North Carolina's roster is getting a big boost of young talent for the 2014-15 season with the addition of three highly rated prospects Roy Williams and his staff were able to sign on the recruiting trail. Each player comes to Chapel Hill with his own set of skills that can help bolster the Tar Heels' depth or enhance the starting lineup.
But just how involved do these newcomers need to be in their first year in order for their additions to be considered a success? In an ideal world, a team will be solid enough to not need instant and heavy involvement from freshman, but that's not the nature of college basketball anymore.
Five-star forwards Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson, along with 4-star guard Joel Berry, are all expected to make major contributions during the 2014-15 season. At least one of them could start since Carolina has to replace two starters from last year's 24-10 squad that reached the NCAA tournament third round.
The most likely candidate for the starting lineup is Jackson, the No. 9 overall prospect from the 2014 class. Of slight build at 6'8" and just 190 pounds, Jackson's game is far different than the starter he'd be replacing: James Michael McAdoo. McAdoo played at 6'9" and 230 pounds during his junior season in 2013-14 and played a game that took him inside quite a bit more than what Jackson is likely to do.
Jackson is described more as a shooter than a physical inside presence, as he'll be working the mid-range jump shot on a regular basis and leaving the banging in the paint to bigger Tar Heels such as Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks. To that end, Jackson will fit more of a small forward role than McAdoo's power forward presence and therefore won't have to worry about being undersized.
Pinson, rated No. 15 overall, comes to UNC with a well-defined reputation as a lockdown defender, and for that reason he'll get to see plenty of time on the court. Carolina lacked defensive intensity last season, and with the 6'6" Pinson's ability to use his long arms and quick hands to disrupt passing lanes, he can help set up the transition attack junior Marcus Paige will run to perfection.
Berry, listed as the fourth-best point guard in his class and No. 30 overall prospect, finds himself in direct competition with the Heels' most established starter—Paige—for playing time. It's improbable he'd be able to knock Paige out of the lineup, but with a good enough preseason he can make it hard for Williams to keep him off the court and thus give UNC two ball-handlers out there at the same time.
Paige has already seen how intense Berry and the other freshman can be during summer workouts, something that has Paige excited for the upcoming season, according to ESPN.com's C.L. Brown:
He's such a fiery competitor, and having that on the team is going to help. Because not everyone has it, let's be honest. Everyone wants to win, but not everyone is super-fiery and competitive and I think all three of them have that and to go with their talent, it's going to push our team to make it better.
Most likely, at least one of the newcomers will be a part of the starting lineup for Carolina's first game in mid-November, but all three will see time. The best-case scenario is the trio can be gradually implemented into the rotation and not be asked to take on too much responsibility, something that seems doable at least early on thanks to the returning frontcourt players as well as Paige and wing J.P. Tokoto around for the backcourt.
The freshman have to want to get in there, not just get slotted into a job and expected to run with it. By making them fight for time, to compete, they'll quickly adjust to the college game and become much more valuable as the season progresses.
All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
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