North Carolina reached this year’s NCAA Final Four by defeating Notre Dame. The Tar Heels thus deprived me of the opportunity to write about D.C. legends Austin Carr and Adrian Dantley.
They also left me with the difficult but enjoyable task of identifying the best players in Carolina’s storied basketball history, which includes 19 Final Four appearances and five national championships. This will require naming four teams and a slew of honorable mentions.
Phil Ford (1974-78)
For those of us of a certain age, the name is synonymous with brilliant point guard play. To some extent, you had to be there, but the paper credentials aren’t lacking. Ford is third on Carolina’s all-time assist list. Twice, he was a first-team all-American. For his career, Ford averaged 18.6 points per game on .526 shooting.
Michael Jordan (1981-84)
They say that coach Dean Smith, with his controlled style of play, is the only man who could hold Jordan under 20 points per game. However, Jordan averaged 20 a game as a sophomore (and 19.6 as a junior). His finest moment, though, came as a freshman when he hit the winning shot in the national championship game against Georgetown.
Jordan shot .540 for his career at North Carolina and contributed 5 rebounds per game. He was a two-time all-American and player of the year as a junior in his final season.
Lennie Rosenbluth (1954-57)
He’s fourth on the all-time scoring list. Even more impressively, he has three of the six highest single season scoring averages in Tar Heels history, including the top mark — 28.0 in his senior year. Oh, and his per game rebounding average (10.4) is fourth on the all-time Carolina list.
As a senior, Rosenbluth led Carolina to an undefeated season and the national championship. In the final game, a triple-overtime win over Wilt Chamberlain’s Kansas, he scored 20 of Carolina’s 54 point.
Antawn Jamison (1995-98)
Jamison is eighth on Carolina’s all-time scoring list. In his final season, he averaged 22.0 points per game (on 58 percent shooting), the second highest scoring average of any player since 1966 (behind only Tyler Hansbrough). He’s also fifth on the all-time rebounding list. Jamison was player of the year his final season. That year, he led Carolina to its second consecutive Final Four.
A high character guy, Jamison is greatly respected in Washington, D.C., where he starred for many years with the Wizards.
Tyler Hanbrough (2005-09)
He’s the Tar Heels all-time leading scorer and rebounder, which makes sense since he played college basketball for six years (just kidding, it only seemed like that to fans of opponents). As a junior, Hansbrough averaged a double-double and was named national player of the year. The following season, he led Carolina to the national championship.
Many thought Hansbrough wouldn’t make it in the NBA due to lack of apparent athleticism. However, he had four solid years as a reserve logging about 20 minutes a game before fading into a lesser role.
Ty Lawson (2006-09)
It’s very tight between Lawson and fellow point guards Kenny Smith and Raymond Felton. Unlike the other two, however, the lightning-fast Lawson was named ACC player of the year. Lawson also won the Bob Cousey award as the nation’s top point guard. Finally, he’s the choice of Bill Otis, my go-to guy on North Carolina basketball.
As a pro, Lawson averaged more than 15 points four years in a row and averaged more than 8 assists in two of these seasons.
Charlie Scott (1867-1970)
“Have you seen Charlie Scott play yet?” This was the question put to me by a friend who attended the University of Maryland when I returned home from college during one of our breaks. I hadn’t; in those days college basketball games weren’t broadcast nationally. But once I did see Scott, I saw immediately what the fuss was about.
Scott was electric, a breath of fresh air in the ACC. As a senior, he averaged 27.1 points and 8.6 boards per game. For his three years, he averaged 22.1 and 7.1.
James Worthy (1979-1982)
Dean Smith did manage to hold Worthy to under 20 points per game. His best scoring average was 15.6 in his last year. That season, Worthy was first-team all-American, and in the championship game against Georgetown, he scored 28 points on 13-17 shooting. Naturally, he was named the most valuable player of the Final Four.
Worthy went on to have a fabulous pro career. He played in seven all-star games and won three NBA titles with the Lakers.
Billy Cunningham (1961-65)
“The Kangaroo Kid,” so named because he could jump through the roof, averaged 24.3 points and 15.4 rebounds per game during his career at Chapel Hill. The scoring average is second behind only Rosenbluth. The rebounding average is tops by almost 5 rebounds. A three time all-American, Cunningham was named ACC player of the year in 1965. Later, he coached Philadelphia for
Cunningham had an outstanding pro career, which included five all-star game appearances (four in the NBA) and a key role (18.5 points and 7.3 rebounds) on Philadelphia’s 1967 championship team. He went to coach Philadelphia for eight seasons, including the championship team of 1983.
Sam Perkins (1980-84)
He’s second to Hansbrough in most total career rebounds. As for scoring, Perkins averaged 16 points per game for his career and shot .576 from the field. He made all-American as a junior and a senior.
Kenny Smith (1983-87)
It all came together for “The Jet” in his senior year. He averaged 16.9 points per game on .502 shooting (including .408 on threes) to go with 6.1 assists. This was good for first-team all-American honors. Smith is second on the Tar Heels all-time assist list.
As a pro, his three-point shooting (a career success rate of 40 percent) helped produce two championships for Houston. These days, he’s one of the more insightful basketball commentators on television.
Jerry Stackhouse (1993-95)
Stackhouse played only two seasons in Chapel Hill, but his second season was one to remember. He averaged 19.2 points and 9.6 rebounds, while shooting .517 from the field (including .411 on threes). This was good for first team all-American honors.
Larry Miller (1965-68)
He’s seventh on the school’s all time scoring list. In his three seasons at Chapel Hill, Miller averaged 20.9, 21.9 and 22.4 points a game for a career mark of 21.8. He’s on seventh the all-time scoring list and 15th in rebounding (despite standing just 6-4). Miller earned ACC Player of the Year honors in 1966 and 1967 and led the Tar Heels to back-to-back Final Fours.
Bobby Jones (1971-74)
Probably as good a defensive player as the Tar Heels have ever had, Jones was no slouch with the ball in his hands, either. As a senior, he averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds per game, making second team all-American. His career field goal percentage of .608 is fourth best in school history.
An underrated pro in my opinion, Jones played in four NBA all-star games and one ABA all-star game. He earned first team NBA all-defensive honors an amazing nine times.
Brad Daugherty (1982-86)
Daugherty made first-team all-ACC twice and was a first-team all-American as a senior. He is third all-time at North Carolina in field goal percentage (62 percent). He’s eighth on Carolina’s all-time scoring list and sixth on the rebounding list.
Daugherty was the first player taken in the 1986 draft. He went on to have a fine NBA career, which included five all-star appearances.
Raymond Felton (2002-05)
Never a prolific scorer, but always an outstanding playmaker, Felton is fourth in all-time assists at Carolina and third in assists per game average (6.9). Felton was the point guard on the 2005 national championship team.
Walter Davis (1973-77)
Davis is tenth on Carolina’s all-time scoring list. He shot .531 for his career and .578 as a senior. Davis was second team all-ACC as a junior and first team all-ACC as a senior.
Davis was an even better pro than collegiate. He averaged 19 points per game during his NBA career and played in six all-star games.
Bobby Lewis (1964-67)
Lewis came to Chapel Hill from St. John’s high school in Washington, D.C. He was scoring machine. A two time all-American, Lewis averaged 20.9, 27.4, and 22.4 points in his three years with the Tar Heels. These represent three of the 17 best scoring averages in school history. Lewis’ 27.4 mark is second best all-time.
Sean May (2002-05)
The man mountain star of Carolina’s 2005 NCAA champions, May was named the most outstanding player at that year’s Final Four. May was a first team all-American that season and the season before. The 397 rebounds May pulled down in his last season are the second most in Tar Heels history, two behind Hansbrough’s single season record.
Brice Johonson (2012-16)
He’s the star of this year’s Final Four team. Johnson averaged 17.1 points and 10.5 rebounds, while shooting .616 from the field. He doesn’t look it, at 229 pounds, but Johnson is the best big man in college basketball this year.
The list of those deserving of mention includes, but is not limited to, the following players whose names and exploits are, in most cases, probably familiar to those who have read this far:
Ed Cota (1996-2000)
Derrick Phelps (1990-94)
Marcus Paige (2012-16)
Rashad McCants (2002-05)
Joseph Forte (1991-2001)
Vince Carter (1995-98)
Al Wood (1977-1981)
Mike O’Koren (1976-1980)
J.R. Reed (1986-89)
Rasheed Wallace (1993-95)
Eric Montross (1990-94)
George Lynch (1989-1993)
John Henson (2009-2012)
Bob McAdoo (1971-72)
Mitch Kupchak (1972-76)
Brendan Haywood (1997-2001)
Doug Moe (1958-1961)
Lee Shafer (1957-1960)
York Larese (1958-1961)
Larry Brown (1960-63)
George Glamack (1938-1941)
Jack Cobb (1923-26)