6-foot-9 power forward Vernon Carey, Jr. may be the best 2019 basketball prospect in America. The son of former Miami standout offensive lineman Vernon Carey, who enjoyed a long career in the NFL, Carey is capable of using his size to post up, or taking advantage of his athleticism to run the floor, Carey is emerging into an all-around talent. If he can become a consistently-reliable outside shooter, the sky is the limit.
Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski met with Carey on April 8, as he looks ahead to the Blue Devils’ 2019-20 roster. With the likelihood that Duke’s 2018 freshman class of R.J. Barrett, Cameron Reddish, and Zion Williamson will all play one year in college, Carey wouldn’t have much depth ahead of him if he chose the Blue Devils.
Roy Williams showed how much of a priority Carey is to the Tar Heels by visiting him between the ACC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. It was the third visit by UNC to visit Carey in as many months — a clear sign that the Tar Heels are making the power forward their biggest target in the 2019 class. With UNC preparing to lose Luke Maye and Cam Johnson after the 2018-19 season, and the possibility Nassir Little will be a one-and-done, there will be ample opportunity in Chapel Hill for Carey to make an impact as well.
In recent years, these recruiting battles have overwhelmingly gone to Duke, as the Blue Devils have pulled away Luke Kennard, Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, Brandon Ingram, and Zion Williamson just in the past few years.
But there’s a couple key differences this time around – the absence of Jeff Capel, and the absence of a NCAA cloud hanging over North Carolina’s basketball program.
With Capel’s departure to become a head coach again at Pitt, Krzyzewski will have to do much more of the heavy lifting with Carey. Krzyzewski’s recent visit to see Carey demonstrated that he’s ready for the challenge of stepping up his attention to top prospects on the recruiting trail.
The playing field has been leveled with the news that UNC wouldn’t face NCAA sanctions. Williams is looking to take advantage of the good news and get the Tar Heels back to the top of the national recruiting rankings, where they stood for multiple years after Williams first returned to Chapel Hill. UNC dominated its rivals from Durham in Williams’ first five years back in Chapel Hill, as the Tar Heels attracted the pieces of its 2009 NCAA title team.
Although Duke’s recruiting trailed in the rankings late last decade, the Blue Devils won a national championship in 2010 with a veteran club that included Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith, and Brian Zoubek, who weren’t priority targets for the Tar Heels.
In turn, UNC won a NCAA title in 2017, and nearly won a second in 2016, following a similar playbook that Duke had used when they weren’t recruiting at as high a level as the Tar Heels. Prospects such as Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Justin Jackson, and Joel Berry, all staples of UNC’s title team, didn’t receive offers from the Blue Devils. But they stayed in college three or four years each, and continued to progressively develop while with the Tar Heels.
It’s too early to know what will happen with Jalen Carey, Jr.. But with the Tar Heels and Blue Devils both digging in their heels, this is shaping up to be another classic recruiting battle between the Tobacco Road bluebloods.