UNC back for seconds?

DETROIT – Less than an hour after winning the 2009 national title, the question was already lingering in the North Carolina locker room late Monday night.

Can the Tar Heels do it again?

The answer would seem to be no – at least not next year.

Seniors Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Green have exhausted their eligibility, and juniors Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington are expected to declare for the NBA draft. Still, even though its roster appears gutted, there’s a chance North Carolina could be back in the championship hunt a year from now.

Especially if the Tar Heels get John Wall.

Wall – the No. 1 recruit in the country according to Rivals.com – was thought to be leaning toward Memphis before coach John Calipari left two weeks ago to take the Kentucky job. Calipari is doing his best to lure Wall, a point guard, to Lexington, and there’s a strong chance that could happen.

Still, don’t be surprised if the Tar Heels fight their way into the mix.

Despite being a North Carolina native, Wall has never indicated that the Tar Heels were a serious contender in his recruitment. UNC’s staff tried to get involved with Wall earlier in the process and didn’t feel there was mutual interest.

That changed over the weekend, though, when North Carolina coach Roy Williams made another attempt at Wall, who is expected to announce his decision within the next few weeks. Williams took time from his hectic Final Four schedule to phone Wall from Detroit. Suddenly, North Carolina seems like a legitimate possibility for a player who is also considering Kansas and Baylor.

Without Wall, North Carolina will probably struggle to defend its ACC title – especially if Wake Forest’s Jeff Teague, Al-Farouq Aminu and James Johnson return to school instead of entering the draft. Duke should also be strong thanks to the return of Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer. Clemson and Florida State also return most of their top players.

However, if Wall signs with North Carolina, the Tar Heels could blossom into one of the top teams in the country by season’s end.

From an Xs and Os standpoint, Wall and North Carolina seem like the perfect fit, because his biggest strength is speed, and the Tar Heels thrive on an attack so fast-paced that they even run off of made baskets.

Williams’ best teams have come when he’s had fast, aggressive guards – Kirk Hinrich, Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton come to mind – to push the ball up the court as fast as anyone in the country. Wall, who is considered a one-and-done player, certainly fits that mold.

“[Wall] is faster than Derrick Rose with the ball,” Rivals.com recruiting expert Jerry Meyer said. “And he’s bigger.”

As it stands now, if Lawson leaves as expected, North Carolina’s only returning point guard is Larry Drew, a mid-tier player who might not be cut out for such a high-octane attack. Incoming recruit Dexter Strickland, who has battled injuries for most of the last year, is expected to play shooting guard.

With or without Wall, North Carolina will certainly have some good pieces in 2009-10.

The most notable returnee is rising sophomore Ed Davis, a 6-foot-10 forward who had 14 points and 11 rebounds in Monday’s title game. He said Tuesday he plans to return for his sophomore season.

Davis will combine with returning starter Deon Thompson to form one of the most formidable frontcourts in the league along with rising sophomore Tyler Zeller and incoming recruit John Henson.

The 6-10 Henson is rated No. 6 overall in Rivals.com’s Top 150 rankings. He’s already drawing comparisons to Davis and former Tar Heel Brandan Wright – and some think he might eventually be better because of his offensive versatility. As creative as he is in the paint, Henson can also score away from the basket. It’s not uncommon for him to take shots from 3-point range. Henson’s main problem is that he weighs less than 200 pounds and is noticeably frail. He’ll need to bulk up in the summer and fall to avoid being pushed around.

If Henson becomes a factor, and if the Tar Heels find a few consistent contributors on the perimeter – especially if one of them is Wall – then North Carolina could easily be one of the last four teams standing a year from now.

Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Apr 7, 2009