Carolina’s 100 Greatest Players of the ACC Era: 100-91

Late Night with Roy, the official tip-off to the 2011-12 basketball season, is right around the corner. So, in addition to myriad cheesy skits, that signals the arrival of some Carolina basketball content here at Tobacco Road Blues. While I’ll roll out some season preview stuff soon, let’s get started with a more historical look at the UNC program. I’ve been kicking around the idea/framework of a Top 100 list for a couple years for inclusion in my perpetually-in-progress Carolina Basketball Encyclopedia. Recently, shadzillao5 (sweet screen name, no?) brought up the idea on the Inside Carolina message boards, leading me to consult my old notes on the topic. Before revealing picks 91 through 100, I’ll introduce some ranking methodologies and guidelines that were used in creating this list. There are no right or wrong answers in creating a list like this (OK, maybe the inclusion of Larry Drew or Adam Boone is a wrong answer), but the following rules will help provide a little clarity and transparency regarding the rankings.

1.) The list will only include ACC-era (1954-current) players. While players like Carmichael, Cobb, Glamack, and Dillon would belong on any list of Carolina hoops legends, the lack of available statistics (and the vastly different style of basketball they played) makes their inclusion extremely subjective. By starting in 1954, we can make appropriate era adjustments and considerations based on complete ACC-wide data.

2.) Only collegiate performance matters. Guys like Jordan, Worthy, and McAdoo don’t get extra credit for developing into NBA Hall-of-Famers. Likewise, players like Rosenbluth, Montross, and May don’t get penalized for their less-than-stellar professional careers.

3.) Length of collegiate tenure matters. For two players with similar levels of per-season performance, four seasons in Chapel Hill will always trump three seasons. One caveat: players in the era before freshman-eligibility (those entering college before the 1972-73 season) are not penalized for only playing three seasons (whereas early-entry players who intentionally forgo their senior seasons are).

4.) Peak performance (i.e., best overall season) and overall collegiate contribution are given (roughly) the same weight.

5.) Only era-normalized production and accomplishments matter. We’re not interested in the fact that Pete Brennan (probably) couldn’t compete in today’s ACC. Only his stats/accolades relative to his late-50s peers are relevant to his ranking. We’re not trying to build a dream team or compare individual match-ups. While I think Rasheed Wallace would get the better of Tyler Hansbrough if they battled in the post as collegians, this ranking methodology won’t take that into consideration. Only each player’s career statistics, peak-season statistics, and career accomplishments/accolades will be incorporated into his ranking (while making necessary era adjustments).

6.) For players from 1980-2011, WORP (wins over replacement player) will be used to measure a player’s peak season and career contribution. WORP combines per-minute production/efficiency with minutes per game in order to calculate how much more valuable a player is than a replacement-level ACC player (generally a 9th or 10th man– replacement level is calculated for each position using historical ACC data from 1980-2011). Players aren’t ranked solely as a function of their WORP– it’s just one way to objectively assign values to peak/total contribution.

7.) Winning matters. Intangibles are also considered (albeit secondarily). While this adds subjectivity to the process, the rankings are not intended to be a purely empirical/statistical exercise.

8.) Current players are not yet eligible for inclusion. Guys like Zeller, Henson, Barnes, and Marshall will certainly warrant a spot on the list. Until their collegiate careers conclude, however, they won’t be ranked.

9.) If you ask 100 different people, you’d probably get 100 different methods for determining the “best.” That’s what makes this topic a perpetual barroom and water cooler classic. I’m not delusional enough to consider this a definitive top 100. It’s just one fan’s attempt to (semi-transparently) rank the best Heels of all-time. So, without further adieu (because, really, hasn’t there been more than enough already?), let’s begin the countdown. We’ll roll these out ten at a time (in ten segments over the next ten days), starting at #100 and finishing with #1. Let the debating ensue!

100. Marcus Ginyard: 2006-10, SG/SF, Alexandria, VA

  • Peak season (2008): 7.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.2 apg, 44.1 FG%, 64.9 FT%, 50.5 TS%, 0.67 WORP / 35 games
  • Career averages (4 years): 6.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.9 apg, 42.6 FG%, 69.5 FT%, 50.3 TS%, 1.60 Career WORP, 0.48 WORP / 1,000 minutes
  • Accolades: one All-ACC Tournament team, starter on one Final Four team

Ginyard was the defensive stopper on the 36-3 Final Four team of 2008, starting and playing over 28 MPG that season. Since the Carmichael-Cobb Award (for UNC’s best defender based on coaches’ charting) was introduced in 1968, only Ginyard, Derrick Phelps, and Brendan Haywood have won it three times. While certainly not on the Phelps/Haywood level defensively (or even on the level of two-time winners like Steve Previs, Bobby Jones, Dudley Bradley, and Jackie Manuel), he was a fundamentally sound and effective defender for the Heels. Never an effective or efficient scorer, Ginyard was the consummate role player on some very talented and successful Carolina teams. When his offensive role expanded as a senior in 2010 (after red-shirting during the Heels’ 2009 championship campaign), Ginyard struggled to a disappointing end to his collegiate career. Even so, it was a career worthy of a spot in the top 100.

99. Bob Cunningham: 1956-58, SG/SF, New York, NY

  • Peak season (1957): 7.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 39.3 FG%, 59.8 FT%, 43.1 TS%
  • Career averages (3 years): 5.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 35.5 FG%, 57.2 FT%, 39.6 TS%
  • Accolades: starter on one Final Four/national championship team

The Marcus Ginyard/Jackie Manuel of his era, Cunningham played the role of defensive stopper and (inefficient) offensive 5th option. Even after adjusting for the low shooting percentages of his era, Cunningham still scored less efficiently than Ginyard. He did step during Carolina’s run to the ’57 title, averaging 10 points and 7.4 boards in the 5 NCAAT games– highlighted by a 21-point, 12-rebound masterpiece in the national semis vs. Michigan State. This signature performance on the biggest stage (even though he followed it up with a goose egg against KU in the title game) earns him the nod over Ginyard at #99.

98. Dick Kepley: 1958-61, C, Roanoke, VA

  • Peak season (1959): 10.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 44.2 FG%, 66.3 FT%, 48.5 TS%
  • Career averages (3 years): 8.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 40.3 FG%, 69.5 FT%, 45.2 TS%
  • Accolades: none

Dick Kepley just sounds like the name of a guy who might patrol the paint in the late 1950s. And while he’s not exactly a household name– even among the most passionate of UNC fans–the 6’9″ Kepley did anchor the middle for three outstanding Frank McGuire teams (combined record of 58-16, 34-8 in the ACC). Kepley served as a tri-captain in ’61 alongside much more heralded teammates Doug Moe and York Larese. While those two did much of the scoring, Kepley was responsible for the dirty work in the paint. He was a solid, if unspectacular, piece to some very good Carolina teams– precisely the type of player who heavily populates the bottom of the top 100.

97. Henrik Rodl: 1990-93, SG/SF/PG, Heusenstamm, Germany

  • Peak season (1993): 4.3 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 3.6 apg, 49.6 FG%, 65.8 FT%, 35.5 3Pt%, 60.3 TS%, 1.46 WORP / 35 games
  • Career averages (4 years): 3.4 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 2.2 apg, 52.1 FG%, 59.5 FT%, 38.7 3Pt%, 60.9 TS%, 3.34 Career WORP, 1.72 WORP / 1,000 Minutes
  • Accolades: key reserve (and part-time starter) on two Final Four/one national championship team(s)

The versatile Rodl could defend three positions effectively, serve as a capable back-up PG, and knock down an opportunistic 3-pointer. A Swiss (or German?) Army knife in Dean Smith’s ample tool belt, Rodl handled all of his roles capably while minimizing mistakes (a career A:TO of 1.87, including 2.24 over his final two seasons). He started 52 games over his Carolina career– 26 of them in 1993 before ceding his spot to March hero Donald Williams. While his career numbers aren’t flashy, his role on the ’93 team was an underrated part of the championship mix. And, just like the coaching staff, WORP valued his combination of scoring efficiency and error avoidance.

96. Jim Braddock: PG/SG, 1980-83, Chattanooga, TN

  • Peak season (1983): 9.3 ppg, 4.1 apg, 49.6 FG%, 82.7 FT%, 46.2 3Pt%, 63.1 TS%, 2.22 WORP / 35 games
  • Career averages (4 years): 4.0 ppg, 1.7 apg, 45.6 FG%, 83.5 FT%, 46.2 3Pt%, 55.1 TS%, 2.41 Career WORP, 1.31 WORP / 1,000 minutes
  • Accolades: reserve on two Final Four/one national championship team(s)

Although a member of the rotation for both the 1981 and 1982 Final Four runs (he appeared in all 10 NCAAT games in those seasons), Braddock (like the rest of the bench) was used sparingly in those years. But, as a senior, he played a vital role in bridging the gap between point guards Jimmy Black and Kenny Smith. A dead-eye shooter throughout his career, Braddock exploited the ACC’s experimental 3-point arc (a laughably short 17’9″) to the tune of 46.2% in ’83. He also authored an admirable A:TO of 2.22 as a senior. While the ’83 Heels came up short in the Elite 8 vs. Georgia (from what conference, Sam?), Braddock delivered 10 points and 7 assists in 36 minutes against the ‘Dawgs. His overall career wasn’t as strong as those behind him on the list, but a superior peak season earns him spot #96.

95. Jackie Manuel: 2002-05, SF/SG, West Palm Beach, FL

  • Peak season (2004): 6.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.96 A:TO, 55.9 FG%, 48.3 FT%, 55.6 TS%, 1.26 WORP / 35 games
  • Career averages (4 years): 6.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.12 A:TO, 44.7 FG%, 57.5 FT%, 50.7 TS%, 1.66 Career WORP, 0.59 WORP / 1,000 minutes
  • Accolades: starter on one Final Four/national championship team

The term “lock-down defender” gets thrown around frequently in this era of 24-hour sports coverage. While it probably didn’t apply to Marcus Ginyard or Dexter Strickland (yet, at least), Manuel truly was an elite wing defender. His career WORP numbers don’t do him justice as a defender (only including his traditional box score defensive stats, plus an adjustment for team defensive efficiency), making him underrated by that metric. He’s also hurt by his two years under Matt Doherty, during which Manuel shot way too many 3-pointers and handled the ball far too carelessly. As an upperclassman under Roy Williams, however, Manuel blossomed into an elite role player– scoring more efficiently, limiting his turnovers, and playing world-class wing defense. A Dean Dome favorite (keep rockin’ those “Jackie Manuel Has a Posse” tees), his dunk over Julius Hodge will forever warm our hearts.

94. Ranzino Smith: 1985-88, SG, Chapel Hill, NC

  • Peak season (1988): 11.7 ppg, 50.2 FG%, 89.7 FT%, 40.6 3Pt%, 64.1 TS%, 1.36 WORP / 35 games
  • Career averages (4 years): 6.5 ppg, 50.2 FG%, 82.4 FT%, 42.0 3Pt%, 60.6 TS%, 3.00 Career WORP, 1.90 WORP / 1,000 minutes
  • Accolades: none

Speaking of crowd favorites, hometown hero Smith definitely qualifies. As a senior, he turned in the only 50/90/40 season in UNC history for FG%/FT%/3Pt%. Clearly one of the best pure shooters to ever wear the Carolina blue, his career marks in those categories were 50.2/82.4/42.0. As a senior, Smith out-Kimbled Bo Kimble in UNC’s 123-97 Round of 32 shootout vs. Loyola Marymount. In that frantically-paced game, Ranzino exploded for 27 points (on 11-of-14 shooting) in just 18 minutes off the bench. A fairly one-dimensional player, Smith was one of the best bench scorers and overall shooters that Carolina has ever had. Despite his shortcomings as a player, those skills alone earn him #94 on the list.

93. Dave Popson: 1984-87, PF/SF, Ashley, PA

  • Peak season (1987): 10.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 54.1 FG%, 77.1 FT%, 56.9 TS%, 1.39 WORP / 35 games
  • Career averages (4 years): 5.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 52.1 FG%, 75.6 FT%, 54.6 TS%, 2.35 Career WORP, 1.23 WORP / 1,000 minutes
  • Accolades: none

A heralded recruit, Popson never quite lived up to the hype as a collegian. Still, he was a solid part of a deep frontcourt rotation in ’85 and ’86 before becoming a full-time starter as a senior in 1987. That ’87 team went 14-0 in the ACC, joining the ’57 and ’84 Heels as the only three Carolina teams to run the regular-season conference table (Popson, and classmates Kenny Smith and Joe Wolf, were part of two of those undefeated conference seasons). As a senior, Popson was one of five Heels to average in double digits. Never a post banger, he had fantastic mid-range touch and was excellent from the charity stripe (although he got there very infrequently). Despite going 115-22 over four years, the Popson/K.Smith/Wolf class never made the Final Four, advancing to the Elite Eight twice (’85, ’87) and being eliminated by the eventual national champs in three consecutive years (’85-’87). While a Final Four trip would have enhanced Popson’s resume, he’s still accomplished enough to warrant #93 on the list.

92. Brad Hoffman: 1973-75, SG/PG, Columbus, OH

  • Peak season (1975): 10.7 ppg, 4.0 apg, 53.6 FG%, 86.0 FT%, 56.2 TS%
  • Career averages (3 years): 5.1 ppg, 2.3 apg, 49.0 FG%, 83.1 FT%, 52.4 TS%
  • Accolades: one regional All-Tournament team

After struggling to make shots as a sophomore and junior (39.1% from the field), Hoffman rediscovered his sweet stroke as a senior, making 54% of his field goals and 86% of his free throws. Only 5’10”, Hoffman was paired with freshman Phil Ford in ’75 in an essentially two-PG line-up. The starting guards combined for nearly 10 assists per game that season. Hoffman’s most famous shot as a Heel was a mid-range jumper against Wake Forest in the ’75 ACCT Quarters. This shot tied the game with two seconds remaining, giving UNC the opportunity to win in overtime and knock off David Thompson’s Wolfpack two days later to restore order to the ACC universe. Hoffman ended his Carolina career on a high note, averaging 17.3 PPG (on a sizzling 64% from the field) in 3 NCAAT games in 1975 en route to earning a spot on the All-Regional team.

91. Ray Respess: 1963-65, SF, Pantego, NC

  • Peak season (1964): 13.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 45.5 FG%, 78.8 FT%, 49.2 TS%
  • Career averages (3 years): 9.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 46.5 FG%, 78.0 FT%, 50.2 TS%
  • Accolades: none

Respess headed west to Chapel Hill from Beaufort County and carved out a solid career in Carolina blue. A top reserve in ’63, a sophomore Respess led the Heels with 15 points (in just 19 minutes) in a one-point loss to Wake in the ACCT Semis. The next season, he served as a (distant) second option to Billy Cunningham, averaging over 13 a game. As a senior, Respess’s role in the offense was reduced as Bob Lewis moved up from the freshman team to join Cunningham. Respess was a capable third option for the ’65 Heels, a team that tied for second in the ACC– the highest finish in young Dean Smith’s four-year tenure as head coach. Overshadowed by his spectacular classmate Cunningham, Respess has fallen through the cracks of Carolina history. But he was an important part of laying the foundation for success under Coach Smith, paving the way for the three consecutive Final Four appearances from 1967-69.

Click here for 90-81 on the list »

About Adrian

I'm the editor of Maple Street Press's Tar Heel Tip-off, and live in Raleigh with my wife and 2-year-old daughter. I grew up along the banks of the Allegheny River, and terrorized the WPIAL as a pass-first point guard. Follow me on Twitter @FreeportKid.
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40 Responses to Carolina’s 100 Greatest Players of the ACC Era: 100-91

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  1. TarHeelAlex says:

    I can’t ever get enough of Top Lists. Thanks for compiling this one, especially since it is so easily formatted. I saw the thread on IC, but wasn’t prepared to go through and read the bunched mess those sort of threads end up being. And I also know how tough it was to both decide on a rank and look up all the stats-I did this sort of list once for my High School’s Football History. If you think a potential ranking and comparison of Cobb, Carmichael and the Blind Bomber would be hard to do, just think of what I had to go through!

  2. Nate says:

    Wow. Huge project you’re undertaking here; godspeed. Can’t wait!

    1. Adrian says:

      Thanks, guys– I had already done most of the heavy lifting on this project in the past.

      Sounds awesome, Alex– my dad (a longtime high school football coach) is always doing (unpublished) lists like that, too, pertaining to high school football. He’s lighter on research and heavier on anecdotes, though.

      1. TarHeelAlex says:

        What school(s) did he coach at?

        1. Adrian says:

          A couple of places in Western PA: Knoch and Highlands.

  3. Adrian says:

    Also, in no particular order, some honorable mentions (not an exhaustive list) from my final draft of the Top 100: Donnie Walsh, Eddie Fogler, Rich Yonakor, Dave Chadwick, Mike Cooke, Dave Colescott, Tom Zaliagaris, Yogi Poteet, Pat Sullivan, Curtis Hunter, Buzz Peterson, Joe Brown, Tony Radovich, and Ray Harrison.

  4. Justin says:

    Great stuff. One small thing. You write:

    “Despite going 115-22 over four years, the Popson/K.Smith/Wolf class never made the Final Four, advancing to the Elite Eight twice (’85, ’87) and being eliminated by the eventual national champs in three consecutive years (’85-’87).”

    The 1987 team lost to Syracuse, which was not the national champion that year.

    1. Adrian says:

      Damn you, Keith Smart!

      Good proofreading; sorry for the careless mistake. I’ll send Coach Knight and Steve Alford apology letters.

      1. Shane says:

        Don’t forget John Feinstein.

  5. Shane says:

    Great stuff, Adrian. I assume Reggie Bullock is number one, but can’t wait to see the rest of the list.

    1. William says:

      I’m putting my $$ on Orlando Melendez or Vasco Evtimov, but you can’t rule out the dark horse Scott Cherry.

      1. Nate says:

        Y’all are forgetting Makhtar. #1 if I ever saw one.

  6. sanfransoxfan says:

    Stats-based (WORP – nice!) is a great way to go and will produce interesting results. Your choice of 100 is too much though (as proven by the first, i.e., last, names already introduced). I would go down the list till you get to the group of 10 the includes some seriously memorable players (“oh yeah – dude was awesum!”). You could have saved “honorable mentions” (guys from 67 or whatever through 100) for the post after the top ten. Of course, once the list is complete, we can do that ourselves. Looking forward to the top 50 or 60, and also where Jordan (NCAA GOAT – Not!) stats out.

  7. wang79 says:

    This is really pretty neat. Can’t wait to see the full list!

  8. Deedrah Harp says:

    Ray Respess is number #91, but he’s my dad so he’ll always be #1. 🙂 Go HEELS!

    1. Adrian says:

      Awesome! I feel bad about ranking him so low now.

      1. Deedrah Harp says:

        Dean Smith was an amazing coach. Love hearing the stories my dad has from those days. Thanks for the list! Looking forward to the rest. 🙂

  9. So basically you haveset up a system that rules out Bob McAdoo? As a juco transfer he was there 2 max. But, on Dean’s advice because of the imminent ABA/NBA merger, he left after one year. I’m sorry but a list of top 100 with no Bob McAdoo just makes no sense.

  10. So you have devised a system that rules out Bob McAdoo? Coach Smith brought him in as a JC transfer so his max was 2. He left after 1 year because Coach Smith advised him to (imminent NBA/ABA merger). Any list that automatically excludes Bob McAdoo is not a top 100 list.

    1. Adrian says:

      McAdoo is on the list. 1-year, 2-year, and 3-year players are not excluded– just penalized from a “total collegiate contribution” perspective. McAdoo would be much higher if the system only considered “peak performance.”

  11. case westerbeek says:


    Love that Respess

  12. TOMUNC says:

    Looking forward to the other 90.

    Curtis Hunter, in not making your top 100 list, is a prime example of a player not living up to the HS hype. Curtis, tabbed “The Next Michael Jordan” was a McDonald’s AA, and was actually drafted into the NBA.

  13. Gregg says:

    So…where are the rest of ’em??

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