North Carolina coach Roy Williams locked up the nation's top overall recruiting class in 2006. Today, that class is part of the foundation of the nation's top team in college basketball.
Williams and his staff are hoping that history will repeat itself. The Tar Heels sit atop the 2009 team recruiting rankings on the first day of the early signing period.
The five-man class has a mix of star power, versatility and players with high basketball IQs.
Tampa (Fla.) Sickles forward John Henson (No. 6 overall) and Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick guard Dexter Strickland (No. 17) highlight the class. Both should have a major impact for Williams during their time in Chapel Hill.
The likely McDonald's All-Americans are joined by Memphis (Tenn.) Briarcrest Christian guard Leslie McDonald (No. 55) and Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei twins David Wear (No. 68) and Travis Wear (No. 69).
Wright is now in his second year in the NBA with the Golden State Warriors. Lawson, Ellington and Thompson were full-time starters last year. Graves is an important reserve. Stepheson transferred to Southern California over the summer and will be a major player for the Trojans.
This year's recruiting haul has similarities to the former No. 1 recruiting class. Henson, much like Wright, needs to put on weight. However, he still finds ways to make his presence felt on the defensive end.
"Henson's length and high skill level make him one of the more intriguing prospects in the 2009 class," Rivals.com's Jerry Meyer said. "Physically, he is very much like former Tar Heel Brandan Wright. Skill-wise, however, Henson is more advanced offensively - although not quite the defensive presence Wright was. Like Wright, Henson will be very good in the fast paced, high-low attack North Carolina runs and will provide more offensive versatility and scoring punch than Wright did."
Strickland gives the team an athletic scoring force as well as a top-notch defender in the backcourt. Meyer says he likes the potential of the five-star guard.
"Strickland will be a solid player for North Carolina in the mold of combo guard Bobby Frasor, but with better athleticism and a higher level of talent," Meyer said. "Coach Williams will love Strickland because he will perform at a high level in all phases of the game while also having a dose of explosiveness. He can take a game over at times."
Marcus Ginyard, the unheralded but oh-so-important senior for North Carolina, gives the team a steadying force on the defensive end of the floor as well as a leader among his peers. Meyer said he sees a lot of the same qualities in McDonald.
"McDonald will be a glue guy for North Carolina is a similar fashion as Ginyard," Meyer said. "I just don't know that he handles the ball at the same level that Ginyard handles it. I do expect McDonald will need to bulk up and move between the shooting guard and small forward positions, giving North Carolina its necessary depth."
The Wear twins may not come to Chapel Hill as one-and-done type prospects, but in time their roles will be felt. Meyer said the duo will help with their size and strength.
"The Wears should be durable players who should add some beef to North Carolina's physically thin front line," Meyer said. "Both of them are in the process of building up their bodies. Their added strength has increased their productivity."
Even though UNC has the top-ranked signing class in the early period, this class isn't as strong as the 2006 group. However, the class has a chance to do some special things, Meyer said.
"There is no doubt that Roy Williams has assembled quality pieces in this class, ranging from potential stars to solid four-year role players to stay in the hunt for a national championship," Meyer said.
"The 2008 class compares well with the 2006 class ranking-wise, but I think the 2006 class is a little more dynamic, especially at the guard positions."
No problem. North Carolina already has a strong start for the class of 2010. The Tar Heels have a commitment from five-star guard Reggie Bullock and four-star point guard Kendall Marshall. The two-man class is one of the top 10 classes right now for 2010.