Paige, Oriakhi are key for UNC's rebuilding

acarter@newsobserver.comMarch 30, 2012 

Class 4A Boys Basketball

Linn-Mar Marion's Marcus Paige crashes into Des Moines Hoover's Reggie White in the Class 4A championship game at the boys high school basketball tournament, Saturday March 12, 2011 in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Steve Pope)

STEVE POPE — AP

North Carolina’s rebuilding efforts began the moment on Thursday that Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Kendall Marshall announced they were leaving the Tar Heels to enter the NBA draft. Their decisions to forgo their eligibility didn’t come as a surprise, but it means UNC next season will be relying on freshmen to fill large voids.

Tar Heels coach Roy Williams is already planning to welcome a four-man recruiting class that includes Marcus Paige, a point guard from Marion, Iowa, who played earlier this week in the McDonald’s All-American game. It’s unlikely the Tar Heels’ recruiting class grows, given the great majority of prospects are already committed.

“Most of these guys are really far down the road with their decisions,” said Dave Telep, a national college basketball recruiting analyst for ESPN.

UNC could be a potential landing spot, though, for Alex Oriakhi, a 6-foot-9 forward who recently completed his junior season at Connecticut. The Huskies will be ineligible for the 2013 NCAA tournament because of academic violations, and Oriakhi has informed the school of his intention to transfer.

Because of Connecticut’s postseason ban next season, Oriakhi will be eligible to play immediately at his new school. The Tar Heels could represent an enticing landing spot. UNC will miss Henson’s defensive presence and his rebounding, and Oriakhi is known as an imposing defensive player with a talent for rebounding.

Without Henson, Barnes and senior Tyler Zeller, the Heels will take on a different, more perimeter-oriented look during the 2012-13 season. Guards Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston, Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald will all be back. Paige, meanwhile, is most likely to inherit Marshall’s point guard position.

“You can’t replace Kendall Marshall,” Telep said, referring to a player whose 351 assists set an ACC single-season record. “But you have to replace him with somebody and, in my opinion, Marcus Paige is the best replacement you can find in high school basketball.”

UNC isn’t likely to lack for depth or talent on the outside, but the interior remains a concern. In addition to Paige, UNC’s incoming recruiting class includes 6-foot-9 power forward Brice Johnson (Cordova, S.C.), 6-foot-10 center Joel James (West Palm Beach, Fla.) and 6-6 small forward J.P. Tokoto (Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin).

Like Paige, all are ranked among the ESPNU top 100 prospects in the country, but none of the frontcourt players will enter with the kind of expectations that followed Barnes and James Michael McAdoo to UNC in recent seasons.

CARTER: 919-829-8944

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