Seniors, Juniors Give 2022-23 Tar Heels Chance To Follow NCAA Title Tradition
By David Glenn
In college basketball, there is more than one road to the top of the mountain, more than one way to capture the national championship.
Throughout the long, proud history of North Carolina basketball, though, all six of its NCAA title teams followed a similar path in at least one regard: seniors and juniors led the way.
When the NBA stopped high school players from going directly to The League in 2006, it inadvertently created at the college level what became known as the one-and-done era.
Indeed, two of the last 10 national champions — Kentucky in 2012 and Duke in 2015 — won those national titles largely on the shoulders of extremely talented freshmen who spent only one season on their college campuses.
Historically speaking, UNC has captured its six NCAA titles in a polar opposite fashion. Just at the point guard position, for example, the Tar Heels were led by senior Tommy Kearns in 1957, senior Jimmy Black in 1982, junior Derrick Phelps in 1993, junior Raymond Felton in 2005, junior Ty Lawson in 2009 and junior Joel Berry in 2017.
Even Carolina’s four most recent national champions, in 1993 under Dean Smith and in 2005, 2009 and 2017 under Roy Williams, were overflowing with experience at virtually every position.
UNC’s eight-man rotation in 1993 had two seniors, five juniors and a sophomore.
* – played in NBA (some only briefly)
- Eric Montross*, Jr., 28 mpg, 16 ppg, 8 rpg, All-American, 1st-team All-ACC
- George Lynch*, Sr., 30 mpg, 15 ppg, 10 rpg, 1st-team All-ACC
- Donald Williams, So., 24 mpg, 14 ppg, 42% threes
- Brian Reese, Jr., 24 mpg, 11 ppg, 4 rpg
- Derrick Phelps*, Jr., 28 mpg, 8 ppg, 5 apg
- Pat Sullivan, Jr., 17 mpg, 6 ppg, 52% FG
- Kevin Salvadori*, Jr., 13 mpg, 5 ppg, 4 rpg
- Henrik Rodl, Sr., 20 mpg, 4 ppg, 4 apg
UNC’s eight-man rotation in 2005 had three seniors, four juniors and a freshman.
- Sean May*, Jr., 27 mpg, 18 ppg, 11 rpg, All-American, 1st-team All-ACC
- Rashad McCants*, Jr., 26 mpg, 16 ppg, 42% threes, 3rd-team All-ACC
- Jawad Williams*, Sr., 24 mpg, 13 ppg, 54% FG, 3rd-team All-ACC
- Raymond Felton*, Jr., 32 mpg, 13 ppg, 7 apg, All-American, 1st-team All-ACC
- Marvin Williams*, Fr., 22 mpg, 11 ppg, 7 rpg
- Jackie Manuel, Sr., 22 mpg, 6 ppg, 3 rpg
- Melvin Scott, Sr., 16 mpg, 5 ppg, 36% threes
- David Noel*, Jr., 17 mpg, 4 ppg, 55% FG
UNC’s top seven players in 2009 included three seniors, three juniors and a freshman.
- Tyler Hansbrough*, Sr., 30 mpg, 21 ppg, 8 rpg, All-American, 1st-team All-ACC
- Ty Lawson*, Jr., 30 mpg, 17 ppg, 7 apg, All-American, 1st-team All-ACC (POY)
- Wayne Ellington*, Jr., 30 mpg, 16 ppg, 42% threes
- Danny Green*, Sr., 27 mpg, 13 ppg, 42% threes, 3rd-team All-ACC
- Deon Thompson, Jr., 25 mpg, 11 ppg, 6 rpg
- Ed Davis*, Fr., 19 mpg, 7 ppg, 7 rpg
- Bobby Frasor, Sr., 17 mpg, 3 ppg, 2 rpg
UNC’s top eight players (in minutes played) in 2017 included three seniors, three juniors, a sophomore and a freshman.
- Justin Jackson*, Jr., 32 mpg, 18 ppg, 5 rpg, All-American, 1st-team All-ACC (POY)
- Joel Berry, Jr., 30 mpg, 15 ppg, 4 apg, 2nd-team All-ACC
- Kennedy Meeks, Sr., 24 mpg, 13 ppg, 10 rpg
- Isaiah Hicks*, Sr., 23 mpg, 12 ppg, 6 rpg
- Tony Bradley*, Fr., 15 mpg, 7 ppg, 5 rpg
- Theo Pinson*, Jr., 24 mpg, 6 ppg, 5 rpg
- Kenny Williams, So., 24 mpg, 6 ppg, 2 apg
- Nate Britt, Sr., 19 mpg, 5 ppg, 2 apg
Those are all extraordinarily experienced playing rotations. As it turned out, they also were loaded with future NBA players, which is the case with most NCAA champions historically.
Thanks to some recent run-it-back announcements, of course, next year’s Tar Heels will be overflowing with talent and experience, too.
One possible starting lineup is junior guard RJ Davis, junior guard Caleb Love, fifth-year senior forward Leaky Black, junior forward Puff Johnson (or perhaps an incoming transfer) and senior center Armando Bacot. Bacot will be on all the preseason All-America teams, Black is one of the best defensive players in the nation, and Davis and Love will be (at a minimum) legitimate All-ACC candidates.
While it remains to be seen how much NBA-caliber talent will be on the team’s 2022-23 roster, Carolina’s four returning starters collectively have more than 300 career starts during their time with the Tar Heels.
(The lineup below includes 2022-23 eligibility but 2021-22 statistics and accolades.)
- Armando Bacot, Sr., 32 mpg, 16 ppg, 13 rpg, All-American, 1st-team All-ACC
- Caleb Love, Jr., 34 mpg, 16 ppg, 4 apg, 36% threes, Honorable Mention All-ACC
- RJ Davis, Jr., 34 mpg, 14 ppg, 4 apg, 36% threes
- Leaky Black, Sr., 30 mpg, 5 ppg, 4 rpg, ACC All-Defensive Team
- Puff Johnson, Jr., 10 mpg, 3 ppg, 2 rpg
Also: (possible incoming/veteran transfer TBD), senior Justin McKoy, sophomore Dontrez Styles, sophomore D’Marco Dunn, four freshmen.
Such a combination of veteran talent and leadership doesn’t guarantee anything, of course, but it sure does put these Tar Heels on a fascinating path and in some pretty good company.
David Glenn (DavidGlennShow.com, @DavidGlennShow) is an award-winning author, broadcaster, editor, entrepreneur, publisher, speaker, writer and university lecturer (now at UNC Wilmington) who has covered sports in North Carolina since 1987.
The founding editor and long-time owner of the ACC Sports Journal and ACCSports.com, he also has contributed to the Durham Herald-Sun, ESPN Radio, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Raycom Sports, SiriusXM and most recently The Athletic. From 1999-2020, he also hosted the David Glenn Show, which became the largest sports radio program in the history of the Carolinas, syndicated in more than 300 North Carolina cities and towns, plus parts of South Carolina and Virginia.
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