Thursday September 3rd, 2015

North Carolina entered September with zero commitments from players in the class of 2016. While blue bloods Duke and Kentucky battled for top-flight prospects around the country, the Tar Heels were trying to overcome the lingering uncertainty surrounding possible fallout from a widespread academic scandal. UNC received some positive news on the recruiting front on Wednesday night, when Tony Bradley announced his intentions to join the program.

“Prayed about it, I am proud to say that I will be furthering my education and basketball career at the University of North Carolina,” the four-star power forward wrote in a message posted on Twitter.

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The Heels had long been considered a contender to land Bradley even though he drew scholarship offers from more than 25 programs. The Bartow (Fla.) High standout received an offer from North Carolina last December and took an official visit to Chapel Hill in March for a game against in-state rival Duke. According to Tar Heel Illustrated, Bradley rated the visit a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10 but said that he thought “I am going to make my decision at the end of the summer.”

Despite later saying that he planned to take all five of his official visits, Bradley stuck to that timeline. At 6’10,’’ 235 pounds, Bradley is highly regarded for his footwork, ability to establish position in the low post and scoring touch around the basket. Over 23 games with the Florida-based Each 1 Teach 1 program on the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League Circuit this year, Bradley averaged 12.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks while shooting 63.3 percent from the field.

Rivals.com ranked Bradley 30th in the country in the new rankings it published on Wednesday.

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Bradley’s decision halts a tough recruiting run for the Heels. One of the program’s top targets in the class of 2015, small forward Brandon Ingram, spurned North Carolina for Duke in April after saying months earlier that he probably would have committed to UNC if not for the scandal. North Carolina also watched five-star power forward Sacha Killeya-Jones, who resides in Chapel Hill (but attends school in Virginia), issue a verbal commitment to Kentucky last month.

The Heels added a quality prospect, top-100 shooting guard and former VCU signee Kenny Williams, in the spring but their 2015 class, which also includes three-star power forward Luke Maye, represented a huge step down from the 2014 group that featured three top-30 prospects in small forwards Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson and point guard Joel Berry. Consider Bradley’s pledge a promising start to North Carolina’s 2016 class.

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The timing of Bradley’s expected arrival is favorable for the Heels given the composition of their frontcourt. Two of North Carolina’s rotation big men, Brice Johnson and Joel James, are entering their senior seasons, and junior Kennedy Meeks could leave for the NBA next spring (DraftExpress currently projects him as the No. 25 pick in 2016). Either way, Bradley should play significant minutes right away and could serve as a building block in the Heels’ frontcourt as the veterans leave the program.

Setting aside on-court implications, this is an important development for a program trying to reassert itself on the recruiting trail, particularly in light of Duke’s emergence as perhaps the nation’s premier destination for elite talent. Whether Bradley’s commitment leads other top prospects to follow suit remains to be seen, but it should at least inspire optimism that North Carolina’s recruiting pitch is resonating even though the scandal has yet to be resolved.

Looking ahead, North Carolina has already picked up a commitment from Jalek Felton, a five-star point guard in the class of 2017 and the nephew of former Tar Heels guard Raymond Felton. But he’s reportedly open to other programs and said in July that there was “about five percent uncertainty” regarding his pledge.

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