North Carolina Basketball: Why Tar Heels Will Manage Without Mitch McGary

Drew LaskeyCorrespondent IOctober 28, 2011

Earlier this week, No. 1-ranked center in the 2012 class (now that Andre Drummond already entered college) Mitch McGary again updated his list of finalist schools.  

This time, however, North Carolina wasn't among them.

Many Tar Heel Faithful saw McGary as a make-or-break commitment for UNC since they're losing starting center Tyler Zeller to graduation this year and are likely to lose power forwards John Henson and James Michael McAdoo to the NBA draft this summer.

Although the loss of McGary may sting if Henson and McAdoo do in fact declare early, UNC is still in position to do what it does best: develop young talent into productive, reliable and smart basketball players.

If you look into UNC's 2012 recruiting class, aside from Marcus Paige, none of their commitments are currently program-changing players, especially the big men. Their skill sets aren't exactly scary, but what Roy Williams and his coaching staff can turn them into is.

I know this season hasn't even started yet, but if you were crossing your fingers hoping to land McGary for next season, don't fret.  


Because the big guys coming in 2012 are not only going to get better during their senior years of high school, they're also going to get better in Chapel Hill, where they're likely to remain for all four years—a rare feat these days.

At North Carolina, if you miss out on landing 5-star prospects, you better respond by bringing in guys who are oozing with potential.  

And this 2012 class is.  

These guys know they have a lot of room for improvement and, fortunately, Carolina will be the direct beneficiary of that growth process.

When I look at a guy like 6'10", 280-pound C Joel James, I'm reminded of a Glen Davis-type player—a big body who commands a lot of respect, and space, in the post.  He's a tank, really, and goes after what he wants accordingly.  He may take more time to get to the level Davis was at in college, but he can get there.

With sound development and a consistent effort to get in North Carolina basketball shape (i.e. cardio, lots and lots of cardio), I wouldn't be surprised if James becomes one of the top big men in the country by the time his senior year roles around—if he's still around.

As for Brice Johnson, I see shades of Ed Davis. I'd like to think I could speak for all of Carolina fans in saying that Davis really declared too early for the draft. Even though I personally think he was bad for team chemistry and had his own agenda, his impact on both sides of the floor were undeniable.

Brice Johnson could have that same impact. At 6'9", he isn't as tall as Davis, but he is still long enough to cause plenty of problems on the defensive side of the ball and athletic and skilled enough to score in bunches down the road.

Desmond Hubert comes into UNC this season with a slender frame and a big question mark next to his playing-time slot. But this guy loves to work. He was an outstanding student at New Egypt High School, and has only been playing organized basketball since his freshman year of high school.  

As his high school coach once put it: "Desmond went from not being able to catch a ball as a freshman to being recruiting by (a school like) North Carolina as a senior."  

In other words, Hubert has tremendous upside. His weight gain should be his top priority, though, as John Henson proved that all the height in the world doesn't do much for you if you don't have the girth to complement it.

Hubert actually said that one of the biggest reasons he turned down Maryland, which was his other finalist school that had told him he could start right away, was because he knew he needed to get better before he was thrown into a starting-five rotation.

So like Johnson, Hubert, along with James, could turn UNC's front line into one of the most imposing defensive presences toward the latter parts of their careers. An offensive presence from the three will be there, too.

Lastly, there's J.P. Tokoto. And holy crap can this guy jump. An old saying goes that you can't teach athleticism—but if you could, Tokoto could write a book about it. The funny thing about basketball is that when you're super athletic, you tend to not be too good of a shooter, and conversely so for shooters not being very athletic.

That ironic juxtaposition holds true for Tokoto. 

But if Tokoto can work on his outside jumper and ability to create, he could be an ACC First Team-caliber player by the time his junior and senior seasons roll around.  

Very few players can keep up with him in the open floor, so if he is able to become a similar threat in the half-court game, he'd be virtually unstoppable.

So, despite what you may have thought when you read my headline, this article actually has very little to do with Mitch McGary—that was my point.

Without McGary, UNC may not have their typical go-to low post threat for the next couple of seasons (granted that Henson and McAdoo do leave early), but in due time, they will.  

Roy Williams said of his 2005-2006 team (Tyler Hansbrough's freshman year) that it was his favorite team he's ever coached because of their eagerness to learn and desire to get better every day.

I have a feeling the 2012-2013 team could give the '05-06 team a run for their money.