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There have been 121 transfers in the ACC since UNC lost one. Why?

Roy William’s report card on Cameron Johnson’s first game back

Cameron Johnson returned to play following knee surgery against Wofford on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Johnson scored ten points in 17 minutes of play.
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Cameron Johnson returned to play following knee surgery against Wofford on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Johnson scored ten points in 17 minutes of play.

North Carolina’s game with Pittsburgh on Saturday will be a reunion in name only for Cam Johnson.

Johnson started his college career with the Panthers, and graduated last spring after three years, but there’s only one healthy scholarship player on Pitt’s roster, who was teammates with Johnson last season who’ll make the trip to Chapel Hill on Saturday.

On the spectrum of ACC roster turnover, there’s Pitt on one end and UNC on the other.

The Tar Heels have been the picture of stability under Roy Williams, despite an NCAA investigation that lasted six years. Williams has not had a player from the past eight recruiting classes (2010-’17) transfer out of the program.

Pitt has had 13 players transfer out, second most in the ACC, over that same time span.

The 15 current schools in the ACC have signed 409 high school, junior college or international scholarship players in the past eight recruiting classes and 121 have transferred out.

Williams has signed 28 players and not one has left for another college program. His secret?

“We’re going to have 13 (transfers) after this season because you asked that question,” Williams joked earlier in the season. “I’m going to come see you.”

A closer look at the transfer numbers for ACC schools and how UNC has avoided the roster turnover:

Stability

The four ACC schools (UNC, Notre Dame, Florida State, Syracuse) with the fewest transfers have had the same coach since 2010. That’s not a coincidence.

The four ACC schools (Boston College, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest) with the most transfers have had at least one coaching change and, in the case of Virginia Tech, two. Also not a coincidence.

Half of the 28 players who have signed with Boston College since 2010 have transferred. The Eagles had a coaching change (Steve Donahue for Al Skinner on the front end of that cycle and then Donahue was replaced by Jim Christian in 2014).

N.C. State has had three different coaches since 2010 which has contributed to its higher transfer total (nine) than UNC or Duke (seven).

Stability does make a difference although Virginia (10 transfers) is the exception for a program with an entrenched coach but still has had to deal with a high number of transfers.

Geography

Williams has had four players transfer out of the program in 15 seasons, all four are from California and all four transferred back to schools in their home state.

Forward Alex Stepheson signed with UNC in 2006 and played two seasons for the Heels before he finished his final two seasons at Southern California.

Twins David and Travis Wear signed with UNC in 2009 and played one season with the Heels before they finished their careers at UCLA.

Guard Larry Drew signed with UNC in 2009 and played one and a half seasons with the Heels before he finished his career at UCLA.

IMG_UNCCLEMSON-SP-013018_11_1_DAD7EM3R_L370046077
North Carolina coach Roy Williams checks the scoreboard as North Carolina cuts into the Clemson lead in the second half on January 30, 2018 at Littlejohn Coliseum inn Clemson, S.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Williams hasn’t ventured out west since. He got as far as Iowa twice (Harrison Barnes, Marcus Paige) and Texas once (Justin Jackson).

For the most part, Williams has stayed closer to home. Of the 28 players Williams has signed since 2010, 15 are from North Carolina, South Carolina or Virginia.

Staying out of California is not a bad idea for all ACC teams. Half of the players from California (8 of 16) who signed with an ACC team eventually transferred.

Staying in-state is usually the best route. Of those undergraduate transfers over the eight-class span, only 16.4 percent (18 of 110) transferred out of a school from their home state.

However, the state of North Carolina has produced the most ACC players (98) over the eight-class span and the most transfers (36).

Playing time

Williams takes a lot of grief, often from his own fans, for using so many players in the regular rotation, but it’s hard to argue with his methods.

Eleven UNC players average more than 8 minutes per game this season (tied for most in the ACC) and nine average more than 10 minutes per game (second most in the league).

“Some coaches are very comfortable playing five or six guys,” Williams said earlier this season. “I’m just not doing that.”

Williams said he doesn’t go out of his way to give a player minutes in the hopes to keep them from transferring.

“Really, I’ve never thought about, ‘What am I doing right now: is that going to make him stay or go?” Williams said. “I always feel like the grass is greener where I’m standing and I think I’ve shown that throughout my entire life.

“I want to play guys because they deserve it, because it will help them long term, because I’m trying to run a program and not just one year.”

That last part was in no way intended by Williams as a shot at Mike Krzyzewski but the Duke coach has had seven players transfer out (and an eighth, little-used Sean Obi, who transferred in from Rice then left as a grad transfer for Maryland).

Freshman guard Jordan Tucker, a top 100 recruit, recently transferred out of Duke after he only played twice (for 14 total minutes) in the first 14 games.

Compare that to UNC freshman guard Andrew Platek, ranked No. 217 in the same recruiting class as Tucker, who averages 8.7 minutes per game and has played in all 23 games.

If you’re on social media when Williams subs Platek into any game, you’ll notice rather quickly that Williams will be criticized for it.

But Williams has made similar moves with unheralded players before and with great success. Does Luke Maye hit that shot against Kentucky in the NCAA tournament without the early-season minutes? Is Maye the player he is now (18.0 points, 10.4 rebounds per game) without Williams putting up with the groans every time he used Maye in spot minutes as a freshmen in 2015-16?

Maybe Platek won’t turn into the success story that Maye is but Williams is not going to change. The overall roster continuity, and success, suggest he knows what he’s doing.

UNC basketball coach Roy Williams has some fun with reporters at his press conference before the Pitt game.

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

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