North Carolina Recruits Motivated to Bring Tar Heels Back to Prominence

Jason Jordan

Last summer when Day’Ron Sharpe decided to transfer from South Central (Winterville, N.C.) to Montverde (Fla.) Academy for his senior year, he envisioned a scenario where he’d help the Eagles capture a GEICO Nationals title before heading off to North Carolina to pursue a national title with the Tar Heels.  

The former seems probable, the Eagles are the No. 1 team in the country beating opponents by an average of 40 points a game; the latter, however, may have to have a different focus.

On Saturday, North Carolina lost 66-52 at Pittsburgh, putting its record at 8-9 on the season, which marked the first time the Tar Heels are below .500 in January since 2002.

“It makes me feel down to see them struggle like that,” said Sharpe, a five-star forward. “That’s my family so to see them having a tough season is hard.”

To be fair, North Carolina has had multiple injuries this season, most notably point guard Cole Anthony’s partially torn meniscus, which he has yet to return from. Anthony was averaging 19.1 points and 6.3 rebounds a game for the Tar Heels.

“You feel for them because you know the injuries are the biggest reason they’re losing,” said Bishop Stepinac (White Plains, N.Y.) shooting guard R.J. Davis, a North Carolina signee. “I just hate to see the guys and Coach Roy (Williams) go through this.”

RJ Davis
R.J. Davis said he feels for his "brothers" in Chapel Hill.Jon Lopez

Hillcrest Prep (Phoenix) shooting guard Puff Johnson has been watching the Tar Heels for the last three years, ever since his brother Cam Johnson, now with the Phoenix Suns, suited up in Chapel Hill. Puff said seeing multiple practices and successful seasons up close over that time, makes watching this year’s struggles “seem surreal.”

“I got to know all of them while Cam was there so they’re all like my big brothers,” said Johnson, who signed with North Carolina in November. “I know it’s tough on Coach Roy too because he’s all about winning. It just makes me want to get there and get us back to the elite level we’ve always been at.”

And therein lies the bright side for North Carolina fans: help is on the way.

The Tar Heels boast the No. 3 recruiting class for 2020 with Johnson, Sharpe, Davis, Christian Brothers (St. Louis, Mo.) point guard Caleb Love and Woodward Academy (Atlanta) center Walker Kessler.

“I think all of the guys in our class are pretty motivated to get to North Carolina and try to win a national title,” Kessler said. “This season is just more motivation for us to be as prepared as possible for next season.”

That said, the consensus among North Carolina’s 2020 recruits was not to count out this year’s squad just yet.

“Just keep watching,” Johnson said. “We may have some guys coming back and all it takes it for us to start clicking and go on a run. The team always fights hard and if we can get healthy watch out.” 

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