November 17, 2020 

Tar Heels ink nation’s second-best 2021 recruiting class

Courtney Banghart's first two recruiting hauls for UNC have been impressive

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UNC head coach Courtney Banghart coaches her team against the Navy on Nov. 11, 2019, at Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill. (Mitchell Northam / The Next)

On paper, Courtney Banghart’s first recruiting haul for North Carolina was impressive. In her 2020 class, she brought in a top 10 player in Deja Kelly and two more top 100 players in Alexandra Zelaya and Anya Poole.

But, believe it or not, her second crop of recruits is projected to be even better.

Last week, Banghart and the Tar Heels inked four players to their National Letters of Intent. And each of those players ranks in the top 20 of ESPN’s rankings for the 2021 class. According to ESPN, Banghart’s group is the second-best recruiting class in the country, with only UConn getting a more highly-touted collection of players.

“At Carolina, we work hard to recruit the best nationally, as well as to ensure that the best talent in the state stays home,” Banghart said. “In this class, we did both and we couldn’t be more excited about all that lies ahead for this group. We are eager to add their speed, versatility, athleticism, shot-making, defensive toughness, and so much more to our program.”

Indeed, the Tar Heels recruited home and across the country to secure this class. The highest-ranked recruit for UNC is Teonni Key, a 6-foot-3 wing from nearby Cary. She’s tabbed as the ninth-best player in the nation and the second-best in the state of North Carolina, behind only Wilmington’s Saniya Rivers, who committed to South Carolina. The Gamecocks were the only other team to land four commitments inside ESPN’s top 20.

“Getting Teonni was a big deal,” Banghart said. “She’s what I’m used to coaching at Princeton — that kind of really versatile 6-foot-3 kid, that’s a shot blocker, range shooter, and a high post threat. Just a great family.”

Banghart went to Georgia, Michigan, and New Jersey to round out the class.

Kayla McPherson is a 5-foot-7 guard from Danielsville, Georgia who Banghart compared to Ivory Latta, in that she’s “like a dog – totally competitive.” Morasha Wiggins hails from Kalamazoo, Michigan, and is a guard who “can do a little bit of everything” and is an “elite defender,” according to Banghart. Destiny Adams is a 6-foot-3 wing from Manchester Township, N.J. who is a defender, rebounder, runner and is “tough, tough, tough,” Banghart said.

Now in her second season at the helm of the Heels, Banghart is trying to make North Carolina what it once was: a place that can attract the top transfers and bring in the best recruits, both locally and abroad. In her first two recruiting hauls, she seems to be accomplishing that. One of the top players in her 2020 class was Poole, whom she plucked out of N.C. State’s backyard in Raleigh.

“It’s such a balancing act. I sort of say to the local kids, ‘If I offer you, it means I love you,’ because nothing is worse than having a local kid whose family is there all the time, and then they’re not playing. So, I always say, I’m slow to offer the local kids because I really want to make sure you know how much I want you,” Banghart said. “If we can get the best players in North Carolina every year and we only need to sprinkle in, then I can really choose outside of our state. Because of the academic pedigree, we can offer opportunities that are really attractive. Then you throw in the swaginess of Carolina and that helps as well … The Triangle is the mecca of college basketball. If you’re a basketball junkie, it’s a great place to be.

“We’re always going to have our eye on the state. There’s some good, young talent in the state and our eyes are there. We’re monitoring the national landscape and the international landscape as well.”

Banghart is high on the freshmen she has this season too. Kelly could have the ball in her hands quite a lot as a rookie, Poole is expected to see minutes at both post positions, and Banghart compared Alexandra Zelaya to former Louisville forward Kylee Shook, who claimed the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year award last season.

“She’s a good basketball player. That I’ll tell you for sure. That secret is out of the bag,” Banghart said of Kelly, the tenth-ranked recruit in the 2020 class. “And I think, what makes Deja so good is that her handle — a little bit like (Steph) Curry — allows her to not worry as much about the person guarding her. It’s helping her think about how the secondary defenders are leaning. She loves film. She wants to be held accountable. She wants to be coached. She wants to be great … Her growth in the last six weeks has been remarkable.”

Banghart also said Poole was a “complete delight to watch” and complimented her footwork and toughness.

UNC was picked to finish fifth in the ACC in the conference’s preseason poll and also received votes in the preseason AP Top 25 poll. With the talented depth, Banghart has added, the Tar Heels should meet those expectations, at the very least.

Written by Mitchell Northam

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