UNC Basketball: Will Tar Heels sign a 5-star prospect this recruiting cycle?

Will the UNC basketball program reel in any of its remaining recruiting targets, or will 5-star prospects — and a highly thought of 4-star — remain ever so elusive for Tar Heels in 2021?

Patrick Baldwin, Jr., Chet Holmgren, Hunter Sallis and Trey Kaufman are the four remaining uncommitted prospects in the class of 2021 that hold scholarship offers from North Carolina. Three 5-star players and a 4-star, respectively, all four rank within the top 50 of the 247Sports Composite, and the Tar Heels have steep competition for each.

So, will the Tar Heels finish out the 2021 recruiting cycle with commitments from any of them, or will they have to go back to the drawing board and extend additional offers in the class?

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Baldwin, for one, appears to be headed for Duke. And if he doesn’t end up in Durham next year with an absolutely loaded class of Blue Devils, he’s almost certainly going to stay in his home state to play for his father at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. That’s really the Blue Devils’ only concern in the Baldwin recruitment; well, that and the fact that they are beginning to create a bit of a log jam in their deep and talented front court. After all, Baldwin, a 6-foot-9, 190-pound small forward, isn’t the only 5-star star forward considering the Blue Devils right now. Top 10 wing Caleb Houstan just named Duke to his list of four finalists on Wednesday in a move that eliminated the Tar Heels and five others.

The Holmgren recruitment isn’t looking much better for Roy Williams and the Tar Heels. They did make it on to his list of seven finalists in June, but neither they, nor Georgetown, Memphis or Ohio State appear to be positioned well for a commitment from Holmgren. That distinction currently belongs to Gonzaga, Michigan and Minnesota, the three schools that, at this point, appear to be way out in front for the 7-foot, 190-pound center. I think it’s a two-horse race between Gonzaga and Michigan at this point, but regardless, I can’t see Holmgren ending up in Chapel Hill next year.

The Hunter Sallis recruitment is probably where the Tar Heels are best positioned with their remaining targets. By all accounts, it looks to be Kentucky or North Carolina that will ultimately earn his commitment, but even Sallis appears to be favoring the Wildcats. Recruiting analysts and college basketball insiders alike have almost unanimously predicted that Lexington will be his new home in the fall of 2021, with the Tar Heels likely falling just short in yet another heated battle between blue bloods on the recruiting trail. If the Tar Heels do, in fact, lose Sallis, it’ll be the most painful miss for them in the recruiting class of 2021. The 6-foot-5, 175-pound combo guard could immediately step in and replace current UNC freshman point guard Caleb Love if he decides to leave Chapel Hill for the NBA after just one season.

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The 6-foot-8, 210-pound Kaufman is the No. 41 prospect in the nation, and 12th among power forwards. He’s definitely considering the Tar Heels, but they’ve got tough competition from the likes of Indiana, Indiana State, Purdue and Virginia, the other four schools that make up his list of five finalists. It’s my guess that Kaufman remains home, and chooses to play for the Hoosiers. But even if he doesn’t, there’s speculation that Virginia may be ahead of North Carolina. Losing out on Kaufman wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world since the Tar Heels already have the deepest, most talented front court in college basketball.

My honest opinion is that the Tar Heels aren’t likely to get any of the four players left on their recruiting board, and the UNC coaching staff may have to look into other available prospects, or scour the graduate transfer market to fill in the blanks.

I know this isn’t what Tar Heel fans want to hear, but it’s not as if this is the be-all-end-all for North Carolina. There’s no telling how long Armando Bacot, Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler might remain on campus. If they stay multiple seasons, this all may turn out to be a non-issue. The same can be said for the UNC back court. And it’s not as if Roy Williams and company haven’t found ways to win titles with a hodgepodge group of 5-stars, 4-stars, one-and-dones and four-year players.

2017 wasn’t that long ago.

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