility it has today, Joe Wolf may have earned the top spot on this list. Not only was he one of the top-ranked recruits in the nation, but his brother, Jeff, also played at North Carolina from 1976 to 1980.
And while Jeff wasn't a big-time producer at Chapel Hill, Joe's prospects were well beyond that of his older brother.
Following an exceptional junior season at Kohler High School in Wisconsin, in which he averaged 30.9 points and 14.7 rebounds per game, the Joe Wolf hype officially began. He brought Kohler a second state title in a three-year span, was named a first-team Parade All-American, landed in Street & Smith's Top 25 and was considered the top center in the country.
But Wolf didn't stop there.
He continued to build his reputation during his senior campaign, snatching up a third state title and boosting his averages to 31.5 points, 17.5 rebounds and 4.5 blocked shots per game. The youngest Wolf was then named the AP and UPI State Player of the Year in 1983.
He also became the first Wisconsin native to play in the McDonald's All-American game that year.
Wolf eventually whittled his potential suitors to Marquette and North Carolina, passing up other elite programs such as Indiana and Kentucky. It wouldn't be long before Coach Smith would win him over.
UNC had just won a title in 1982, it sported one of the premier players in Michael Jordan and his brother had first-hand experience with the program. Though his decision had been drawn out, the choice was pretty clear.
To put into perspective how accomplished Joe Wolf was in his prep years, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel named him Wisconsin's all-time greatest high school basketball player in 2005.
2. J.R. Reid
Son of former NFL player Herman Reid, Sr., J.R. Reid wasn't first known for his accomplishments on the hardwood. Rather, it was what the Virginia Beach native did on the gridiron that first earned the attention of programs such as Virginia Tech.
As an eighth-grader, he was already 6'5" and weighed in at 200 pounds. His tremendous size gave him quite the advantage on the football field, but soon he would learn he had a greater advantage on the basketball court.
When he reached Kempsville High School in 10th grade, Reid was starting for the varsity basketball team and earning first-team all-state honors.
Having a first-hand look at Reid during a UNC basketball camp over the summer, Dean Smith was the first to hand the big man an offer. It wouldn't be long before more offers started to pour in from college basketball programs nationwide.
By his senior season, Reid was ranked the top player by many outlets and came away with both the Gatorade and the USA Today Player of the Year honors in 1986. He also played in the Capital Classic and McDonald's All-American games, snatching up the MVP trophy in both.
After years of hype, national attention and the highest basketball honors, Reid finally decided to continue his dominance in Chapel Hill.
1. Harrison Barnes
It's hard to imagine any Tar Heel recruit having more hype to his name than Harrison Barnes. He was considered the nation's top recruit for 2010, smack-dab in the middle of the most attention-friendly era of recruiting in the history of college basketball.
Averaging 24 points and eight rebounds during his freshman season, Barnes led his Ames High School team to a 26-0 record and the 2009 state title. Calls and offers from coaches flooded the Iowa native.
Many saw his recruitment as a battle between Duke and North Carolina, giving the Barnes hype and even bigger boost. Coach Williams and Coach Krzyzewski even showed up at his house on the same day. By November of 2009—his senior year—Barnes committed to Carolina via a Skype call to Roy Williams.
Just when we thought the Barnes hype had reached its peak, it was actually just getting started.
With a field of reporters covering his decision, Harrison and his mother, Shirley Barnes, took the time to answer a slew of questions. That's when the world found out that Michael Jordan was the single-most influential player for Barnes.
According to the Chicago Tribune, his mother was such a big fan of Jordan, she taped every one of the Hall of Famer's games. As soon as Barnes was old enough to watch TV, she was feeding her son those same Jordan tapes.
That's what I grew up watching. They were my cartoons. I just always watched his basketball games, and through time it started to sink in. And then I really had a passion for the game.
Considering Tar Heel fans—and everyone involved in basketball, for that matter—are always keeping their eyes peeled for "the next Jordan," his comments only fed the frenzy.
Then he did the unprecedented.
For the second consecutive season, Barnes led Ames to an undefeated season and another state title. He averaged 26.1 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and 3.1 steals per game during his senior year in Iowa—as a known future Tar Heel.
On top of his team accomplishments, Barnes was also named the Morgan Wootten Player of the Year and earned co-MVP honors in both the Jordan Brand Classic and the McDonald's All-American game in 2010.
He was also given the nickname of "Black Falcon" by the folks at ESPN during the Jordan Brand Classic.
Harrison Barnes may have never lived up to the hype that followed him to Chapel Hill, but it's hard to imagine anyone could. He had an excellent college career, averaging 17.1 points as a sophomore before leaving for the NBA.
Jordan averaged 17.7 points during his three-year stay at Chapel Hill.
Comparisons to Jordan simply aren't fair for any player, yet somehow everyone falls under the spell as soon as the words "the next Jordan" are spoken. This is exactly why "the next" should never be used, whether it's applied to Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James or anyone else.
Alas, we all know it will continue happening. The hype train will forever be choo-chooing it's way down the modern recruiting trail, and Chapel Hill will continue being one of its most visited destinations.
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