Carolina’s Greatest Players of the ACC Era: The Top 10

Well, we’ve finally made it to the cream of the crop. It’s been a long process (see: 91-100 (+ methodology), 81-90, 71-80, 61-70, 51-60, 41-50, 31-40, 21-30, and 11-20), but we’ve now reached the top of the mountain: the ten greatest players in Carolina basketball history!

First, a quick review of 100 through 11: (Click on a name to jump to that player’s details)

100 – 91 90 – 81 80 – 71
100. Marcus Ginyard
99. Bob Cunningham
98. Dick Kepley
97. Henrik Rodl
96. Jimmy Braddock
95. Jackie Manuel
94. Ranzino Smith
93. Dave Popson
92. Brad Hoffman
91. Ray Respess
90. Kevin Salvadori
89. Ed Stahl
88. Steve Previs
87. Charlie Shaffer
86. Harvey Salz
85. Al Lifson
84. Kris Lang
83. Reyshawn Terry
82. Warren Martin
81. David Noel
80. Jim Hudock
79. Dudley Bradley
78. Marvin Williams
77. Serge Zwikker
76. John Kuester
75. Jerry Vayda
74. Dante Calabria
73. Joe Quigg
72. Deon Thompson
71. Brian Reese
70 – 61 60 – 51 50 – 41
70. Lee Dedmon
69. Brandan Wright
68. Ed Davis
67. King Rice
66. Kevin Madden
65. Steve Bucknall
64. Jason Capel
63. Ademola Okulaja
62. Jawad Williams
61. Matt Doherty
60. Pete Chilcutt
59. Scott Williams
58. Jimmy Black
57. Darrell Elston
56. Steve Hale
55. Jeff McInnis
54. Dick Grubar
53. Joe Wolf
52. Danny Green
51. Tommy LaGarde
50. Bill Bunting
49. Bill Chamberlain
48. Larry Brown
47. Jeff Lebo
46. Donald Williams
45. Brendan Haywood
44. Rusty Clark
43. Shammond Williams
42. Wayne Ellington
41. Ed Cota
40 – 31 30 – 21 20 – 11
40. Derrick Phelps
39. George Karl
38. Hubert Davis
37. Tommy Kearns
36. Bob McAdoo
35. J.R. Reid
34. Rashad McCants
33. Rick Fox
32. Vince Carter
31. Doug Moe
30. Lee Shaffer
29. Raymond Felton
28. Joe Forte
27. Rasheed Wallace
26. Eric Montross
25. Jerry Stackhouse
24. York Larese
23. Dennis Wuycik
22. George Lynch
21. Mike O’Koren
20. Walter Davis
19. Kenny Smith
18. Mitch Kupchak
17. Bobby Jones
16. Sean May
15. Pete Brennan
14. Brad Daugherty
13. Al Wood
12. Bob Lewis
11. Ty Lawson

I won’t leave you in suspense a second longer.

10. James Worthy: 1980-82, PF, 6’9″, 225, Gastonia, NC

  • Peak season (1982): 15.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.4 apg, 57.3 FG%, 67.4 FT%, 60.1 TS%, 4.25 WORP / 35 games
  • Career averages (3 years): 14.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.5 apg, 54.1 FG%, 65.2 FT%, 56.6 TS%, 8.16 Career WORP, 2.93 WORP / 1,000 minutes
  • Accolades: one National Player of the Year, two 1st-team All-Americans, one 1st-team All-ACC, one 2nd-team All-ACC, one ACC Tournament MVP, two All-ACC  Tournament teams, one Final Four MVP, one Final Four All-Tournament team, one regional MVP, two regional All-Tournament teams, starter on two Final Four/one national championship team(s)
James Worthy

"Big Game James"

If I was picking up teams at the playground, or choosing a squad to win a single “big game,” Worthy would be a lot closer to the front of this top 10 than the back of it. As it is (with considering a player’s entire collegiate contribution), I had to give him an “intangibles” bump just to get him this high on the list (see the table below that illustrates how Worthy compares to other Tar Heel frontcourt greats since 1980). As a freshman, Worthy missed half of the season (15 of 29 games) after breaking his ankle. He was averaging 12.5 PPG and 7.4 RPG at the time of the injury. As a sophomore, Worthy returned to average 14.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG, and 2.8 APG. He earned a spot on the All-ACC Tournament team, leading Carolina with 19 points and 8 rebounds in a 1-point championship-game win over Maryland. Worthy followed that up by averaging 17.0/7/0/4.3 in the first three games of the ’81 NCAAT, and it appeared as if “Big Games James” had fully emerged. However, in the two Final Four games, Worthy struggled to 7.5 PPG on just 26% shooting from the field. This included 7 points on 3-of-11 in the championship loss to Indiana. As a junior in ’82, Worthy averaged 15.6/6.3/2.4. Those numbers are more impressive than they look, considering UNC played at a pace of just 61.0 possessions / 40 that season (nearly 20% slower than the 75-possession pace at which Roy Williams’s teams play; the ACC was so slow in ’82 (league-wide pace of 60.8) that the conference instituted an experimental 30-second shot clock in ’83). Worthy averaged 13.3 points and 8.0 boards to win MVP of the 1982 ACC Tournament. He led the Heels with 16 and 6 in a slow-paced championship-game tilt against Ralph Sampson’s Cavaliers. Worthy captured the East Regional MVP, too, averaging 15.0 and 5.7. He capped off his dominant postseason by scoring 21 a game in the Final Four on 74.1% shooting from the field. This included, of course, 28 points (on 13-of-17 shooting) in the title game versus Georgetown. Worthy in ’82 remains the only Tar Heel to complete the postseason Triple Crown: MVP of the ACC Tournament, NCAA Regional, and Final Four (Rosenbluth was close, but lost out on the Final Four MVP to Kansas’s Wilt Chamberlain). After a disappointing Final Four in ’81, the legend of “Big Game James” had come to life in ’82.

Selected Stats of Frontcourt Greats Since 1980: Ranked by WORP / 1,000 Minutes

Player MPG PA Pts/40 PA Reb/40 PA St+Bl/40 A:TO TS% Career WORP WORP/1,000
Sam Perkins 33.0 20.2 11.1 3.5 0.59 63.1 17.93 4.02
Sean May 27.8 21.3 13.6 3.5 0.61 56.2 8.38 3.92
Tyler Hansbrough 30.9 24.7 10.5 2.1 0.52 61.3 16.86 3.84
Rasheed Wallace 25.5 19.8 11.2 4.3 0.52 63.8 6.42 3.64
Brad Daugherty 29.4 19.3 10.3 2.4 0.74 64.1 14.01 3.53
Antawn Jamison 33.4 23.4 12.2 2.1 0.51 59.3 11.60 3.34
Eric Montross 25.2 17.0 10.1 2.5 0.41 60.0 11.04 3.15
George Lynch 26.3 17.7 11.1 3.1 0.73 54.7 11.52 3.13
James Worthy 33.2 19.2 9.7 3.3 0.83 56.6 8.16 2.93

9. Sam Perkins: 1981-84, C/PF, 6’9″, 235, Latham, NY

  • Peak season (1984): 17.6 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.9 bpg, 58.9 FG%, 85.6 FT%, 65.4 TS%, 5.67 WORP / 35 games
  • Career averages (4 years): 15.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 57.6 FG%, 79.6 FT%, 63.1 TS%, 17.93 Career WORP, 4.02 WORP / 1,000 minutes
  • Accolades: three 1st-team All-Americans, three 1st-team All-ACCs, ACC Rookie of the Year, one ACC Tournament MVP, two All-ACC Tournament teams, two regional All-Tournament teams, one Final Four All-Tournament team, starter on two Final Four/one national championship team(s)
Sam Perkins

Sam Perkins

The biggest knock against Perkins is that he was never the top dog on his own team, playing second fiddle to Wood in ’81, Worthy in ’82, and Jordan in ’83 and ’84. But he shouldn’t be penalized for having sensational teammates; as the data in the table below Worthy’s entry show, Perkins’s numbers rank up there with any big man in UNC history. His accolades/personal honors stack up pretty well, too: three-time 1st-team All American, three-time 1st-team All-ACC, and a handful of postseason hardware to boot. Perkins was the consummate inside-outside post threat. While he did most of his damage in the low post, he also had the ability to draw taller defenders away from the hoop and knock down jumpers (right, Ralph?).  He drew fouls at a solid rate (career FTA Rate of 51.2) and converted them at an elite percentage (career FT% of 79.6– 83.8 over his final two seasons). Perkins was also an elite defensive post player, combining solid positional defense with the ability to block shots and control the boards. He had a double-double off the bench in his Carolina debut at the Great Alaska Shootout, and the steady production continued for the next four years. Perkins was inserted into the starting line-up after 14 games of his freshman season, and won the ACC Tournament MVP that season by averaging 17.7 points and 8.3 boards (including 18 and 15 in a 1-point UNC win over Wake in the semis; Perkins joins Phil Ford, Jerry Stackhouse, and Brandan Wright as the only UNC freshmen to win ACCT MVP). Perkins averaged 14.4 PPG in Carolina’s five NCAAT games in ’81, reaching double figures in each one (including 11 in each Final Four game). He averaged 16.0 PPG in the ’82 NCAAT, again scoring in double digits each game. The signature performance was a 25-point, 10-rebound  masterpiece against Houston in the national semifinals. This game (Perkins went 9-of-11 from the field and 7-of-7 from the line) has fallen through the cracks of Carolina history a little due to Worthy’s 28-point explosion a couple nights later. But it remains one of UNC’s best Final Four performances. In ’83, Perkins scored 36 points with 10 rebounds in a road win over Sampson and Virginia. He averaged 15.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks in 3 NCAAT games, running his consecutive streak of double-digit NCAAT games to 13. On his Senior Day, Perkins put up 25 points (on just 10 FGAs) and 10 boards in a 2OT victory over Duke. He then averaged 19.p points and 11.5 rebounds in Carolina’s two NCAAT games in ’84. This included 26 and 9 in his career-ending loss to Indiana in the Sweet 16 (he’d score 10+ points in each of his 15 career NCAA Tournament games). Even in one of the toughest losses in the history of the program, Perkins was at his reliable best.

8. Larry Miller: 1966-68, SF, 6’3″, 210, Catasauqua, PA

  • Peak season (1968): 22.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 49.2 FG%, 70.7 FT%, 53.8 TS%
  • Career averages (3 years): 21.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 51.1 FG%, 68.4 FT%, 54.7 TS%
  • Accolades: two 1st-team All-Americans, two ACC Player of the Years, two 1st-team All-ACCs, one 2nd-team All-ACC, two ACC Tournament MVPs, two All-ACC Tournament teams, two regional All-Tournament teams, one Final Four All-Tournament team, starter on two Final Four teams
Larry Miller vs Pat Riley

Larry Miller goes up for a layup against a young Pat Riley

In his first year of eligibility, a sophomore Miller (20.9) joined junior Bob Lewis (27.4) as the highest-scoring tandem in Carolina history. Miller also grabbed 10.3 RPG that season, stuck in the paint as an undersized 4. He had 25 and 14 in a 1st round ACCT win which set up UNC’s legendary 21-20 loss to Duke in a slowdown semifinal (Duke led 7-5 at the half). With the additions of Clark and Bunting in ’67, Miller could return to his more natural small forward position. Miller won the ACC Player of the Year in both ’67 (21.9 PPG, 9.3 RPG) and ’68 (22.4/8.1), and remains the only Heel to capture that coveted prize twice. A sweet-shooting lefty who was lethal from mid-range and adept at scoring in the paint, Miller also won the ACC Tournament MVP in both ’67 (25.7/8.3) and ’68 (25.3/8.7). He scored 31 in the ’67 semis against Wake, and followed it up with 32 (on 13-of-14 shooting) in a win over Duke in the finals. He added his third consecutive 30-point ACCT game in ’68 (31 against Clemson), before settling for “just” 24 in the semis and 21 in the title game victory (a 37-point beatdown of NC State). Miller averaged 19 PPG and 7.5 RPG in the two East Regional games in ’67, helping to get Dean Smith to his first Final Four. In the Final Four, Miller put up two double-doubles (13/13, 12/11), but struggled mightily from the field (28.9%) in losses to Dayton and Houston. In ’68, Miller had a huge night (27 and 16) in a regional semifinal win over St. Bonaventure. He followed it up with 16 and 6 in a close win over Davidson that sent the Heels to their second consecutive Final Four. Miller scored 20 in a win over Ohio State in the national semis, then added 14 in the championship game versus UCLA. He again struggled from the field, though, shooting just 41.7% in the ’68 Final Four. While clearly a Carolina legend, Miller’s Final Four shooting woes hamper his legacy just a bit.

7. Billy Cunningham: 1963-65: PF/C, 6’5″, 195, Brooklyn, NY

  • Peak season (1965): 25.4 ppg, 14.3 rpg, 49.3 FG%, 63.4 FT%, 52.3 TS%
  • Career averages (3 years): 24.8 ppg, 15.4 rpg, 47.3 FG%, 62.8 FT%, 50.6 TS%
  • Accolades: two 1st-team All Americans, one ACC Player of the Year, three 1st-team All-ACCs, two All-ACC Tournament teams
Billy Cunningham

"The Kangaroo Kid"

Cunningham was Dean Smith’s first true star at Carolina. Playing center on some woefully undersized squads, Cunningham’s teams went just 42-27 (26-16 in the ACC) in his three years on campus. They never made an NCAA Tournament, or even an ACC Tournament championship game. “The Kangaroo Kid” is sometimes remembered in Carolina lore as the player who leaped to Smith’s defense when the young coach was hung in effigy. But it’s on the court where Cunningham really made his mark. His career scoring average of 24.8 ranks second (behind only Rosenbluth) in UNC history. And Cunningham’s career rebounding mark of 15.4 per game tops the Carolina record book by nearly 5 rebounds per game (Moe is second at 10.6). His three single-season rebounding averages (16.1, 15.8, and 14.3) are the top three in the program’s history. Even in an era with more rebounds to be had (and on a team with few other options to grab them), Cunningham was truly elite on the glass. Despite being only a 63% career shooter from the line, Cunningham scored efficiently for his era. In 5 career ACC Tournament games, he averaged 22.6 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 2.4 assists. His signature postseason game was probably a 34/15/5 performance in a ’64 opening round win over South Carolina. Although the lack of team success depresses his rank a little, there’s no denying the individual greatness of Billy Cunningham.

6. Charles Scott: 1968-70, SF/SG, 6’5″, 178, New York, NY

  • Peak season (1970): 27.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 3.1 apg, 46.0 FG%, 78.6 FT%, 51.3 TS%
  • Career averages (3 years): 22.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 48.0 FG%, 72.6 FT%, 51.8 TS%
  • Accolades: two 1st-team All-Americans, three 1st-team All-ACCs, ACC Tournament MVP, two All-ACC Tournament teams, one regional MVP, two regional All-Tournament teams, starter on two Final Four teams
Charlie Scott

Charlie Scott

Scott, the Jackie Robinson of Carolina hoops, will forever be remembered as the first (varsity) African-American player in the program’s history. And while he took plenty of abuse from opposing fans, he dished out plenty, too (using his game, not his mouth). As a sophomore in ’68, Scott slid into the starting line-up to replace a departed Bob Lewis. He averaged 17.6 points and 6.0 rebounds in his first season of eligibility, with a line of 16.7/7.3/3.0 in three ACCT wins. Scott averaged 16.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in the team’s 4 NCAAT games in ’68, although, like the rest of the team, he struggled from the field against UCLA in the title game (6-of-17). With the graduation of Larry Miller after the ’68 season, Scott became the go-to scorer in 1969. He averaged 22.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, and (a team-leading) 3.4 assists, following that up with 27.1/8.6/3.1 line in 1970. A very compelling case could be made in both seasons that Scott deserved ACC Player of the Year. His 1969 postseason was quite simply one of the greatest in Carolina history. He averaged 25.6 points in 7 games, shooting 53.7% from the field and 75.0% from the line. This included a 40-point explosion in the ACC Tournament championship to lead the Heels to a come-from-behind victory over Duke in legendary coach Vic Bubas’s final game at the helm. Scott was 17-of-23 from the field versus the Devils. In the East Regional final, Charlie added a second game for the ages: scoring 32 against Davidson including a buzzer-beating jumper off the dribble to send the Heels to their third consecutive Final Four. In two ’69 Final Four losses, Scott averaged 25.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists. In terms of pure scoring output, drama, and signature performances, Scott’s ’69 postseason might be unrivaled in Carolina history. After losing the Clark/Bunting/Grubar class, Scott and the Heels had to settle for an NIT trip in 1970. But Scott didn’t give up his NCAA dreams without a fight, scoring 41 points and adding 13 rebounds in a 2-point ACCT loss to Virginia.

5. Antawn Jamison: 1996-98: PF, 6’9″, 223, Charlotte, NC

  • Peak season (1998): 22.2 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 57.9 FG%, 66.7 FT%, 60.7 TS%, 5.08 WORP / 35 games
  • Career averages (3 years): 19.0 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 57.7 FG%, 61.7 FT%, 59.3 TS%, 11.60 Career WORP, 3.34 WORP / 1,000 minutes
  • Accolades: one National Player of the Year, two 1st-team All-Americans, one ACC Player of the Year, three 1st-team All-ACCs, one ACC Tournament MVP, two All-ACC Tournament teams, one regional MVP, two regional All-Tournament teams, starter on two Final Four teams
Antawn Jamison

Antawn Jamison

Jamison was the consensus National Player of the Year in 1998, leading the Heels to a 34-4 record and second straight Final Four trip. He was an instant-impact freshman, averaging 15.1 points and 9.7 rebounds on his way to the first of three consecutive 1st-team All-ACC selections. In ’97, he upped his production to 19.1/9.4, including 33 and 11 in a victory over Duke in the regular-season finale. He continued that momentum into the ’97 ACCT where he averaged 18.0 points and 9.3 rebounds in three Carolina wins (including a 17/11 double-double versus NC State in the championship). In the 1997 Final Four loss to Arizona, Jamison had another double-double (18/11), although he struggled to a 7-of-17 night from the floor. As a junior in ’98, Jamison had the school’s first 20/10 season since Larry Miller in ’66. Highlights included a 36/14 (on 14-of-17 from the field) against NC State, and a 35/11 (on 14-of-20 from the field) against Duke in which he scored his 35 points while possessing the basketball for less than a minute of actual time. His ultra-efficient style (aided by Cota’s point guard mastery) and quick, unconventional releases made Jamison fun to watch and nearly impossible to defend. He scored 22 with 18 boards in the ACCT final versus Duke, capping off an MVP performance in Greensboro (he averaged 20.7/11.3). He also captured the MVP of the ’98 East Regional by averaging 19.0 points and 12.8 rebounds in the four games, including team-high marks of 20 and 11 in the Elite 8 win over Connecticut. Jamison again struggled from the field in the Final Four loss to Utah (scoring 14 points on 7-of-19 shooting). After shooting 61.3% from the field and 68.7% from the line in the ’98 regular season, those numbers fell to 47.4% and 55.8% in the postseason. Undoubtedly a Tar Heel legend, Jamison’s lack of Final Four success keeps him out of this “Final Four.”

4. Michael Jordan: 1982-84, SG, 6’6″, 195, Wilmington, NC

  • Peak season (1984): 19.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.1 apg, 55.1 FG%, 77.9 FT%, 58.7 TS%, 4.86 WORP / 35 games
  • Career averages (3 years): 17.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.8 apg, 54.0 FG%, 74.8 FT%, 58.3 TS%, 11.45 Career WORP, 3.69 WORP / 1,000 minutes
  • Accolades: two National Player of the Years, two 1st-team All-Americans, one ACC Player of the Year, two 1st-team All-ACCs, ACC Rookie of the Year, two All-ACC Tournament teams, one regional All-Tournament team, one Final Four All-Tournament team, starter on one Final Four/national championship team
Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan hitting his famous game winner over Georgetown in the 1982 NCAA Championship Game.

Because of Jordan’s overwhelming awesomeness as an NBA player, folks sometimes tend to gloss over just how dominant he was as a collegian. After winning The Sporting News’ National Player of the Year award in ’83, Jordan earned consensus NPOY honors in ’84. As a freshman, Jordan stepped into the large shoes of departed All-American Al Wood. He started his very first game as a Tar Heel, scoring in double digits in his first six (including 22 against Tulsa, and 19 in a close win over Kentucky). Jordan made the All-ACC Tournament team as a freshman, leading Carolina with 18 in an opening-round win over Georgia Tech (he was the only  Heel in double figures). After 15 points in an Elite 8 win over Villanova, Jordan stepped it up in the ’82 Final Four. In the two games in New Orleans, MJ averaged 17 points and 7 rebounds. Rumor has it that he hit a pretty big jumper in “The Big Easy,” too. With the departure of Worthy to the NBA, Jordan became the go-to scorer in ’83 (20.0 PPG) and ’84 (19.6). After an 0-2 start to the 1983 season, Jordan stole the in-bounds pass and hit a 25-footer to give Carolina a 3OT win over Tulane. Later that year, he added 32 points (in just 23 minutes) in a 103-82 beatdown of Duke. A week later, he torched Georgia Tech for 39. His iconic steal and dunk to beat Virginia in ’83 remains one of the enduring images in the program’s history. Jordan added 28 and 10 in a first-round ACCT victory over Clemson. He averaged 19.7 PPG in the ’83 NCAAT, including a team-leading 26 in the Elite 8 loss to Georgia. As a junior in ’84, Jordan scored 32 against NC State in February and 25 against Duke in his last career home game. He had developed into one of the premier defenders in the country by ’84, combining lock-down individual defense with well-timed help-side gambles and wing overplays. The one area that was still a work-in-progress was Jordan’s play-making/ball protection (see below table). He’d become a great passer/set-up guy in the pros, but was still developing those skills as a Tar Heel. Jordan led the Heels with 22 points in a ’84 ACCT semifinal loss to Duke, then followed it up with 27 against Temple in the NCAAT Round of 32 (on 11-of-15 from the field). His Carolina career ended in disappointing fashion, fouling out in 26 minutes in a Sweet 16 loss to Indiana after shooting just 6-of-14 from the field.

Worst Career A:TO Among Carolina Wings

Player Career A:TO
Reyshawn Terry 0.64
Max Owens 0.70
Will Graves 0.87
Michael Jordan 0.91
Rashad McCants 0.93
Rick Fox 0.95
Brian Reese 1.02
Kevin Madden 1.03

3. Lennie Rosenbluth: 1955-57, SF/PF, 6’5″, 173, New York, NY

  • Peak season (1957): 28.0 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 48.3 FG%, 75.8 FT%, 55.3 TS%
  • Career averages (3 years): 26.9 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 45.9 FG%, 74.0 FG%, 52.2 TS%
  • Accolades: one National Player of the Year, two 1st-team All-Americans, one ACC Player of the Year, three 1st-team All-ACCs, one ACC Tournament MVP, two All-ACC Tournament teams, one regional MVP, one regional All-Tournament team, one Final Four All-Tournament team, starter on one Final Four/national championship team
Lennie Rosenbluth

Lennie Rosenbluth

Rosenbluth’s 26.9 career scoring average is the best in UNC history, and his three single-season marks of 28.0, 26.7, and 25.5 rank 1st, 4th, and 6th. Over 50 years after his career ended, he remains the program’s gold standard for scoring. He wasn’t just a volume scorer, either: Rosenbluth’s TS% of 55.3 in ’57 was tremendously efficient for his era (especially considering his high usage rate). He made the first-team All-ACC in each of his three varsity campaigns, and added All-ACC Tournament honors in ’56 and ’57 as well. In ’56 he averaged 30.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in two ACCT games. He topped that in ’57 by averaging 35.3 and 9.7. In what is probably still the greatest ACC Tournament in history, Rosenbluth scored 45 in the opening round against Clemson (on 19-of-31 shooting), then 38 versus South Carolina in the title tilt (on 15-of-25 from the field). His hot streak continued in the NCAAT with 29 against Yale in the Round of 32, 39 against Canisius in the Sweet 16, and 23 in the Elite 8 versus Syracuse. In the Final Four, Rosenbluth struggled from the field, shooting just 33.3% (incuding a horrific 11-of-42 in the national semis versus Michigan State). But for the entire ’57 postseason, Rosenbluth scored 30.8 PPG on 48.7% shooitng, numbers that exceeded his regular-season marks (27.0 and 48.2%). The bomber from the Bronx wasn’t shy about getting his shots up, and his National Player of the Year season in 1957 carried the Heels to an undefeated record and the program’s first NCAA championship.

2. Phil Ford: 1975-78, PG, 6’2″, 170, Rocky Mount, NC

  • Peak season (1978): 20.8 ppg, 5.7 apg, 52.7 FG%, 81.0 FT%, 57.9 TS%
  • Career averages (4 years): 18.6 ppg, 6.1 apg, 52.7 FG%, 80.8 FT%, 58.1 TS%
  • Accolades: one National Player of the Year, three 1st-team All-Americans, one ACC Player of the Year, three 1st-team All-ACCs, one ACC Tournament MVP, three All-ACC Tournament teams, starter on one Final Four team

Phil Ford

Ford was a remarkably consistent player throughout his four seasons in Chapel Hill. He was a three time 1st-team All-American as well as a three-time 1st-team All-ACC. And his freshman year wasn’t too shabby, either. With a lethal pull-up jumper and a nearly automatic free-throw stroke, Ford’s scoring efficiency was terrific for a point guard (career TS% of 58.1). His mastery of Dean Smith’s Four Corners offense made Ford’s Heels nearly impossible to defeat when they were protecting a lead. In the ’75 ACCT, a freshman Ford scored 78 points over 3 games (26.0 PPG) while knocking in 26-of-30 free throws. He led the Heels to a victory over David Thompson’s Wolfpack in the championship game, helping to restore Carolina to their rightful place atop the ACC power structure. In six postseason games in ’75, Ford averaged 22.2 points and 4.8 assists. He shot 90% from the line while averaging an ironman’s 38 MPG. As a junior in ’77, Ford was again on his way to a dominant postseason. After averaging 24.8 PPG through four postseason games (2 ACCT, 2 NCAAT), he hyperextended his elbow in the waning minutes of a Sweet 16 win over Notre Dame. In three games following the hyperextension, an ineffective Ford averaged just 6.7 PPG on 35% shooting. With a healthy Ford, the Heels almost certainly cut down the nets in ’77– a boost to his legacy that would probably bump him to the top spot on this list. On Ford’s Senior Day in ’78, in one of the most emotional games in Carmichael history, he poured in 34 points to hold off a super-talented Duke team.

1. Tyler Hansbrough: 2006-09, C/PF, 6’9″, 250, Poplar Bluff, MO

  • Peak season (2008): 22.6 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 54.0 FG%, 80.6 FT%, 61.8 TS%, 4.40 WORP / 35 games
  • Career averages (4 years): 20.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 53.6 FG%, 79.1 FT%, 61.3 TS%, 16.86 Career WORP, 3.84 WORP / 1,000 minutes
  • Accolades: one National Player of the Year, four 1st-team All-Americans, one ACC Player of the Year, four 1st-team All-ACCs, ACC Rookie of the Year, one ACC Tournament MVP, three All-ACC Tournament teams, one regional MVP, three regional All-Tournament teams, one Final Four All-Tournament team, starter on two Final Four/one national championship team(s)

Tyler Hansbrough dunks against Iona

As a methodological reminder, Hansbrough’s selection at #1 doesn’t (necessarily) mean he’d be my first pick for a single game or that he had the highest peak value of any Tar Heel or that he’s the most talented player in the history of the program. In a must-win game, I’d (probably) choose a peak-value Worthy, Lawson, Jordan, Ford, or May over “Psycho T.” Maybe even a few other Heels. But in terms of combining four years of consistent All-American-level production with a NPOY-caliber peak (and capping it off with a title), no one can match Hansbrough. He was a four-time All-American as well as a four-time 1st-team All-ACC selection. He won a National Player of the Year, an ACC Player of the Year, an ACCT MVP, and an NCAA Regional MVP. In the 2008 postseason, Hansbrough averaged 20.9 points and 9.1 rebounds in eight games. In the ACCT semis versus Virginia Tech, Hansbrough scored 26 points, hit a game-winning baseline jumper, and busted out one of the sweetest celebration “dances” in ACC history. He followed that up with 18 and 11 the next afternoon to clinch the ACCT title with a win over Clemson. Hansbrough added 28 points and 13 rebounds in an Elite 8 win over Louisville, knocking down two late jumpers to secure the win. In the ’09 postseason, a singularly-focused Hansbrough put up 19.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 2.8 steals per game. In the ACCT, he poured in 28 against Virginia Tech, adding 4 late points and a steal to seal the deal. Hansbrough ripped Gonzaga for 24 points and 10 rebounds in a Sweet 16 win, and added a Final Four double-double against Villanova. While teammates Lawson and Ellington may have stolen some of the Final Four glory, Hansbrough’s career culminated in the only way that made sense– with a championship ring.

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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19 Responses to Carolina’s Greatest Players of the ACC Era: The Top 10

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  1. Carolina"S" says:

    I don’t think it was mentioned that he knocked “JJ doookie” off the record books for the ACC’s alltime leading scorer. Huge to put a Tarheel on top!

  2. jerryhollingsworth says:

    I understand that players of the 2000s and the late 1990s faced only the opponents that suited up and had only the teammates that they had, but placing Hansbrough over Ford seems out of joint to me. As a 1970 grad, I saw as an experienced fan the competition that Ford had nationally when he was 1st team AA and I also note that Hansbrough would have had teammates returning who would have been the focus of his freshman year. Hansbrough did all he could, gave every effort and covered himself in glory. But it was against lesser competition in a less-skilled era.

    It is emotional for me (I’ll never forget the domination by David Thompson that Phil ended), but I can’t accept that any player who has now completed his career with the Heels could rank higher than the great Phil Ford!

    1. Adrian says:

      Yeah, this is absolutely a fair point. It’s hard to compare, say, Lennie Rosenbluth (in a segregated ACC) to someone who played in the 2000s. For that reason, I tried to look only at how a player compared to those in his era. I tend to agree that the highwater mark for the ACC/college hoops was between the mid-70s and early-90s (post-segregation, pre-extreme early entry).

      I went back and forth between Phil and Hansbrough a lot; had the ’77 Heels finished the deal (and they probably would have without Phil’s injury), I would have had Ford at #1.

  3. Did you do a “just missed the cut list” or something of that sort? I realize there’s a difference between doing a top 100 compared to, say, a top 10 list. But when you have players like Marcus Ginyard (nothing against him at all. In fact, pretty sure fans tend to underrate him because of that 2010 season) as #100, I wonder who he ranked just above.

    You did a great job with the list.

    1. Adrian says:

      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. George says:

    Loved the stroll down memory lane. Just a note about Phil Ford and Tyler Hansbrough. Both came along at a time when the Tarheels really needed someone special. Ford helped turn things back around after a tough time when our Heels were seeming to slip behind the Wolfpack and maybe even the Terrapins, and Clemson was beginning to make noise. The Phil Ford teams are still my favorite. Tyler came along after a season wherein Williams amazingly turned around the mess of the previous years only to have the team leave early en mass. Duke seemed ready to start dominating again. When did we ever need something more drastic to break our way since the day they hired Dean Smith? And who expected much Tyler’s first year? And yet Tyler with the players Bobby Frasor, Wes Miller, David Noel, and others gave us a special year- one that meant as much to me as any year since 1977, All the guys I have cheered for since the early 1960s have brought much to my life, Jones, Miller, Kupchak, Worthy, Jordan,and I don’t really have the right to say any are more important than another, but to me Phil Ford and Tyler Hansbrough more than anyone else I ever saw were urgently needed and triumphantly they led us at crucial times. I will say that no players ever meant more to the success of the program. And so I have a pet peeve, and this has burned me for a couple of years now. I think we have lost the ability to appreciate much that we should. Notably, it is as if all we can appreciate is 1)a championship 2)athletic ability. Regarding the first, I never had a season mean more to me than to the guys in 1977 fight through all their setbacks and injuries to overachieve considering their health and without making excuses fight and claw their way to the last moments of the championship game. Heartbreaking, but still inspirational and amazing. And for the Freshman, Hansbrough to show up and take that team on his back, go to Cameron, beat Duke, and lead that team into the NCAAs like he did was special. And that was before most of the cast came along that would share the limelight in 2009, and there were times he took that group on his back as well.. As far as the athletic ability thing, basketball is a beautiful and rugged game of its own and has a blend of individual impact within a team concept unequaled in sports. It is not a track and field event. We now praise track and field type athleticism (potential upside) even if the player has accomplished little. By the way, if you read Wooden’s book, he is not so impressed with jumping ability. A number of years ago, I believe it was Billy Packer who said, he sometimes gets tired of hearing about a guy’s upside because it means he hasn’t done anything yet. On the other hand if a guy outperforms our expectation of him, we must somehow diminish his accomplishments. Most upside phenom types really don’t ever do what people expect of them. I love the Grubars, the Karls, the Frasors. We should not forget that there were many days when that 6’9″ work ethic guy with the old school skill set carried the team even when the others hardly seemed to have a clue. We need to remember games like he had against Louisville. We need to remember that no one came through more often in big games and big moments to carry the team to victory. I tire of the qualifications that are attached to apologize for recognizing Tyler’s accomplishments because some don’t like the way he looks when he beats their guy. It sickened me to witness the no-class stupidity of the know-nothing sheeplings in Madison Square Garden behave like imbeciles on Tyler’s draft night. Who else do you remember, who performed so amazingly have so many asterisks verbally placed next to every recognition someone pays him. Not overrated. Look at the accomplishments. Underrated.

  5. Jake says:

    Where’s Tom LaGarde? His jersey hangs from the rafters. You didn’t even give him an honorable mention. Oversight?

    1. Adrian says:

      LaGarde was at #51.

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  9. Frank Sabotka says:

    It’s funny FME, your top 10 is the exact top 10 I created when debating Hansbrough’s place his senior year with some co-workers. The older ones all said no way was Hansbrough that high, but you can’t best 4 first team AA selections, 4 unanimous first team All ACC selections, a NPOY, an ACCPOY, a championship, 2 Final Fours, 3 Elite 8s, and absolutely leading the 2006 team to final top 10 ranking when everyone expected a longshot NIT bid. The guy was as clutch as clutch gets. The first time I saw him play was against Greg Oden in a high school game televised by ESPN. He held his own against the guy ESPN and everyone else said was the next Bill Walton/Kareem/Sampson. But the next time I saw him was the Nike Hoops Summit where he scored 31 points and got many of them at the free throw line. I told everybody how incredible this guy was because his value couldn’t be estimated as he would foul out opposing big men while hitting 75% of his free throws. If your best big man scores and draws fouls on their best big men, you stand a much greater chance of winning. The George Mason game in 2006 is a perfect example of how much he mattered because the refs REFUSED to whistle fouls as Hansbrough was mauled by Jai Lewis and others, they even took away a clear and-1 by waving off the basket somehow arguing he wasn’t shooting when fouled.

    Hansbrough will most likely be my favorite Tar Heel forever. His sheer determination to put that ball into that hoop epitomizes what basketball is supposed to be about. Who cares if a shot is pretty or not? Did it go in? Does a pretty shot count extra? No. And had he not been injured early in his senior season, Hansbrough would likely have been a 3000 point scorer. As it is, only Tim Duncan and Danny Manning are near him in scoring and rebounding as big men since 1960.

    And as for me, if I were picking a team, Hansbrough would be my first pick. Second, I’d take Kendall Marshall while you have Worthy or Lawson. Missing from your write up was the 29.3 and 13.5 he averaged his junior year without Lawson, including 28 and 18 versus Duke and 22 and 21 versus FSU when Ty went down, and 39 and 13 and 5 steals against Clemson in 2OT after everyone thought “the streak” was dead and buried that night. Oh and his 40 point explosion as a freshman that wasn’t just any 40 point night, but 40 points in a game where we were behind 20 in the first half and clawed back to win as he fouled out the GTech players who attempted extremely rough fouls, but couldn’t stop him. Cheers for a great list!

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