Unlike the other commitments of UNC’s talented recruiting class, the impact of Nassir Little’s commitment Wednesday evening to play at Carolina, if you will, is neither black nor white. Roy Williams, his staff and his team could find themselves in quandary. Per NCAA rules, a team is allowed to give 13 scholarships to players on its roster while dressing up to 15 players for any given game.
Here’s a look at the scholarship and roster space on the 2017-18 Tar Heels:
Seniors: Joel Berry II, Theo Pinson, Aaron Rohlman*
Juniors: Cam Johnson, Luke Maye, Kenny Williams III
Sophomores: Brandon Robinson, Shea Rush, KJ Smith*, Seventh Woods
Freshmen: Garrison Brooks, Jalek Felton, Brandon Huffman, Sterling Manley, Walker Miller*, Andrew Platek
The sixteen players on the 2017-18 squad consist of 13 scholarship athletes and three walk-ons, though every eligible player can dress this year as Smith, who is the son of UNC legend Kenny “The Jet” Smith, will sit after transferring to UNC after his freshman year at Pacific University.
But here’s the trouble: UNC has three commits for the 2018-19 team. If everyone plays out their elgibility – no one transfers or chooses to go pro – the math doesn’t check out.
Take a look at the projected roster in 2018-19 if everyone plays out their eligibility:
Seniors: Cam Johnson, Luke Maye, Kenny Williams III
Juniors: Brandon Robinson, Shea Rush, KJ Smith*, Seventh Woods
Sophomores: Garrison Brooks, Jalek Felton, Brandon Huffman, Sterling Manley, Walker Miller*, Andrew Platek
Freshman: Rechon Black, Nassir Little, Coby White
If you counted, you know the squad would have 14 scholarship athletes, a number not permitted by the NCAA. Additionally, the two walk-on members would likely split time dressing for games if everyone stays healthy as the team would exceed the 15-player maximum.
In this scenario, which isn’t necessarily unlikely, a member of the 2018-19 Tar Heel squad would likely give up a scholarship in order to free up the needed space. Many remember former Tar Heel Wes Miller, whose younger brother Walker will walk-on this year, giving up his scholarship for the 2006-07 – his senior year – to allow Williams to bring in an absolutely stacked recruiting class, which consisted of Wayne Ellington, Will Graves, Ty Lawson, Alex Stephenson, Deon Thompson and Brandan Wright.
So, which 2018-19 Tar Heel will take one for the team?
I’d place my bets on Luke Maye – who was recruited as a walk-on, but later accepted a scholarship offer after Williams’ shallow 2014-15 class; Shea Rush – who played his freshman year as a walk-on, but received a scholarship offer a few weeks ago; or Jalek Felton – who is undoubtedly a scholarship-quality athlete, but, perhaps, could find resources through a beloved Tar Heel and famous uncle, Raymond Felton, to free up a scholarship.
If a scholarship player other than Berry II or Pinson chooses to leave the team after this year, the point is moot, but if we see a full roster next year, expect someone to give up a scholarship.