North Carolina is in the Final Four for the second consecutive season because of its rebounding and because Justin Jackson is among the best players in the country, and because of Joel Berry's leadership, Theo Pinson’s hustle and any other number of obvious reasons.
It's back in the Final Four, too, for a reason that's perhaps overlooked: Roster continuity. The Tar Heels have managed to avoid college basketball's epidemic of player transfers, and that has helped allow Roy Williams and his coaching staff the opportunity to build teams that have largely remained intact.
Last year, according to ESPN's Jeff Goodman, more than 700 players transferred from one Division I school to another institution. Goodman said on Friday that approximately 250 players have already decided to transfer after this season, and that number will undoubtedly grow by the hundreds.
UNC, meanwhile, hasn't had a player transfer since 2011, when Larry Drew II left the program in the middle of the season. The year before that, twins David and Travis Wear transferred from UNC to UCLA.
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Since 2011, though, UNC has not had a single player transfer. In an era of constant roster turnover in college basketball, UNC's lack of transfers has allowed for a rare kind of continuity that the vast majority of the nation’s 351 Division I teams are never able to experience, as they bid farewell to old players and welcome new ones.
In recent weeks, several ACC teams have lost players to transfer. Matt Ryan, a sophomore forward, announced that he's transferring from Notre Dame. Virginia lost junior guard Marial Shayok, the team's second-leading scorer, and sophomore forward Jarred Reuter on the same day.
Duke, meanwhile, has lost four players. Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles announced their intention to enter the NBA draft after a lone college season. And Chase Jeter and Sean Obi announced that they were transferring.
So what is it about UNC? What has allowed it stand nearly alone in player retention?
“I guess our players are happy,” C.B. McGrath one of UNC's assistant coaches, said here on Thursday. “I think it has to do with how coach recruits everybody.
“He tells them what he's going to do from the start, not guaranteeing anybody playing time, not guaranteeing anybody shots. Just saying, you come to Carolina, you're going to have a chance to play.”
McGrath said the UNC coaching staff follows the nationwide transfer trend. At times, he said, coaches at other schools might call and ask if any UNC players might be considering leaving for another school. The answer, for the past six years, has always been the same: No.
It has been a long time, McGrath said, since Williams even shared a conversation with one of his players about transferring. Those are the kind of talks, at other schools, that have become routine.
“I don't know the last time coach had a conversation with one of our players about that,” McGrath said.
Without transfers, UNC has only had to deal with the natural attrition of players leaving after their eligibility expires, or players leaving early to pursue a professional career, as James Michael McAdoo and J.P. Tokoto did in recent years.
Last season, Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson and Joel James were seniors, but everyone else returned. At times in recent seasons UNC players might have casually thought about transferring.
Nate Britt, the senior guard, said recently that he had those thoughts early on in his college years. They weren't necessarily serious thoughts, though, and he remained with the team in a reserve role.
Isaiah Hicks, meanwhile, could have decided to leave school after last season – not to transfer, but to pursue a professional career. He didn't even consider the idea, though, and made a quick decision to return to school for his senior season.
“Once you come here, it's like a big family,” Hicks said. “And I feel like when you get here, you realize that everybody really looks out for each other. … Coach just wants the best for everybody, and I feel like everybody that comes here has that mindset of playing as a team, not just for themselves.”
Hicks and his teammates are aware of the transfer epidemic, as it is sometimes called, even if they aren't aware of exact number of players who transfer in a given year. Told that last year it was more than 700, Theo Pinson's eyes grew wide.
“That's a lot of kids,” said Pinson, UNC's junior forward. “I think kids nowadays just run from situations instead of just being patient. And then with a lot of coaches leaving and stuff, also. You never know what's going to happen.”
At most schools, the majority of them, that's true. UNC, though, is the rare school where the exception to a nationwide trend has become routine: Players stick around.