- McDonald's All-American Game MVP Nassir Little looks poised to have a major impact both offensiely and defensively for the Tar Heels.
In the one-and-done era, college basketball fans have grown accustomed to having to get to know a slew of new, highly-touted names and faces each season, many of whom will spend just one year on campus before moving on to the NBA. Just look at the 2018 draft, where it took 10 picks before Mikal Bridges became the first non-freshman (or international) to be selected. Not all elite freshmen will pan out, but history dictates that many of them will help headline the sport for the next year—and, for some, maybe even beyond.
With that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top incoming freshmen in college basketball and breaking down the impact those players could have this season. The rankings are according to RSCI Hoops, a composite that averages from 25 different expert top-100 lists. We move to the No. 3 overall recruit, North Carolina's Nassir Little (You can view all of the profiles to date here).
What he means for the Tar Heels’ recruiting class
Roy Williams just about won the lottery with five-star small forward Nassir Little. The 6’7”, 205-pound Florida native is a highly touted recruit coming in at No. 3 in the RSCI rankings. Little is already a top draft prospect for 2019. Even though he’ll likely only stay in Chapel Hill for one season, expect serious contributions from the freshman while he’s there. Ranked initially as a four-star recruit in 2017, Little made major improvements over the last year, culminating in his MVP honors at the McDonald’s All-American Game. He will fit in well at the wing in the Tar Heel’s formidable frontcourt alongside First-Team All-ACC forward Luke Maye and Williams’s stacked sophomore class. With Brandon Huffman, Sterling Manley, Garrison Brooks and Walker Miller all at least 6’9” and 215 pounds, there are plenty of young but capable bigs to hang below the basket, giving Little a lot (ha) of room to shine at the three. With fellow-five-star recruit Coby White (No. 27), a combo guard, potentially running point the young duo could pose a serious threat to ACC opponents. Four-star point guard Rechon ‘Leaky’ Black (No. 64) rounds out the 12th ranked recruiting class for UNC, brining a talented trio to Chapel Hill.
How he fits
The McDonald’s All-American is as explosive as they come and could be an incredible impact player for Williams on the wing. With Joel Berry no longer on the court and Theo Pinson’s production gone at the three, Carolina needs someone to score. Little may be the natural fit to step into the lineup to replace Pinson, but his versatility affords him the ability to contribute in more of a combo role if needed. There are other more experienced players on the team who could also slide into this slot, so the question remains whether or not Williams will return to a more traditional lineup or simply go with his five best players. If it’s the latter, Little will certainly be on the shortlist. He makes a habit of regularly dunking right over defenders, showcasing his stellar ability to finish in transition, but he’s also an additional threat from the three for the Tar Heels, which will help Williams spread out opposing defenses even more and allow Carolina to open things up all over the floor offensively. He’s a wildly talented wing and a strong perimeter defender, something that UNC seriously needs after finishing last season ranked 316th nationally in three-point defense and 38th overall in adjusted defensive efficiency (per kenpom.com), the latter of which lagged behind the top-10 finishes in the same category by ACC rivals Virginia and Duke. Little is powerful on both sides of the ball with an athletic frame and the potential to get even stronger with some help from the UNC weight staff. Even if Little doesn’t end up in Williams's starting lineup to begin the year, he will most certainly be coming off the bench quickly and contributing in a major way.
Importance to UNC's success/team outlook
The Tar Heels need Little’s offensive talent, as his ability as a wing will help them make up for the scorers they lost, but his defensive prowess is what will be key if UNC wants to return as a contender in the ACC. If Williams can develop Little as an even more adept defender and harness his raw talent, Carolina could bounce back from last season’s up-and-down struggles and return as a dominant ACC team. The Tar Heels' talented trio of freshmen will provide much-needed added depth, and if Williams can get past his hesitation about starting freshmen and tap into his knack for maximizing a player’s potential, UNC could come together as a serious national threat.