Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
The last week for North Carolina basketball has been about as eventful as an offseason week can get.
On Tuesday, the Tar Heels signed Cole Anthony (Oak Hill Academy/Mouth of Wilson, Virginia), widely regarded as the top prep combo guard in the nation, to fill the void left by Coby White’s departure to the NBA. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound son of former UNLV star and NBA player Greg Anthony is projected to be a one-and-done player and is the highest-rated guard signee in the Roy Williams era at UNC.
After the announcement, former Louisville coach Rick Pitino commented via Twitter that Anthony “reminds me of Jason Kidd with a great jump shot.” It’s safe to say that Carolina fans would be thrilled if Anthony comes close to living up to that comparison in his year in Chapel Hill. In any case, Carolina will look a bit different with Anthony running the show than it has in recent years, as he is a more natural facilitator than predecessors White or Joel Berry II, though he doesn’t shoot quite as well from outside as that pair at this stage in his career.
Shortly after Anthony’s commitment, UNC landed another top-100 combo guard from Virginia named Anthony, this time 6-3, 180-pound Anthony Harris of Fairfax. Harris, who was previously signed to play at Virginia Tech but was released from his National Letter of Intent after the departure of head coach Buzz Williams, is ranked 66th in the 247Composite and projects as a solid two-way player in the mold of Kenny Williams, though with more potential as an offensive threat.
Two days after those additions, point guard Seventh Woods announced his departure from UNC for his final year of eligibility, meaning the Tar Heels will not have an experienced backup to Anthony at the point guard position. Anthony and fellow freshman Jeremiah Francis will likely serve as the top two options, though sophomore Leaky Black can also slide to the point if needed.
Finally, on Friday night, combo guard Christian Keeling announced that he will play his final season in Chapel Hill as a graduate transfer from Charleston Southern. The 6-4 Keeling averaged 18.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game last season while shooting 46.5% from the field and 38% from 3-point range — the latter of which is especially important since Carolina is replacing its three best perimeter shooters from last season.
Significantly, Keeling’s production held up against top competition, as he averaged 18 ppg on 42% 3-point shooting in eight games against major conference competition, including 18 and 25 points, respectively, in losses to Florida and Clemson.
PICTURE GETTING CLEARER
These three additions and Woods’ departure have provided clarity on Carolina’s roster for next season, as Anthony and Keeling will almost certainly start at guard alongside a front line of Black, junior Garrison Brooks, and 6-10 five-star freshman center Armando Bacot, a bigger default lineup than the last two seasons. The rotation on the perimeter will be the most interesting thing to monitor early next season, as newcomers Keeling and Harris compete with Black, Brandon Robinson, Andrew Platek for minutes.
The Heels may still add one more piece, as Justin Pierce, a graduate transfer possibility from William & Mary, was in Chapel Hill for an official visit on Sunday and Monday. Pierce, a 6-7 swing forward, averaged 14.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game last season and is choosing between UNC, Michigan, and Notre Dame. Adding Pierce would give Carolina more lineup flexibility, as he can play the “stretch 4” position or a more traditional small forward role in a bigger lineup.
OFFENSE FLASHES POTENTIAL
Although Carolina football’s April 13 spring game was abbreviated to about 60 plays and the defense was limited by the fact that half its starters sat out of the scrimmage, several things stood out.
First of all, quarterback is no longer a weak spot in Chapel Hill — other than a loaded running back group, the quarterback position now may be the best and deepest on the team. The three contenders for the starting position — redshirt freshmen Jace Ruder and Cade Fortin and true freshman Sam Howell — combined for 313 yards on 29 attempts. That said, none of the three looked clearly better than the others; this competition will go deep into preseason camp before a winner emerges.
Secondly, early position changes appear to be taking off. Corey Bell, Jr. (five catches for 67 yards) appears to be a revelation at slot receiver, and former quarterback Chazz Surratt looks like he may have found a good home at linebacker.
Thirdly, the days of bend-but-don’t-break defense are over in Chapel Hill. New defensive coordinator Jay Bateman kept things mostly vanilla, but indications of a defense that will blitz often from everywhere were present throughout.
Fourthly, UNC is going to score a lot of points in 2019 — and the Tar Heels will need to. Even accounting for the missing starters, the absence of top-tier defensive talent was obvious. Bateman will have his hands full to compensate for a thin roster on that side of the ball; Carolina’s best bet may be to accept giving up a few extra points to focus on forcing turnovers in 2019.
RECRUITING CONTINUES TO ROLL
Mack Brown’s new staff has continued to reel in prospects, adding four commitments during the month of April: tight ends John Copenhaver (Roswell, Georgia), Kendall Karr (Belmont), 6-4 wide receiver Tylee Craft (Sumter, South Carolina), and 6-3, 195-pound linebacker Cedrick Gray (Charlotte).
Those four commitments bring UNC’s 2020 to a total of 12 commitments. The class is currently ranked eighth nationally in the 247Composite, with Carolina still strongly in the hunt for several more blue-chip prospects.
One Tar Heel was chosen in the 2019 NFL draft: linebacker Cole Holcomb was the 173rd overall pick (fifth round) and is now a Washington Redskin.
STATS OF THE WEEK
17.8, 10, 10. Those are Cole Anthony’s senior year per-game averages in points, rebounds, and assists at Oak Hill Academy. That’s right, he averaged a triple-double.
26.9. That’s Anthony’s league-leading PPG average in Nike’s top-tier EYBL summer circuit, in which Anthony was named the league MVP.
Jason Staples has covered college football since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter @DocStaples and check out more of his work at InsideCarolina.com.