The Top 50 North Carolina Tar Heels of All-Time
Even your fair-weather college basketball fan knows that the North Carolina Tar Heels boast one of the most storied programs in history.
UNC celebrated the centennial year of its men’s basketball program this year and held special events not only to commemorate the milestone but to honor players who have contributed to the school’s rich legacy.
UNC’s roster has included 58 McDonald’s All-Americans since its inception in 1977 and a comparable number of collegiate All-Americans dating back to 1923.
The Tar Heels have produced 10 National Players of the Year since 1924 and numerous players who hold various ACC awards and honors. Selected players have participated in the Olympics since 1964.
UNC has produced 38 first-round NBA draft picks thus far, more than any other ACC school, and 28 players have been selected in the first round since 1980, more than any other school in country. Tar Heels in the professional ranks have combined to win many NBA championship rings and played in the NBA All-Star Game.
The following list of 50 players comprise the best players that have emerged from the program. The list was compiled solely using data, such as individual awards, achievements, and performance history, that pertain to play strictly at the college level.
Players are un-ranked but listed chronologically from the earliest to most recent.
Cartwright Carmichael (1921-24)
Carmichael was the first UNC athlete in any sport to earn All-American honors when he received the honor in 1923. He possessed a fluid game—almost graceful—and was regarded as an excellent shooter. Carmichael earned All-America honors again in 1924 in addition to All-Southern Conference honors from 1922-24. In three seasons as a Tar Heel, he led the team to an astonishing 56-7 record, marking the period with two conference and two tournament titles along with UNC’s first national championship in 1924. Carmichael Auditorium, the sports venue named after him, was home to the men’s basketball team prior to the Dean Smith Center.
Jack Cobb (1923-26)
Only six players in ACC history earned All-America honors thrice, four of them Tar Heels. Cobb was the premier recipient starting in 1924. He was also the first player to have experienced and led UNC to a perfect season the same year, capped by a national title—retroactively awarded in 1936 by the Helms Foundation, as the NCAA did not exist back then. Cobb also led the Tar Heels to three consecutive Southern Conference titles and won the 1926 National Player of the Year award. As such, he was foremost member of the Elite Eight-member club of Tar Heels with a retired jersey, though Cobb’s jersey does not list a number.
George Glamack (1938-41)
How does a basketball player who could barely see the basket end up as one of the best North Carolina players? Glamack had very poor eyesight, a physical trait detrimental in sports. However, he made up for his physical handicap with brains and feel; he shot the ball based on the painted lines on the court and possessed a wicked hook shot that obviously employed his touch. The “Blind Bomber” twice earned National Player of the Year honors in 1940 and 1941 and was an All-American selection.
The 6’7” center led the Tar Heels to their first-ever NCAA Tournament in 1941 with stellar play including a 45-point scoring performance against Clemson—a mark that still ranks as fourth-highest in program history. Glamack’s jersey is just one of eight that proudly hangs from the Dean Smith Center’s rafters for all to see.
Jim Jordan (1944-46)
Jordan unintentionally ended up a Tar Heel during World War II. He played for a year at Mount St. Mary’s College, where he was the team’s captain and leading scorer. When the Navy transferred him to the ROTC unit at UNC, he quickly grew into a star player that led the Tar Heels to a 22-6 record. Jordan was the team’s steadiest player as a good shooter, solid rebounder, and sound ball-handler, a combination that earned him the sole unanimous selection to the All-Southern Conference team in 1945.
He had a calming influence on his teammates, and coach Ben Carnevale would often keep Jordan in the game with backup players. Jordan helped the Tar Heels to a 30-5 record and UNC’s first trip to the Final Four and the title game in 1946. He earned first-team All-American honors that year after earning second-team honors the year before.
John Dillon (1944-48)
Known as “Hook” because of his deadly hook shot, Dillon first earned attention at Madison Square Garden in a game against New York University, where his trademark shot was on full display. Dillon led the team in scoring in 1946, the first year UNC reached the Final Four. He shined once again at the Garden throughout the tournament. Dillon earned All-American honors that year and the next.
Lennie Rosenbluth (1954-57)
As a forerunner of the modern game, Rosenbluth can boast a milestone that no Tar Heel has attained since: perfection. It took 32 years for the Tar Heels to achieve the holy grail of sports in Rosenbluth’s heyday. Blessed with an expansive wingspan, soft touch around the rim, and a nasty hook shot, the 6’5” big man led UNC to a perfect 32-0 record in 1957 which included the national title—a mesmerizing game that pit Rosenbluth against Wilt Chamberlain in a basket-for-basket triple overtime win over Kansas.
Rosenbluth’s career scoring average of 26.9 points per game remains the highest in school history, and no player has matched his 40 point-performances, which he achieved five times. With his unparalleled success, it is no surprise Rosenbluth earned National Player of the Year honors in back-to-back years in 1956 and 1957.
Tommy Kearns (1955-58)
Kearns played an important role during his four years at UNC, which included the 1957 NCAA Championship-winning season. In the title game, coach Frank McGuire sent the 5’11” Kearns to the starting tip-off against Kansas’ 7’1” Wilt Chamberlain. Kearns naturally lost the tip-off, but he did score 11 points in the game, helping the Tar Heels to victory.
He earned first-team All-ACC honors twice in 1957 and 1958 and second-team All-America in 1957. Kearns’ No. 40 jersey hangs from the Dean Smith Center’s rafters, as the university decided to honor his contributions to the basketball program’s legacy.
Pete Brennan (1955-58)
A single play highlights Brennan’s solid career at UNC, as shown by his career double-double. In 1957, an undefeated Tar Heels team trailed the Michigan St. Spartans 64-62 in the Final Four. With 11 seconds remaining, Michigan St.’s Johnny Green missed a free throw, which Brennan grabbed. He then raced down the court with the ball as two Spartans faced to defend him, and Brennan shot a jumper from the foul line, which tied the game with four seconds and sent it into overtime. The game ended in triple overtime, sending UNC to the title game against Kansas where they emerged victorious after yet another triple overtime game.
Lee Shaffer (1957-60)
Shaffer averaged in double-figure scoring for three consecutive seasons at UNC, setting the team and conference high mark as a senior with 18.2. He also pulled down an 11.2 average that year, including 20 against Notre Dame. Shaffer was especially effective around the boards, commonly tipping in missed shots, but also showed soft touch on jump shots from the corner and baseline. In 1960, Shaffer earned the ACC Player of the Year award. He won first-team All-ACC and All-America honors in his final year.
York Larese (1958-61)
Under legendary coach Frank McGuire, Larese earned All-ACC honors every year of eligible play and second-team All-America selection as a senior. The 6’4” guard from New York City had pure shot and could shoot from anywhere on the court but was particularly deadly from the free throw line, even with his quirky free throw style; Larese would release the ball as soon as the official handed it to him, sometimes before the official could take a step back. Still, he holds the record for most free throws made in a single game, a perfect 21-of-21 showing against Duke.
Doug Moe (1958-61)
At 6’5”, Moe relied on impeccable timing around the backcourt and boxed out taller opponents. As such, Moe put up huge rebounding numbers and grew into a potent defensive player, but he did put up a double-double average as a senior. Moe earned first-team All-America honors that year along with his two All-ACC selections.
Larry Brown (1960-63)
Brown was an outstanding ball-handler and passer who could score when needed. He led the team in scoring as a junior and focused more on assists as a senior when Billy Cunningham joined the squad. Brown earned All-ACC honors under the coaching of Dean Smith and was the first player from UNC to compete at the Olympic Games.
Billy Cunningham (1962-65)
The Kangaroo Kid, born William John “Billy” Cunningham, not only excelled at his beloved sport, but he set unbreakable records along the way. His 27 rebounds and 48 points in a single game still hold the top spot. He earned numerous honors, including 1965 ACC Player of the Year, All-ACC three years running, and a couple of All-American selections. Cunningham was also selected as one of the 50 best players in ACC history in 2002.
Bob Lewis (1964-67)
A versatile sharpshooter, Lewis played various roles, and played them well, during his four-year stint in a Tar Heel uniform. Despite his 6’3” frame, he thrived as a frontcourt scorer in his sophomore and junior seasons, as his 21.0 and 27.4 seasonal point averages attest—the latter still ranks second best all time. As a senior, Lewis moved to a more physically natural position as a guard and helped jump-start the golden era of UNC basketball, marked by three consecutive trips to the Final Four and a top five ranking three years running. Since Lewis’ senior season, UNC has won more games than any other program. The two-time All-ACC and two-time All-America selection still holds the record for the most points ever by a Tar Heel in a single game.
Larry Miller (1965-68)
The casual fan often overlooks Miller and even fails to know him as a player. Nevertheless, Miller deserves much credit for his contributions as a player during a time of more exclusive postseason competition. As a player he could take over a game when needed and deliver in the clutch, “willing” shots to go in from all kinds of off-balance positions. Miller, a two-time ACC Player of the Year, averaged a career double-double in three seasons even though he was shorter than most frontcourt players.
Miller also led the Tar Heels to back-to-back Final Fours in an age where a team had to win the ACC Tournament for selection to the NCAA Tournament—a remarkable achievement given the daunting challenge. The ACC named him as one of the 50 greatest players in the conference.
Charlie Scott (1967-70)
Scott played in an era when racial discrimination, bigotry, and intolerance tainted much of society, including sports. As such, his tenure at UNC served as a trailblazing event for equality in student-athletics.
Scott was a remarkable player, who led the Tar Heels to three straight ACC titles and two straight Final Four appearances, both beginning in 1968. He was named the ACC Co-Athlete of the Year in 1969 and garnered All-American honors the same year and the next in what is arguably one the most successful stretches in program history.
Despite his many successes, racism unfortunately plagued his career. As a junior and senior, Scott was widely regarded as the best player in the ACC, however, he was passed over as Player of the Year both times.
Still, the honoring of his No. 33 jersey serves as the most telling sign that Scott’s accomplishments, both in substance and context, proved to be extraordinary.
Bill Chamberlain (1969-72)
Chamberlain joined a string of New Yorkers who ventured South to play basketball at UNC. The 6’6” forward possessed a quick, all-around game and scored efficiently; he finished with a career field goal percentage of 54 percent and earned second-team All-America honors. Chamberlain's most memorable performances occurred at the 1971 NIT when he almost single-handedly took the Tar Heels to the title after All-ACC forward Dennis Wuycik suffered a knee injury in the tournament’s first round. Chamberlain earned the tournament MVP award in the process.
Bob McAdoo (1971-72)
Robert Allen McAdoo only played for a single season at UNC, but he merits recognition as one of the best Tar Heels because of that impressive season. First of all, McAdoo remains the only junior college transfer player during Dean Smith’s tenure to have earned a scholarship. He arrived from Vincennes Junior College in 1971 and immediately stepped up to help the Tar Heels to a 26-5 record. UNC won the ACC regular season title, ACC Tournament, and advanced to the Final Four that season.
The big man transfer possessed excellent shooting, including from long range. Smith was so impressed with McAdoo that besides offering him a scholarship, he suggested that McAdoo declare for the NBA, which resulted in McAdoo becoming the first UNC player to depart for the pro ranks with college eligibility remaining. McAdoo was an All-ACC selection and all-tournament selection at the ACC Tournament, the NCAA East Regional and Final Four.
Dennis Wuycik (1969-72)
At 6’6”, Wuycik was an undersized but rugged forward who relied on his brute strength to muscle shots in over his taller opponents. He was one of the finest shooters in UNC history with outstanding outside touch and powerful moves around the basket. He twice won All-ACC honors by leading the Tar Heels in scoring as a junior and senior. The Helms Foundation and Basketball Weekly named him an All-American in his final year, and Wuycik also earned Academic All-American honors that year. In 1972, Wuycik was instrumental in leading UNC to the ACC Tournament title and later was named the MVP of the NCAA East Regional.
Bobby Jones (1971-74)
Jones’ complete game allowed him to excel at all areas. As a sophomore, Jones rotated the lineup with Dennis Wuycik and Bill Chamberlain and finished the season with a 66.8 field goal percentage, still a single-season ACC record. He also was named to the Olympics roster at season’s end. As a junior, Jones posted a double-double to go along with four assists per game. In his final year, Jones provided two of the most memorable moments in the UNC-Duke rivalry.
At Cameron Indoor, he stole an inbounds pass and dribbled the length of the floor for a game-winning layup at the buzzer, giving the Tar Heels the 73-71 win. In the rematch at Carmichael Auditorium, Jones scored four points to help UNC rally from an eight-point deficit with 17 seconds. The game went into overtime, and the Heels emerged with a 96-92 win behind 24 points from Jones, who earned All-American honors at the season’s conclusion.
Mitch Kupchak (1972-76)
Kupchak was the first freshman in UNC history to play basketball after the eligibility barring first-year students was overturned. His role and production increased with each year, and Kupchak averaged a double-double during his junior and senior seasons, earning All-ACC selections. He led the Tar Heels to a sparkling 25-4 record in his final year while being named ACC Player of the Year.
Kupchak’s tenacity and fearlessness fueled his highly physical game despite a persistent back injury, which resulted in surgery between his junior and senior year. The highlight of his successful recovery took place on the international stage, when Kupchak joined the 1976 Olympics gold medal-winning team, coached by Dean Smith.
John Kuester (1973-77)
Though he never won an NCAA Championship, Kuester’s had a highly decorative career at UNC. He won two ACC Championships and helped lead the Tar Heels to four straight NCAA Tournaments including the 1977 national title game, which they lost to Marquette. Though he is often lost among the bigger names of his teammates, Kuester was twice voted the team’s best defender, a testament to his gritty game. As a senior, he earned the Most Valuable Player award of the ACC Tournament and NCAA East Regional Finals.
Tommy LaGarde (1973-77)
Had 6’10” LaGarde not torn ligaments in his knee halfway through the 1976-77 season, he may have developed into an even greater player, and UNC’s season may have ended even more successfully. The Tar Heels reached the NCAA Championship, but without LaGarde and with Phil Ford and Walter Davis hampered by injuries, they could not overcome Marquette. LaGarde still earned second-team All-ACC and second-team All-American honors that year. He also took part in the ’76 Olympic Games and won a gold medal under coach Smith. LaGarde balanced his status as a student-athlete well, receiving Academic All-American honors twice.
Walter Davis (1973-77)
“Sweet D” was an excellent all-around player who played on two ACC Championship teams in 1975 and 1977. In the 1975 tourney, Davis displayed his versatile game by mounting huge scoring numbers but also playing tight defense, especially against NC State’s National Player of the Year David Thompson. The year before, Davis banked a 35-foot shot at the buzzer at Cameron Indoor, bringing UNC back from the brink of defeat with 17 seconds left and an eight-point deficit. Behind his 31 points, the Tar Heels defeated the Blue Devils in one of the most storied games in their rivalry. Davis was one of four Tar Heels to play in the 1976 Olympics for coach Dean Smith and assistant Bill Guthridge.
Phil Ford (1974-78)
Michael Jordan may have grown into the program’s icon, but no player better embodied UNC basketball in actual play than Phil Ford. Dean Smith had developed the trademark four corners delay offense before Ford, a skinny freshman from Rocky Mount, N.C., arrived to play.
However, it was Ford who quickly made a name for himself by running the play better than anyone else and commonly triggered fear into opponents often with a simple sign of his hand, four fingers extended. Guarding Ford was nearly an impossible task, as he frequently dribbled around defenders, leaving them flat-footed with his famous staccato crossover.
By the time his career at UNC ended, Ford had earned a trip to the national title game, three-time All-American honors, three straight first-team All-ACC team honors, 1978 National Player of the Year honors, and 2,096 career points—a record that would stand for decades. Ford joined a handful of Tar Heel greats when the school retired No. 12 jersey.
Mike O'Koren (1976-80)
O’Koren was a multi-talented player without a weakness, as shown by his ranking among school leaders in various categories. He won first-team All-American honors for three straight years from 1978-80 in addition to his two first-team All-ACC selections and second-team selection. O’Koren’s sophomore year field goal shooting percentage of 64.3 led the conference and ranked second nationally.
Al Wood (1977-81)
Wood spent four years at Chapel Hill and left as a top-five scorer, no surprise given his pure shot-making ability. In fact, Woody Durham, longtime Tar Heels radio play-by-play announcers, said, “Of all the players I’ve seen, Al Wood was the best shooter.” Moreover, he earned All-American honors twice and had a memorable run in the 1981 NCAA Tournament, in which he led UNC to the title game.
James Worthy (1979-82)
Worthy’s name and accomplishments are often overshadowed by his flashier teammates, but he let his game speak for itself. “Big Game James” would deservedly shined most brightly on college basketball’s biggest stage. In his final season, Worthy not only locked up first-team All-American honors as well as sharing the National Player of the Year award with Virginia’s Ralph Sampson, but he also captained the Tar Heels to a remarkable 32-2 season and the NCAA Championship game at the Louisiana Superdome.
Worthy’s performance in the final stands as one of the best showings ever. His 28 points on 13-of-17 shooting still remains the most by a Tar Heel in a championship game. Moreover, Worthy’s steal of an inadvertent pass by Georgetown Hoyas point guard Fred Brown sealed UNC’s win and earned him the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. Upon leaving UNC, Worthy was drafted into the NBA as the No. 1 overall pick and his No. 52 jersey was retired.
Sam Perkins (1980-84)
Playing alongside Michael Jordan and James Worthy could have understandably overshadowed Perkins’ days at UNC. However, the four-year star ended up besting both Jordan and Worthy in the Tar Heel record books. Perkins’ 2,145 career points is good for third all-time at North Carolina while his 1,167 rebounds initially held the top spot before Tyler Hansbrough broke the record last year. “Big Smooth” also received three consecutive first-team All-American selections from 1982-1984.
Michael Jordan (1981-84)
“Air” Jordan may not be the best player to have worn a Tar Heel uniform, but he is indisputably the most iconic figure in North Carolina basketball and in the sport itself. Many people now equate the man to the university and vice versa. Is it just coincidence that his symbol is etched in the shoes current players now wear?
Besides developing into an unofficial ambassador for the school and trademark of the basketball program, Jordan’s accomplishments as a student-athlete certainly deserve recognition. The lanky shooting guard from Wilmington, N.C. received the ACC Rookie of the Year title in 1982 by immediately commanding the spotlight.
His most memorable performance occurred in the championship game of the NCAA tournament, where he hit the winning jump shot from the left wing with 15 seconds left. In 1984, Jordan virtually swept all the national accolades including the NCAA championship. He won the Rupp, Wooden and Naismith awards in addition to being named the ACC Player of the Year.
Brad Daugherty (1982-86)
Daugherty entered UNC as a 16-year-old freshman with size that belied his age and a soft shooting touch. He was known for his exceptional work ethic and strong post movies. Daugherty started as a freshman and compiled a 111-26 during his four-year span in a Tar Heel jersey, a period that included a perfect conference season in 1984. He also earned All-ACC honors twice, several first and second-team All-American selections, and was named a finalist for the Wooden National Player of the Year award. By the time he left school four years later, he would go down as one of the best players in program history. At one point, Daugherty held the best all-time career field goal percentage with .620.
Kenny Smith (1983-87)
“The Jet” joined a powerhouse team that included the likes of Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins and Brad Daugherty that was known for demolishing opponents by close to 20 points a game. In his four years in Carolina blue and white, Smith’s teams won more games with more consistency, so it is quite puzzling that he never won an ACC tourney or made it to the Final Four.
J.R. Reid (1986-89)
In three seasons at UNC, Reid led the team to a 88-15 record and a AP Top 10 ranking along with selection as an All-ACC and All-American performer. However, he joins a rare list of super talented Tar Heels to never have made it to the Final Four.
Reid’s signature shot was his hi-top fade, described by Sports Illustrated’s Curry Kilpatrick as a “post-up, one-hand elevator jumper, either facing the basket or turning around, is already one of the more dangerous weapons in the sport, especially as an option to his line-drive, baby jump hook, which he releases as opponents' bodies bounce off him.” In his day, Reid’s 6’9” 240-pound frame was the exception, not the norm, and thus, he was virtually unstoppable in the paint.
George Lynch (1989-93)
Lynch was the glue of the 1993 NCAA Championship team, the epitome of a team player often grabbing clutch rebounds and last-minute steals. His teammates recognized his crucial presence, as they voted him the Most Valuable Player after their title-winning season. That year, Lynch was named first-team All-ACC as well as Most Outstanding Player in the tournament’s East Regional and earned a spot on the Final Four All-Tournament. He finished his career as one of only two Tar Heels with 1,500 points, 1,000 rebounds, 200 steals and 200 assists.
Derrick Phelps (1990-94)
Under Dean Smith, Phelps earned recognition as a solid point guard, earning an All-ACC honorable mention in 1993 and a spot on the second-team in 1994. He won a national championship in 1993. Upon graduation, Phelps left Chapel Hill with two UNC records: most steals in a game (nine) and in a career (247).
Eric Montross (1990-94)
The 7’ Montross, twice an All-American, belonged to one of the five NCAA title-winning UNC teams, a team regarded as one of the best in UNC history. Their 1993 championship win over the Michigan Wolverines is often described as an epic on-court drama with one of the most unusual and memorable endings. Montross is also known for guiding his team to a hard-fought win over archrival Duke, a game in which he suffered a cut under his left eye—courtesy of an errant elbow—but still continued to play with blood streaming down his face. His battered image still serves as a symbol of the intense rivalry between the two schools.
Donald Williams (1992-95)
Williams, a 6’3” point guard from Garner, N.C., played on a powerhouse team full of NBA-level talent and was often overshadowed by his teammates. Still, Williams never let the lack of the spotlight deter him from his vital role and performing to the best of his ability. Such a mentality manifested on court with brilliant play, capped by Williams’ 25 points on seven three-pointers in the 1993 NCAA Tournament Championship. Williams won the Most Outstanding Player Award upon UNC’s win.
Jerry Stackhouse (1993-95)
Stackhouse played for only two years as a Tar Heel, but while at UNC, he wore the label the “Next Jordan” because of similarities in their game, appearance and NBA draft results. He possessed tremendous athleticism and steady play in those two years as a natural wing player but adapted smoothly as a power forward in his second year.
Stackhouse earned the ACC Tournament’s Most Valuable Player Award as a freshman. He was named to the All-ACC Tournament team as a sophomore. In the NCAA Tournament of that year, Stackhouse was an essential player to UNC’s run to the Final Four, earning him first-team All-American and All-ACC honors. Sports Illustrated named him the National Player of Year.
Rasheed Wallace (1993-95)
The 6’10” Philadelphia-native was one of UNC’s most agile and dominating big men, who displayed a striking ability to control the game and run the court. He also showed deft touch and combined that with tremendous dunks, quickly earning favorite status with fans and scouts.
He was named to the All-ACC Freshmen Team and All-ACC Tournament Team. His game improved greatly, and as a sophomore, Wallace led the ACC in field goal percentage (65.4 percent), which improved his ACC career field goal percentage to 64.9 percent. Wallace was also named first-team All-ACC and second-team AP All-America. He was also a finalist for the Naismith Award.
Shammond Williams (1994-98)
It is hard to believe that the only scholarship offer Williams received coming out of high school was from a junior college in South Carolina. Williams finished his career at UNC as the school’s all-time leading three-point shooter, all-time best free throw shooter, a second-team All-ACC selection, and an ACC Tournament and NCAA Regional MVP.
As a senior, Williams set an ACC single-season record when he converted 91.1 percent of his free throws, an incredible 133-of-146 from the line. He finished his career with a 84.9 percent free throw shooting percentage. Williams also made a school record 233 three-point shots, equaling a single-game record of eight three-pointers.
Vince Carter (1995-98)
Carter began playing under legendary coach Dean Smith before Bill Guthridge took over, and was a member of Guthridge’s “Six Starters” rotation along with talented teammates Antawn Jamison, Shammond Williams, Ed Cota, Ademola Okulaja and Makhtar N’diaye.
Carter is probably most known for his flashy, explosive dunks, characterized by both awesome distance and height. He may be, in fact, UNC’s most prolific and spectacular dunker. At one point, ESPN featured a Carter dunk for six consecutive weeks on its Play of the Week segment. The three-year star led the Tar Heels to consecutive ACC Championships and Final Fours in 1997 and 1998.
Antawn Jamison (1995-98)
Jamison was part of one of the most talented teams in North Carolina history, so given Jamison’s numbers and the previous fact, it is puzzling he never won a NCAA Championship in a Tar Heel jersey. The star forward averaged a double-double and helped lead the team to two consecutive Final Fours during his three-year stint, capping his career with the unanimous National Player of the Year award and ACC Player of the Year award in 1998. Jamison also joined an exclusive group of Tar Heels to have his jersey retired.
Ed Cota (1996-2000)
Cota embodied the best of team basketball while showcasing the ideal skills of a true point guard. In his tenure at Chapel Hill, Cota led the team to three NCAA Final Four appearances with his deft ability to recognize plays and dish out assists.
To this day, he holds the single-season assists record for UNC and the ACC and is ranked third in the NCAA for assists. Cota won ACC Rookie of the Year, becoming the fourth Tar Heel to win the award. He also was named to the All-ACC Tournament Second-Team, All-ACC Rookie Team, and Freshman All-American Team among other accolades.
He led the conference in assists and was eight in the country; he topped all freshmen in the category. Cota set the second-highest single-season mark with 6.9 assists per game—the highest by a freshman in UNC history. As a sophomore, Cota earned second-team All-ACC honors while setting a single-season school and ACC record with 274 assists; he set a school record with 7.4 assists per game. Not only did Cota lead the conference in assists, but he was ranked fifth nationally. Cota became just the second player in UNC history to dish out 200+ assists in three different seasons. He earned second-team All-ACC honors again. Cota led the ACC in assists for the third consecutive season with 7.4 per game.
In his final year, Cota helped lead the Tar Heels to Final Four for the third time in four years and became the first player in NCAA history to score 1,000 points along with 1,000 assists and 500 rebounds. He also played a NCAA-record 138 games without fouling out.
Brendan Haywood (1997-2001)
Haywood, a 7’ center, never got to play under the man who recruited him to UNC, Dean Smith, but experienced quick success as a frequently used bench player who supported a cast of six rotating starters. UNC reached the Final Four in Haywood’s freshman season.
Haywood reached the Final Four again as a junior, his most successful season as an individual player. He recorded the first triple-double in school history in a game against Miami on December 4, 2000, with 18 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocks—a record to this day. As a senior, Haywood earned second-team All-ACC and second-team All-American honors. He finished his college career as the ACC’s all-time leader in field goal percentage at 63.7 percent.
Joseph Forte (1999-2001)
Forte made an immediate impact and led the team as statistical leader in his first year, leading to numerous awards including ACC Rookie of the Year, selection to several All-America teams and National Freshman of the Year by the Columbus (Ohio) Touchdown Club. He was instrumental in helping lead UNC to the Final Four, being named the regional MOP in the process. His talent and flashes of brilliance was short-lived, as Forte left for the NBA after his sophomore season—a season marked with the ACC Player of the Year award.
Rashad McCants (2002-05)
McCants joined a talented recruiting class that included Sean May, Raymond Felton and David Noel under then-coach Matt Doherty. As a freshman, he led the team in scoring en route to a third-round showing in the NIT. McCants was named to the All-ACC Rookie Team. McCants led the ACC in scoring the following year and helped UNC reach the second round of the NCAA tournament, where they fell to Texas.
He was named a second-team All-American and to the first-team All-ACC Team as the leading vote getter. McCants was a Wooden Award candidate as a junior year, his final year as a Tar Heel. He helped the Tar Heels to a 33-4 record and claim of the ACC regular season title. UNC won the NCAA Championship. He is still tied for second with 221 career three-point field goals despite only three years of play.
Raymond Felton (2002-05)
As a member of a talented recruiting class that included Sean May and Rashad McCants, Felton was expected to contribute immediately and did so impressively. He was voted Carolina Player of the Year award and ACC Freshman of the Week three times. Felton made the list of finalists for both the Bob Cousy Award and Naismith College Player of the Year Award.
In his junior season, his last at UNC, Felton played an integral role in helping lead the Tar Heels to a successful season that ended with the 2005 National Championship. In the title game against Illinois, Felton made a key steal that sealed the win for the Tar Heels. Felton was named to the first-team All-ACC and earned the Bob Cousy Award.
Sean May (2002-05)
Though May’s father, Scott, played on Indiana University’s undefeated 1976 team, his son decided on North Carolina and ended up a star power forward too. May’s three years as a Tar Heel culminated with a national championship in 2005, matching his father’s achievement at Indiana.
Behind May’s 24 points on 10-of-11 shooting and 10 rebounds, UNC defeated Illinois, 75-70. May won the Most Outstanding Player Award for his performance in the title game. May also earned All-American honors in 2004 and ACC Athlete of the Year in 2005.
Tyler Hansbrough (2005-2009)
The workhorse with an unwavering, one-dimensional expression made an immediate impact as soon as he set foot in Chapel Hill, perhaps out of necessity or demand—probably both. After all, the bulk of the previous year’s national title-winning team had left. Hansbrough had a deep void to fill.
The baby-faced power forward appeared unaffected or simply oblivious to the huge burden inevitably placed on his broad shoulders. As time would prove, the chance to play basketball at his new home was first and foremost about fun. Hansbrough’s love of the game quickly translated into on-court success. He led the team to one of the most memorable wins in the UNC-Duke rivalry when the Tar Heels defeated the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor on their senior night, which led to a rare display of joyous emotion.
Hansbrough’s bloodied face a few years later would add to the list of images that symbolized the heated rivalry. He amassed a long list of personal honors starting his first year such as ACC Rookie of the Year, several National Freshman of the Year awards, being named the only player in ACC history to earn First-Team All-American honors as a freshman to a sweep of the National Player of the Year awards as a junior.
Hansbrough’s decision to return for his senior year represented his passion for basketball and his preference for normalcy. By the time he led the Tar Heels to the national championship, Hansbrough would become the all-time leading scorer at UNC and in the ACC.
Ty Lawson (2006-09)
Lawson led the team in assists per game (5.6) as a freshman and was the fourth-highest scorer (10.2 points per game). He helped lead the team to a share of the ACC regular season title as well as the ACC Tournament. Lawson was named to the All-ACC Freshman Team. Though he was sidelined for part of his sophomore season, Lawson eventually returned to help the Tar Heels repeat as ACC regular season and Tournament champs.
Lawson chose to return for his junior year. He was voted to the All-ACC First Team and was named the ACC Player of the Year, the first time a point guard had won the honor since fellow alumnus Phil Ford won the award in 1978. Lawson was also named as a Consensus Second-Team All-American. He helped lead UNC to its fourth national title. Lawson won the Bob Cousy Award in 2009 and was named to the NCAA All-Tournament team. He also holds the record for most steals in a NCAA championship game (8) and the second-best career assist-turnover ratio in ACC history (2.78).
Wayne Ellington (2006-09)
Ellington started immediately for UNC as a freshman, playing every single game. The Tar Heels made it to the NCAA East Regional Final that year before Georgetown squeaked past them after a potentially game-winning three-pointer by Ellington missed its mark. Ellington’s role increased as a sophomore, especially as a playmaker in the waning minutes, and his point product increased.
However, his season ended in disappointment after a poor shooting night in the Final Four against Kansas. In his junior year, Ellington helped lead the Tar Heels to the NCAA Championship game, where they defeated Michigan St., 89-72. He made 7-of-10 three-pointers was named to the All-Tournament team and the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Raymond Felton. Ellington also earned an All-American mention in 2008 and second-team All-ACC honors the same year.