Carolina’s Greatest Players of the ACC Era: 40-31

The first 60 selections on the list can be found here: 100-91 (+ methodology), 90-81, 80-71, 70-61, 60-51, and 50-41.

Picking back up with #40.

40. Derrick Phelps: 1991-94, PG, 6’3″, 180, Pleasantville, NY

  • Peak season (1993): 8.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 5.4 apg, 2.3 spg, 45.7 FG%, 67.5 FT%, 31.3 3Pt%, 51.9 TS%, 3.32 WORP / 35 games
  • Career averages (4 years): 7.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.8 apg, 1.9 spg, 44.8 FG%, 71.8 FT%, 32.2 3Pt%, 53.2 TS%, 9.19 Career WORP, 2.84 WORP/ 1,000 minutes
  • Accolades: one 2nd-team All-ACC, one All-ACC Tournament team, starter on one Final Four/national championship team, reserve on one Final Four team

Phelps was one of the truly elite defenders in Carolina history, winning three straight Carmichael-Cobb awards from ’92-’94 (no easy task with George Lynch, also a top-notch defender, on the roster for two of those years). Like Cota (passing), Phelps (defense) had one truly extraordinary talent. He gets the (slight) nod due to the rest of his game being slightly better than the rest of Cota’s game. After backing up King Rice as a freshman in ’91 (and playing about 10 MPG during UNC’s Final Four run), Phelps moved into the starting line-up permanently in ’92. In February of that season, he set a UNC record with 9 steals against Georgia Tech. He also added 11 assists in that game, demonstrating how profoundly he could affect the outcome on both ends without scoring (he scored just 5 points on 5 FGAs in that game). Phelps steered the Heels to a title in ’93 in his typical fashion– no gaudy stats, just game-changing contributions on both ends (like locking down Cincinnati’s Nick Van Exel in the 2nd half of the Elite 8 contest). As a senior, Phelps made 2nd-team All-ACC, then All-ACC Tournament team by averaging 10.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 3.0 steals in three UNC wins. His career ended in a disappointing manner as he suffered a concussion after a flagrant foul by BC’s Danya Abrams. Phelps played just 14 minutes in that Round of 32 loss before being injured.

39. George Karl: 1971-73, PG/SG, 6’2″, 183, Penn Hills, PA

  • Peak season (1973): 17.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 5.8 apg, 50.1 FG%, 76.1 FT%, 54.6 TS%
  • Career averages (3 years): 13.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.2 apg, 51.2 FG%, 78.0 FT%, 56.2 TS%
  • Accolades: one 1st-team All-ACC, two 2nd-team All-ACCs, one All-ACC Tournament team, one regional All-Tournament team, one NIT All-Tournament team, starter on one Final Four team

Karl made an All-ACC team in each of his three years on the varsity (two 2nds and a 1st). Along with backcourt mate (and fellow Western PA native) Steve Previs, Karl gave Dean Smith two aggressive and tenacious defenders to set the tempo with all-out hustle and floor burns. After being a 3rd/4th option type in ’71 and ’72, Karl became the team’s leading scorer as a senior in ’73. He also led the team in assists that season on his way to 1st-team All-ACC. Karl made the All-ACC Tournament team in ’72, averaging 13 points and 3.5 assists. He followed that up with a team-high 17 PPG in the East Regional to earn another All-Tournament honor. Karl capped off his stellar ’72 postseason run by averaging 13.5 points and 4 assists in two Final Four contests (including the dreaded “National Third Place” game). Like Larry Brown, Karl became a Hall-of-Fame-caliber branch of Dean Smith’s coaching tree (although his coaching success did not influence his ranking on this list). 

38. Hubert Davis: 1989-92, SG, 6’4″, 183, Burke, VA

  • Peak season (1992): 21.4 ppg, 50.8 FG%, 82.8 FT%, 42.9 3Pt%, 63.8 TS%, 3.72 WORP / 35 games
  • Career averages (4 years): 11.8 ppg, 49.8 FG%, 81.9 FT%, 43.5 3Pt%, 62.4 TS%, 8.27 Career WORP, 2.83 WORP / 1,000 minutes
  • Accolades: one 2nd-team All-ACC, one regional All-Tournament team, two All-ACC Tournament teams, starter on one Final Four team

Davis’s 1992 season is one of the best in Carolina history to not warrant 1st-team All-ACC status. The ’92 ACC was historically strong– Hubert finished sixth in All-ACC voting behind Christian Laettner, Walt Williams, Tom Gugliotta, Rodney Rogers, and Bryant Stith; he was just ahead of Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, and Sam Cassell. Lots of high-lottery talent on that list; for the sake of this analysis, we can consider Davis’s ’92 senior 1st-team caliber. In fact, as the table below shows, it was on par with J.J. Redick’s much-publicized (right, Mike Patrick?) 2006 campaign that won both ACC and National Player of the Year accolades. Redick shot a little more and scored a little more (without sacrificing much efficiency compared to Davis); Davis was more valuable from a WORP perspective due primarily to the relative strength of the league in 1992 versus 2006. Davis had a terrific ’91 postseason as a junior. He made All-ACC Tournament team by scoring 13.7 PPG on 7-of-11 3-point shooting for the victorious Heels. Davis followed that up by averaging 17.8 PPG on 11-of-19 3-point accuracy in the East Regional. In the Final Four against Kansas, Davis led Carolina with 25 points. In the eight postseason games in ’91, Davis shot an amazing 58.8% from behind the arc (20-32). He also shot 95% from the line with a TS% of 71.0. Had Carolina found a way to cut down the nets, he would surely be remembered in the same rarefied postseason air as fellow 2s Donald Williams and Wayne Ellington. Davis made another All-ACC Tournament team in ’92, averaging 23.3 points over 3 games (including 28 in the semis against FSU). His postseason magic ran out in the ’92 NCAAT; Davis made just 32.7% of his field goals, including 7.1% (1-14) from behind the arc in three games.

Davis vs. Redick: Senior-Year Comparison

Player PA Pts/40 PA Reb/40 PA Asst/40 A:TO PA FGA/40 TS% WORP/35
Davis ’92 24.5 2.6 1.8 1.16 16.4 63.8 3.72
Redick ’06 28.4 2.1 2.8 1.06 19.0 63.0 3.46

37. Tommy Kearns: 1956-58, PG, 5’11”, 188, Bergenfield, NJ

  • Peak season (1958): 14.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 41.2 FG%, 62.8 FT%, 46.5 TS%
  • Career averages (3 years): 11.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 41.4 FG%, 66.5 FT%, 47.8 TS%
  • Accolades: one 2nd-team All-American, one 3rd-team All-American, two 1st-team All-ACCs, one All-ACC Tournament team, starter on one Final Four/national championship team

Kearns averaged  12.8 PPG as the starting point guard for the undefeated ’57 champs. He scored 29 crucial points in an overtime victory against South Carolina to preserve the unblemished record. He added 16 points and 3 assists versus the ‘Cocks in the ’57 ACC  championship game (a more convincing 20-point win; the Heels led 50-23 at the half). Kearns was also terrific in the three ’57 East Regional games, averaging 19.0 PPG on 50% shooting. He scored 22 points on 14-of-19 from the line to send the Heels into the Final Four with a win over Syracuse. With the graduation of Lennie Rosenbluth, Kearns took on a bigger scoring role as a senior in ’58. He scored a career-high 14.9 PPG for the 19-7 Heels, including 20 in an ACC Tournament championship game loss to Maryland. Kearns, a 2nd-team All-American in 1957, earned 3rd-team honors following the 1958 season. He was a 1st-team All-ACC selection in both years. While he may be most remembered for taking the opening tip against Kansas’s Wilt Chamberlain (giving up 14 inches in the process), Kearns did plenty of other noteworthy things in the Carolina blue.

36. Bob McAdoo: 1972, C, 6’9″, 210, Greensboro, NC

  • Peak season (1972): 19.5 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 2.3 apg, 51.6 FG%, 70.7 FT%, 54.9 TS%
  • Career averages (1 year): 19.5 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 2.3 apg, 51.6 FG%, 70.7 FT%, 54.9 TS%
  • Accolades: one 1st-team All-American, one 1st-team All-ACC, one ACC Tournament MVP, one All-ACC Tournament team, one regional All-Tournament team, one Final Four All-Tournament team, starter on one Final Four team

Despite only staying in Chapel Hill for one season (after arriving as a junior from Vincennes Junior College), McAdoo made a huge impact on the program. He earned both 1st-team All-ACC and 1st-team All-American status in his only year on campus, and helped lead the Heels to the Final Four by winning ACC Tournament MVP (15 PPG and 7.5 RPG for a balanced UNC attack) and a spot on the East Regional All-Tournament team (14 PPG and 11 RPG). McAdoo saved some of his best performances of his career for the Final Four, though. In the national semis against FSU, he scored 24 points and grabbed 15 rebounds before fouling out in 28 minutes. Had McAdoo been able to stay on the court of a few extra minutes, it’s likely that Carolina’s comeback against the ‘Noles would have been successful. In the now-defunct national 3rd-place game, McAdoo carved up Louisville with 30 points and 19 rebounds. He shot 56% from the field and 91% from the line during the two Final Four contests. A true inside-out threat (and a revolutionary big man in that regard), McAdoo didn’t always get to the line as much as a dominant post player should (FTA Rate of 35.5). While this hurt his scoring efficiency a little, there’s no denying that McAdoo was one of the best pure scorers to ever step foot on campus. His brief collegiate career will keep him relatively low on the list, but McAdoo’s peak was undeniably brilliant.

35. J. R. Reid: 1987-89, PF/C, 6’9″, 240, Virginia Beach, VA

  • Peak season (1988): 18.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 60.7 FG%, 68.0 FT%, 63.1 TS%, 3.12 WORP / 35 games
  • Career averages (3 years): 16.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 60.1 FG%, 66.8 FT%, 62.3 TS%, 8.01 Career WORP, 2.87 WORP / 1,000 minutes
  • Accolades: one 1st-team All-American, one 3rd-team All-American, one ACC Rookie of the Year, one 1st-team All-ACC, one 2nd-team All-ACC, one ACC Tournament MVP, two All-ACC Tournament teams, three regional All-Tournament teams

Like (a better) Jeff Lebo, Reid didn’t have a true peak season at Carolina. He came into college as a physically-mature and polished contributor, and didn’t make huge developmental strides as a Heel (his WORP / 35 by year were: 3.00, 3.12, 2.58). With his NBA-ready body and advanced post footwork, Reid was adept at drawing contact in the paint. His career FTA Rate (59.2), while not Hansbroughian, is still sixth among UNC’s 63 1,000-point scorers. He had some injury problems (most notably a stress-fractured foot that cost him the first 9 games of his junior season) and off-court issues (an assault charge that led to his Hall of Fame Tip-off Classic suspension, and a missed curfew that led to his suspension for the 1989 NCAAT Round of 32 game vs. UCLA) that marred his Carolina legacy a little. On the court, though, Reid was a steady and productive player, and someone who could rise to the occasion in a big game. In ’87, he had one of the best postseason runs of any Carolina freshman in history (topped, probably, by only Ford in ’75 and O’Koren in ’77)– highlighted by 27 points vs. Michigan and 31 vs. Notre Dame (on 15-of-18 shooting) in consecutive NCAAT games. Then, in ’88, Reid averaged 17.6 points and 10.9 boards in seven postseason contests. He capped off his postseason career by winning the 1989 ACC Tournament MVP, averaging 16/8 and leading the Heels to a championship-game victory over Danny Ferry and Duke (Ferry was Reid’s arch-nemesis– this might have been the peak of the rivalry, at least from a mutual animosity standpoint; these teams hated each other and the battles were fierce). He also made a third career all-regional team in ’89 (despite the UCLA suspension), averaging 22 points and 8 rebounds in the Southeast Regional (including 26 and 6 in a Sweet 16 loss to Michigan). Although he never made a Final Four, Reid battled valiantly in his postseason career as a Tar Heel.

34. Rashad McCants: 2003-05, SG/SF, 6’4″, 207, Asheville, NC

  • Peak season (2004): 20.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.2 apg, 47.9 FG%, 74.8 FT%, 40.8 3Pt%, 59.0 TS%, 3.76 WORP / 35 games
  • Career averages (3 years): 17.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.1 apg, 48.6 FG%, 72.1 FT%, 41.5 3Pt%, 59.7 TS%, 7.64 Career WORP, 2.67 WORP / 1,000 minutes
  • Accolades: one 2nd-team All-American, one 3rd-team All-American, one 1st-team All-ACC, one 3rd-team All-ACC, one regional All-Tournament team, one Final Four All-Tournament team, starter on one Final Four/national championship team

McCants exploded onto the college basketball landscape like a firecracker, scoring 28 points on 11-of-14 shooting in first game as a Tar Heel. Carolina defeated Penn State by 30 that night in the Preseason NIT, signaling to the rest of the country that they were back after the 8-20 debacle in 2002. The next week at Madison Square Garden, he scored 25 against #2 Kansas and 18 against Stanford as the young Heels captured the title. Despite that brilliant start, McCants’s UNC career/”jail” sentence wasn’t all lollipops and puppies. He butted heads with Matt Doherty (who was fired after the ’03 season), checked out mentally for stretches of time, played generally lackadaisical defense, and was slow to buy into everything Roy Williams was selling. Still, McCants was one of the most brilliant and versatile scorers to ever pass through Chapel Hill. He’d take smaller guards into the post, beat slower forwards off the dribble, and rain 3s over everyone with textbook form. McCants’s career 3Pt% of 41.5 ranks 4th in team history (trailing Hubert Davis, Jeff Lebo, and Reyshawn Terry). His 20-PPG season in 2004 is one of only seven in Carolina history since 1970 (joining Hansbrough (twice), Jamison, Forte, H. Davis, and Ford in that elite club). McCants’s performance in the ’05 national championship game was a microcosm for his bipolar collegiate career. He poured in 14 huge 1st-half points in helping the Heels to a 13-point lead before going scoreless in the 2nd half as the team held on for dear life.

33. Rick Fox: 1988-91, SF, 6’7″, 221, Nassau, Bahamas

  • Peak season (1991): 16.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.7 apg, 2.0 spg, 45.3 FG%, 80.4 FT%, 34.2 3Pt%, 56.7 TS%, 4.66 WORP / 35 games
  • Career averages (4 years): 12.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.4 spg, 51.8 FG%, 75.7 FT%, 38.8 3Pt%, 60.9 TS%, 9.81 Career WORP, 3.09 WORP / 1,000 minutes
  • Accolades: one 3rd-team All-American, one 1st-team All-ACC, one 3rd-team All-ACC, one ACC Tournament MVP, one All-ACC Tournament team, one regional All-Tournament team, starter on one Final Four team

Fox was a fantastic all-around wing at Carolina, contributing as a scorer, rebounder, passer, and defender (won the team’s Carmichael-Cobb award in 1991). His All-ACC 1991 season was instrumental in ending Dean Smith’s 8-year Final Four drought. Fox’s game-winner in the 1990 Round of 32 upset against top-seeded Oklahoma is one of the great shots in Carolina history. It capped off a 23-point performance for Fox in that game. His overall brilliance was again on display in the ’91 ACC Tournament. Fox averaged 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 3.7 assists in 3 games, highlighted by 25/6/3 in a championship-game drubbing of Duke (96-74). It was more of the same in the East Regional– averages of 13.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 2.3 steals on the way to all-regional honors. Even in the ’91 Final Four– remembered by most for Fox’s cold shooting (5-of-22, including 0-of-7 behind the arc)– he chipped in 9 rebounds and 7 assists. After shooting 43.9% on 3-pointers with a TS% of 63.4 as a sophomore and junior, Fox slumped to 34.2% and 56.7% in ’91. Despite his drop in efficiency as a senior (and a proclivity for turnovers that plagued him his whole career), Fox’s ability to positively affect the game in so many ways earn him spot #33 in the top 100.

32. Vince Carter: 1996-98, SF/SG, 6’6″, 190, Daytona Beach, FL

  • Peak season (1998): 15.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 59.1 FG%, 68.0 FT%, 41.1 3Pt%, 65.9 TS%, 3.98 WORP / 35 games
  • Career averages (3 years): 12.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 54.7 FG%, 70.5 FT%, 36.8 3Pt%, 62.2 TS%, 8.64 Career WORP, 3.23 WORP / 1,000 minutes
  • Accolades: one 1st-team All-American, one 1st-team All-ACC, one 3rd-team All-ACC, two regional All-Tournament teams, starter on two Final Four teams

Carter’s inclusion on this list could probably be justified merely by linking to one of his Carolina highlight videos. But it takes more than ridiculous dunking ability to make one a top 100 Tar Heel. Although he was a third scoring option (behind Jamison and Sh. Williams) as a sophomore and junior, Carter thrived in that role by putting up phenomenal efficiency numbers. After shooting just 34% behind the arc in his first two seasons, Carter improved to 41% as a junior. And, after being frequently benched by Dean Smith as a freshman for defensive lapses, Carter turned into a lock-down defender by ’98. He could defend four positions with his athleticism, combining fundamental aptitude (won the Carmichael-Cobb in ’98) with otherworldly physical gifts. He also combined highlight-reel plays with great decision-making. Carter’s A:TO as a Tar Heel was 1.60– 1.80 over his final two seasons. He very rarely turned the ball over or made careless plays. While Carter would sometimes defer to others on the offensive end, he became more aggressive when the stakes were high. He scored 18 in a ’97 Elite 8 win against Louisville, before leading the Heels with 21 in the Final Four loss to Arizona. In the 1998 postseason, he scored 20+ points in 3 of Carolina’s last 4 games (after reaching that mark just 4 times in the first 34 games), including a team-high 21 against Utah in another Final Four loss. While the Final Four failures in ’97 and (especially) ’98 were painful for UNC fans, Carter should be remembered for rising to the occasion in both games.

31. Doug Moe: 1959-61, PF, 6’5″, 205, Brooklyn, NY

  • Peak season (1961): 20.4 ppg, 14.0 rpg, 40.6 FG%, 69.1 FT%, 47.0 TS%
  • Career averages (3 years): 16.5 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 40.6 FG%, 68.0 FT%, 47.5 TS%
  • Accolades: one 1st-team All-American, one 2nd-team All-American, two 1st-team All-ACCs

Moe was a two-time All-American on some terrific Tar Heel teams under Frank McGuire (57-15, 3 regular-season titles in his 3 years). A hard-nosed battler in the paint, Moe’s 14.0 rebounds per game in ’61 remains the 4th-highest single-season average in UNC history (trailing three different Billy Cunningham seasons– no other Heel had a campaign with more than 11.7 RPG). Academic ineligibility cost him the first semester (12 of 24 games) of his sophomore season. And being linked to the point-shaving scandal that ran rampant in early-60s college basketball doesn’t help Moe’s legacy either. On the court, his ranking is suppressed some by his lack of scoring efficiency. Even for his era (lower FG%’s, higher rebounding figures), Moe was an inefficient scorer (career FG% of 40.6, career TS% of 47.5). Despite these warts on his resume, Moe was one of the best players in the country on some of the best teams in the country. That’s the recipe for a spot in the upper third of the Carolina top 100.

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.
This entry was posted in UNC and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Carolina’s Greatest Players of the ACC Era: 40-31

Register |

  1. Jim Copland says:

    A quick question on the claim that there were only 7 20+ PPG seasons since 1970 — didn’t Jordan score 721 points in 36 games, averaging 20.028, in 1983?

    1. Adrian says:

      Yep, good call. That’s definitely an omission on my part. Can’t believe I forgot about Michael Jordan!

      1. Adrian says:

        Daugherty averaged 20.2 in ’86, too, so add another one to the list. Still a fairly prestigious club, I guess.

  2. Jim Copland says:

    For sure — adding Michael Jordan and Brad Daugherty to a list of Tar Heel greats hardly diminishes the “elite” factor. 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *