UNC Basketball: 5-star center has ‘very high interest’ in Tar Heels

CHAPEL HILL, NC - JANUARY 16: The mascot for the North Carolina Tar Heels in action against the Syracuse Orange during their game at the Dean Smith Center on January 16, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CHAPEL HILL, NC - JANUARY 16: The mascot for the North Carolina Tar Heels in action against the Syracuse Orange during their game at the Dean Smith Center on January 16, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Class of 2020 big man has ‘very high interest’ in Tar Heels

2005, 2009, 2012 and 2017. To some, these numbers simply represent a year on a calendar, or a place marker in history. To a North Carolina basketball fan, though, commonalities exist among each of these years and their corresponding hoops season.

The common thread between the four seasons? Well, three of the teams won a national title, and the fourth should have. And before going any further; yes, I am going to be stuck on the 2012 season for the rest of my life. Deal with it.

These particular North Carolina teams were very successful, winning 33, 34, 32 and 33 games, respectively. 132 victories in all, four first-place finishes in the ACC, and three banners in the Smith Center that weren’t there before Roy Williams returned to Chapel Hill in 2003. These are the four best teams in the Hall-of-Fame coach’s 16-year tenure at UNC, but their level of success — at least within the confines of this article — is less important than why they were successful.

Big men. Dominant, relentless big men.

Sean May, Jawad Williams, Tyler Hansbrough, Marvin Williams, Deon Thompson, Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks. The most successful Tar Heels squads of the past 15 years have had terrific front court presence, and that commonality persists among those seasons more than anything else. Yes, even more than terrific guard play.

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And that’s no slight to the guard play of Raymond Felton, Ty Lawson, Kendall Marshall and Joel Berry II. Those players were paramount to the success of said UNC teams, but I’d argue that a slightly less dynamic guard could still get pretty far with those supporting casts — save for 2009 when an injured Ty Lawson did everything but wear a cape during the Tar Heels’ nail-biting second round game against LSU.

Roy Williams’ frenetic, fast-paced offense obviously requires a quick, athletic guard, but give me the big guys in the post any day. Last year’s second round loss to Texas A&M, for example, was led by the same point guard as the prior season’s national championship squad. The biggest difference? The absence of the Tar Heels’ four-year bigs Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks.

That’s why now, more than ever, UNC fans are clamoring for the arrival of 2019 commit, Armando Bacot. Without even stepping foot onto a college court, his 6-foot-10, 240-pound frame has Tar Heels fans salivating. Throw in the five stars that are slapped next to his name, and he simply can’t get to campus quick enough for the UNC faithful.

But Bacot won’t be enough for the Tar Heels when considering the departure of current seniors Luke Maye, Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams. Not only will the team’s top big man be gone, but so will its three best shooters. It’s also difficult to say if sophomore bigs Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley will progress the way they need to in order to carry the team’s front court over the next couple of seasons.

Enter Walker Kessler, a 7-foot, 235-pound center from the class of 2020. Not only is he one of the biggest human beings that Roy Williams has ever recruited, but he’s the type of player that could come in and make an immediate impact, with both his sheer size and tremendous skill.

Kessler is a five-star prospect out of Woodward Academy in College Park, Georgia. The elite big man already has scholarship offers from better than 20 schools, including some of the biggest names in college basketball. Auburn, Clemson, Duke, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Tennessee, UCLA and Virginia are among the programs who’ve already put their name in the hat, and more will certainly come before Kessler makes his decision.

The Georgia native is known best for his ability to rebound the ball, both on the offensive and defensive side of the court. He’s got a good low-post game, and nice footwork in the paint. He’s a good shot blocker and rim protector, and his massive frame forces offensive players to alter their approach on the low blocks.

His offensive game still has some room to grow, but he has worked hard on his ball-handling skills and ability to finish in traffic and through contact. He’s also working on becoming a more effective finisher with both hands.

Kessler recently spoke with Rivals’ Dan McDonald to break down his recruitment, and he had this to say of Roy Williams and the Tar Heels:

"“UNC is starting to talk to me more since I got the Duke offer,” Kessler said. “They just said they are trying to finish their 2019 class, but they are still interested. They are going to come down to see me soon and I told I still have very high interest in them and would love that. Coach (Roy) Williams said they will be down to my school soon.”"

It’s a good sign that Kessler has high interest in the Tar Heels despite their limited interactions to this point, and having not received an offer yet. Given the importance of a player like Kessler to UNC, it stands to reason that Williams would begin investing more time into him once the Cole Anthony and Keion Brooks recruitments wrap up.

Kessler is the No. 15 prospect in the class of 2020 according to the 247Sports Composite. He’s a top-3 player at his position, and the second-ranked prospect from the state of Georgia. His Crystal Ball currently favors Georgia as an 83 percent favorite over Duke.

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Stick with Keeping It Heel for more on Kessler in the coming months.