In the fall of 2009, I had the fortune of attending UNC's basketball alumni exhibition, which featured current professional players in the NBA and abroad who played their college ball in Chapel Hill. It took only a few moments to realize that veterans Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter were, by a significant margin, the best players on the court.
Those two players being UNC's most notable recent NBA stars, that revelation is unsurprising until you consider the circumstances. Jamison and Carter were Carolina's best professional basketball players 10 years ago, as well, and the program has won two national titles, been to four Final Fours, and reached seven Elite Eights since then. At the time, Jamison and Carter were about to enter their 12th NBA season and were nearing the end of their prime, yet no player from the historically successful 2005-2009 Carolina teams appeared ready to unseat them.
As the following ranking of Carolina's 12 current NBA players will show, three years were enough for one former national champion to prove he is up to the task. But that alone does not change the fact that the crop of professional Tar Heels is remarkably thin, especially relative to what it once was.
Very few are complaining in Chapel Hill, where it is a source of pride that Roy Williams succeeds at the highest level with college superstars that make serviceable but not spectacular professionals. More than any college coach in America, Williams can make a viable claim to rival the John Calipari model for building a program with one that achieves equal success through a different means.
Nonetheless, Carolina fans do follow the professional careers of their favorite former Tar Heels, and when able they boast about their successes, especially in comparison to those who played at Duke.
As we look forward to the upcoming NBA draft and the potential of four 2012 Tar Heels to shore up the NBA's Carolina corp, here is a ranking, in order of current effectiveness in the NBA, of those twelve Tar Heels still in the league, along with final thoughts on where the 2012 group may eventually fit in.