Had it been anyother game, Tywon Lawson probably would have sat it out. The 5'11" pointguard from Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va., had rolled his right ankleduring a scrimmage on the eve of the Jordan All-American Classic, an exhibitionshowcasing 20 of the country's top seniors last Saturday night at MadisonSquare Garden in New York City. Rated as the top high school playmaker in thenation this year, Lawson had already played in the McDonald's All-American gamein March, as well as in the Nike Hoop Summit on April 8. But having committedto North Carolina, Lawson knew that this game was different: His Airnesshimself--the most famous Tar Heel of all--would be courtside. "There was noway I wasn't playing," Lawson said after totaling nine points and fourassists in 13 minutes on a badly swollen ankle. "Not with Mikethere."
All-star gamesare traditionally wide-open affairs, and Saturday's was no different. That theWhite team defeated Lawson's Black squad 108--95 hardly mattered--the 9,641spectators were there to see future stars dish no-look passes and throw downjams, and they weren't disappointed. The game featured 22 dunks, sufficientlyentertaining the crowd that it could overlook the 35 turnovers.
If the game wassometimes hard to watch, it did offer a revealing glimpse of next winter'scollege basketball season, especially for fans in Chapel Hill. On hand were twoother members of the Carolina class of 2010--6'4" Wayne Ellington of TheEpiscopal Academy in Merion, Pa., the top-rated shooting guard in the nation,and 6'9" Brandan Wright of Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy, the No. 1--rankedpower forward. No other school had more than two players at the Classic. TheTar Heels' trio and three other highly regarded prospects (forwards DeonThompson, 6'8", and Alex Stepheson, 6'10", and 6'6" guard-forwardWilliam Graves) make up the nation's top recruiting class. They will join ayoung Carolina team that includes forward Tyler Hansbrough, the ACC rookie ofthe year, and finished a surprising 23--8 last season.
"My returningplayers have already talked to me about the freshmen," says Heels coach RoyWilliams, whose team is expected to give defending champion Florida a battlefor the preseason No. 1 ranking. "I guarantee they'll let them know what weneed and expect."
The last timeNorth Carolina added so many precocious prospects to a successful team, theresult was a tremendous disappointment. Highly touted freshmen Jeff McInnis,Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace arrived in Chapel Hill in 1993 to join agroup of unselfish veterans fresh off a national title. Hailed before theseason as perhaps the best college team ever, the Heels instead grew divided asthe freshmen eclipsed their older teammates. In the end Carolina lost to BostonCollege in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Of the new Heels,Lawson figures to have the quickest impact. Bobby Frasor played the point forCarolina as a freshman last year, but he's a natural shooting guard; thehyperquick Lawson, who averaged 23.8 points, 9.5 assists and 4.7 steals as asenior at Oak Hill, is perfectly suited to run the up-tempo, pressing game thatWilliams prefers. Steve Smith, the Oak Hill coach, valued him so highly thatwhen Lawson left the court with foul trouble late in a game last January, Smithhad his team--which featured six other Division I--bound players--hold the ballfor two minutes until Lawson could return. "He's the best high school pointguard since Calvin Murphy," says longtime Five-Star camp guru HowardGarfinkel, 76. "Except Calvin never met a shot he didn't like. Tywon's abetter passer."
That's one reasonto think it won't take more than one ball to keep all that talent in ChapelHill satisfied next year. "I'm out there to get everyone involved and keepeveryone happy," says Lawson. "That's my job."
Besides North Carolina, which is deemed to have the best incoming group offreshmen, here are the schools that had the strongest recruiting classes.
7-foot Greg Oden, 6'1" Mike Conley, 6'5" Daequan Cook
Oden would be top pick in NBA draft this year if he were eligible, Conley isefficient point guard, and Cook is exciting scorer from wing
6'10" Kevin Durant (top), 6'1" D.J. Augustin
Durant (above, right) is superstar in Kevin Garnett mold; Augustin will remindLonghorns fans of T.J. Ford
6'11" Spencer Hawes, 6'7" Quincy Pondexter
Hawes is dynamic center with sharp perimeter skills to go along with imposingsize--he alone gives Huskies a top five class
6'8" Thaddeus Young, 6'5" Javaris Crittenton
Young is smooth-shooting forward who was consensus top 10 recruit; Crittentonwill be starting point guard from Day One
6'5" Gerald Henderson Jr., 6'4" Jon Scheyer, 7'1" BrianZoubek
Henderson will give Blue Devils much-needed athletic jolt, while Scheyerprovides Redick-like shooting ability
MANNY MILLAN (LAWSON)
ONETOUGH CUSTOMER Lawson (1) took the ball strong to the hoop despite a badankle.
DAVID BERGMAN (DURANT)