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Potter's House a pipeline for UNC

A short, seven or so minutes from venerable Cameron Indoor Stadium on the Duke University campus sits a church whose head pastor is known for, among other things, his consuming passion for the local college basketball team. Pastor R. Tiff McCarter of Greater Joy International Ministries has come to terms with his favorite team's awkward moniker, the Blue Devils, reminding, "It takes a devil to make a Christian." But he is braced for the biggest test of his faith to date -- his sporting faith, that is.

Seven months from now, Greater Joy will welcome the first of three new members from Potter's House Christian Academy (Jacksonville, Fla.), which was founded by Vaughn McLaughlin, who happens to be McCarter's bishop. Brittany Roundtree, the No. 53 prospect in the 2011 high-school girls' basketball class, will enroll at the University of North Carolina, where she will play hoops for the Tar Heels. It will be only an 8-mile drive to her new church, where the reception is expected to be overwhelmingly supportive.

Pastor McCarter, see, is greatly outnumbered in his own house.

"The congregation is about 98 percent Tar Heels," he concedes. "They tease me about [my Duke allegiance] all the time. I think there are going to be conversions."

His, most likely. When Hillary Fuller, the No. 28 junior in the country, pledged to coach Sylvia Hatchell's Tar Heels this past weekend, she followed the lead of Potter's House teammates Roundtree and fellow 2012 prospect Antoinette Bannister, who is ranked 19th in her class. Bannister is the daughter of Potter's House Christian coach Tony Bannister.

Potter's House has been fielding high-school athletic teams for only about six years, so only time will tell if it becomes a prospects conduit for North Carolina the way Dallas-based DFW Elite has for Baylor, New York-based Exodus has for Syracuse, the Tennessee Flight has for Middle Tennessee or, famously, SoCal-based FBC used to be for UCLA. The Potter's-UNC connection, so far, is based on childhood affinity and familiarity.

"We could not have even dreamed that three players from our tiny school would go play for one of the most storied programs in the country," McLaughlin said. "It's fascinating. It's inspiring. The younger girls at our school can see, touch and talk to classmates who are actually going to North Carolina, and see that it is possible."

Some even latent attraction to North Carolina is evidenced by the presence of Tar Heel blue in the uniforms of Potter's House and the Jacksonville Rams club team, both of which are coached by Tony Bannister, a Florida native. Bannister's Rams, composed mostly of Potter's House players, have played for six years at the Deep South Classic, a spring NCAA evaluation tournament housed at North Carolina, as well as Duke and NC State. Bannister's teams also have attended Tar Heel team and individual camps since its players were in the sixth and seventh grades.

Bannister said his son, T.J., had high interest in playing at North Carolina before embarking on a college career at Virginia and Liberty. It was Antoinette Bannister who followed the family dream. Her father says the similarity in playing styles -- up-tempo defense and offense -- and focus on team as family make the UNC program a magnet for his players.

And the interest can become self-perpetuating.

"That just made it 10 times even better than just going to North Carolina," Fuller said of joining high-school teammates Bannister and Roundtree in college. "We know how each other plays and have the same style. We should be able to adjust easier."

Bannister is quick to remind that his is a roster full of Division I recruits who have signed with many programs, not just UNC.

Perspective is different at Potter's House. The past three years the Lions have been the most peripatetic high-school program in the country, playing up and down the Eastern seaboard, up and down the West Coast and everywhere in between. Last season, they played only six of its 40 games within the Florida state borders.

"I want our kids to have a world view, to know everything that is possible," said Bannister, whose team is ranked No. 6 in the latest Powerade Fab 50 for high-school girls' basketball. "I don't ever steer them. I want them all to go to college -- period. Then I want them to go to a place that fits and where they will be happy."

With sort of an adjunct wing forming up in the Chapel Hill, N.C., area, Bannister says he is starting to notice more and more scheduling opportunities for his team in the area, say, a couple years from now, when all three of his former Lions, including daughter Antoinette, are suited up for North Carolina.

One certain destination for Bannister and his girls will be Greater Joy, which by then will have become a haven for devilish Tar Heels.

Chris Hansen contributed to this report.

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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the Parade All-American Selection Committee, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at glenn@hoopgurlz.com.