When the Wear twins, David and Travis, asked for their release from North Carolina in early May, coach Roy Williams called it a "complete surprise" -- and said it was a significant blow to his team's frontcourt. The loss of the two 6-foot-8 forwards, both of whom saw minutes as freshmen, left the Tar Heels with just two returning big men, junior Tyler Zeller and sophomore John Henson. But it also set off a chain reaction.
Justin Knox, a junior power forward from Alabama who had been the subject of some controversy -- he was leaving the Crimson Tide, but they wouldn't release him to his home-state choice, UAB, because of suspected tampering -- suddenly had a new, more-attractive transfer option. Carolina had two open scholarships and available minutes for a 240-pounder who averaged 6.3 points and 3.7 rebounds last season. What's more, Knox would be eligible immediately because he was graduating from Alabama this summer. Soon, Knox was the newest member of the Tar Heels.
Looking to fill its other big-man vacancy, UNC had a brief dalliance with Kadeem Jack, a 6-8 forward from New York City's Rice High and the last decent remaining big man on the board for the recruiting class of 2010. Once Jack decided to take the prep school route, there seemed to be no other options for the Heels -- that is, until news broke of a development more surprising than the Wears' transfer: Carolina's best recruit from the Class of 2011, 6-9 power forward James McAdoo, told Scout.com on Tuesday that he was considering making the leap to college this fall, after just three years of high school at Norfolk (Va.) Christian.
McAdoo's father, Ronnie, told SI.com the early jump was James' idea. "He realized that, once the Wears left, Carolina would be in need of a big man, so that's something he talked about," Ronnie said. "We talked with the coaches [at North Carolina] to see if they'd be open to him graduating early, which they were, so right now we're just weighing the options."
(Incidentally, Ronnie McAdoo's cousin Bob, an NBA Hall of Famer, was the first player ever to leave North Carolina early, when he jumped to the NBA -- with Dean Smith's blessing -- after reaching the Final Four in 1972.)
Ronnie said he and his wife, Janet, met with Tar Heels coaches approximately three weeks ago to discuss the potential of James' early jump -- but added that his son may not make a final decision until July, after competing in the FIBA 17-and-Under World Championships in Hamburg, Germany, for the U.S. national team.
McAdoo would be the fourth player to make an early jump from junior year of high school to college this offseason, although as Scout.com's No. 5-ranked recruit in the Class of 2011, he would garner far more attention than the trio of three-star prospects that have already made the move: Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin, UCLA shooting guard Matt Carlino and Vanderbilt power forward James Siakam. Daniel Hackett followed a similar path to USC in 2006, and Andre Dawkins passed on a planned fifth year of high school to attend Duke in 2009; while they were both contributors on prominent teams, neither is as high-profile as McAdoo, a legitimate NBA prospect who at 16 was the youngest player ever to be named USA Basketball's Male Athlete of the Year.
McAdoo would be the face of a growing trend that, as Ballin' Is A Habit's Rob Dauster wrote this week, has confused the hoops world. No one knows entirely what to make of it yet. Is this rush to college a good or bad thing for the prospects? Will it become so prevalent -- or exploited -- that the NCAA will feel the need to pass legislation mandating at least four years of high school before playing college hoops? Should we bemoan the players' loss of priceless senior-year memories? Even Ronnie McAdoo has some hesitations about it, saying, "The negative of James leaving would be that we'd be losing our son a year earlier, which we'd hate to happen. But I want James to make the decision that's right for him."
The history of this sort of decision goes back to well before even Dawkins and Hackett. When I wrote, in a recruiting-period roundup story last week, that early entry high schoolers were on "Trend Watch," a few readers e-mailed to remind me that the true trailblazer on this route was actually Mike Gminski, who enrolled at Duke as a 17-year-old in 1976 after graduating from his Connecticut high school in three years. Gminski was averaging a double-double as a Blue Devils freshman in February 1977 when The Washington Post profiled him with a story headlined, "Gminski No Longer Is Bored."
Gminski's interest in prep games in which he regularly scored 40 points and grabbed 20 rebounds had waned by his junior year. He told the paper, "It was a case where my high school league was pretty weak and I decided what would help me improve as a player was to play college ball instead of another year in a weak league."
The Post described Gminski, then, as "a boy, in a man's body, who thinks like a man -- a rare commodity for a college freshman." He had a straight-A average in high school, was making Bs at Duke, and things worked out on the basketball court: He was the ACC's co-Freshman of the Year, a three-time All-ACC player after that, and finished his career in Durham as the Blue Devils' all-time leading scorer (he's now fourth) and rebounder (now second).
I don't know if McAdoo can have as big an impact as a 17-year-old at Carolina as Gminski had at Duke, but McAdoo's comments about the move this week were eerily similar to the ones Gminski made 34 years earlier. "[The ACC] is way better than playing against high school competition," McAdoo told Scout.com. "Even if I did go I could redshirt, maybe put on some pounds and develop my game. But there are so many things that could change. If I stay at Norfolk Christian, we'd have a tough schedule, but I don't know if that would be the best for helping me get to my end goal."
McAdoo also happens to be an honor roll student who had a 3.9 GPA earlier this year. According to Ronnie, James already has the standardized test scores necessary to enroll at Carolina. He's already won a state title at Norfolk Christian (this past March) and been named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Virginia. Because he doesn't turn 18 until January, joining the Tar Heels this fall won't make him available for the NBA Draft any earlier, but maybe he, like Gminski, is bored, and maybe he, like Gminski, is academically and emotionally ready for college.
During a week when the No. 1 obsession in the college hoops media is the high school transcript of former Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe, and whether it was possible for him to go from a 1.9 GPA at the end of his junior year to a 2.5 by graduation, it doesn't seem reasonable to fret about the future of a high school junior with a 3.9 GPA and a desire to expedite his final core courses in a transparent fashion. There's a reason a wave of elite prep stars with NBA potential didn't follow the Gminski route between 1976 and 2010: It required exceptional skills in the classroom more than it did on the court. If McAdoo can make the jump, we shouldn't worry about him. We should praise him.