North Carolina is a college basketball hotbed. From Duke to Wake Forest, NC State to Davidson, the whole state is dotted with historically successful programs. Even smaller programs such as UNC Asheville or UNC Greensboro will pop up in your March Madness brackets every few seasons.
Obviously, any conversation about North Carolina basketball has to feature the state's flagship public university — the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — and its beloved Tar Heels. UNC's program is one of the most storied in college basketball. They've won six national titles and appeared in a record 21 Final Fours. Dean Smith and Roy Williams are two of the most celebrated and respected coaches in the sport's history, and the program has sent a boatload of players to the NBA.
But what if you had to pick just five UNC players to make your all-time team? Who is an obvious choice, and who gets snubbed?
Point Guard: Phil Ford
Contemporary hoops fans may hear "UNC point guard" and think Raymond Felton or Ty Lawson. Going back to the '90s, Ed Cota brought a Brooklyn flair to Chapel Hill that resonated with fans across the country. The former Samuel J. Tilden High School star led UNC to three Final Four appearances in his four seasons in North Carolina, thrilling fans with behind-the-back passes, slick handles and an unflappable cool that reverberated through the TV screen. If there was a list of college players who impacted the culture of basketball and basketball fandom, Cota is on it.
But for our purposes, the pick here has to be Phil Ford. The North Carolina native played for UNC from 1974-1978, becoming the first freshman to ever start in his first collegiate game under legendary coach Smith. Ford's list of personal accolades is too long for this space, but it includes a couple of consensus First-Team All-American selections, ACC Player of the Year, and National Player of the Year honors. His quickness, ball handling, and shot-making ability opened the floor for the Tar Heels of the mid-'70s. This was prior to the shot clock era, and having a steady hand like Ford allowed UNC to run the four-corners offense to maximum effect — essentially taking the air out of the ball until they got an excellent scoring opportunity.
When Ford finished at UNC, he was the program's all-time leader in points scored and the ACC all-time leader in assists. While both records have been broken, his legacy in UNC is still secure.
Shooting Guard: Michael Jordan
Let's not bury the lede here. It's Michael Jordan, the best shooting guard in UNC basketball history. He's also the best shooting guard in NBA history. If we live in a multiverse where there is an unlimited number of professional basketball leagues and types of players who play in them across time and space in an "Everything Everywhere All At Once" kinda way, Jordan is still the best shooting guard of all time.
MJ played at UNC for three seasons. In that time, the Tar Heels went 88-13. He was named Naismith College Player of the Year and the Wooden Award winner in 1984. His championship-winning jumper in the national title game against Georgetown in 1982 is one of the most famous shots in college basketball history, and it was just a taste of the history-making jumpers Jordan would go on to make in his storied career.
With all due respect to Joseph Forte and Rashad McCants, this is not really a conversation.
Small Forward: James Worthy
There can be some positional qualms here. Do we even have small forwards anymore? Do we have shooting guards? It feels like most teams just sort of have a point guard, a few wings and a big man. But let's keep things traditional and go with James Worthy as the best 3 in UNC history.
Worthy played in Chapel Hill from 1979-1982, leading the 1982 team to a national title. While Jordan's last-second heroics are commemorated, Worthy was the true leader of that team, pouring in 28 points in the final against Georgetown.
"Big Game James" was a consensus First-Team All-American at UNC. He made the NCAA Finals in back-to-back seasons and was named Most Outstanding Player in 1982. Worthy was selected first in the NBA Draft and went on to have a legendary career for the Los Angeles Lakers, including seven All-Star appearances, three championships, and one Finals MVP.
If you want to classify Antawn Jamison and Jerry Stackhouse as small forwards, both deserve honorable mentions. Stack only played two seasons in Chapel Hill before turning pro, earning First-Team All American honors while leading the Tar Heels to the Final Four in 1995. Jamison spent three seasons in North Carolina and won both the Naismith and Wooden awards for Most Outstanding Player in his junior year.
Power Forward: Lennie Rosenbluth
Couple of options here. If you go back to the 1960s, Billy Cunningham stands out as a rebounding machine.
There is definitely a good case to be made for "Psycho T," Tyler Hansbrough. In his time at UNC, Hansbrough had one of the most decorated careers in college basketball history. From 2005-2009, he was named to some type of All-American team every season. As a junior, Hansbrough was the consensus National Player of the Year. Most importantly for Tar Heel fans, Psycho T led the 2009 squad to a national championship in his senior year.
Here's the thing, though: I'm not rewarding anyone who has the nickname Psycho T!
Instead, let's go to the 1950s and give our power forward spot to Lennie Rosenbluth. In the 1956-1957 season, Rosenbluth led the Tar Heels to an undefeated 32-0 season. That team defeated Wilt Chamberlain's Kansas Jayhawks 54-53 in triple overtime in the national championship game. Anytime you win something over Wilt the Stilt, you deserve a spot on your school's all-time list.
Rosenbluth played in a different era of basketball. At 6-foot-4, he'd almost certainly be considered a guard or small forward in the modern game. And you could probably flip him and Worthy on this list if you want. But it felt like Big Game James was a true modern 3, while Rosenbluth represents an entirely different game of hoops.
Center: Sam Perkins
Rasheed Wallace had a strong two seasons in UNC, manning the middle for the 1995 Final Four squad. Eric Montross made two Final Fours in the early 1990s, cementing his name among Tar Heel royalty. Going back to the 1980s, Brad Daugherty received First-Team All-ACC honors twice in his storied career.
Here's the thing, though: A lot of people consider the 1982 UNC Tar Heels to be one of the best teams in college history. We've already got the small forward and the shooting guard — so let's take Sam Perkins for our all-time team center.
In addition to the national title in 1982, the big man amassed an array of awards in his career — All-ACC, All-American, and USA Basketball Player of the Year in 1984.
UNC basketball is so good, and deep, and storied that you could pick a completely different lineup for this all-time team and still be better than most programs in America. In the "one-and-done" era of college basketball, it's a little rarer for players to have multiple years as standout players before turning pro. Still, as we saw just last season, the Tar Heels remain a storied program that seems to relish the biggest stage.
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