The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday March 1st

The top 10 UNC basketball players of the last 100 years

Michael Jordan helps cut down the nets after the 1982 NCAA National Championship. Courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications
Buy Photos Michael Jordan helps cut down the nets after the 1982 NCAA National Championship. Courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications

This week, The Daily Tar Heel is celebrating 100 years of North Carolina basketball. Visit our special 100 years page.

DTH sports desk’s picks: Why now?

In case you haven’t heard, it’s currently the 100th season of basketball at North Carolina. The Daily Tar Heel sports desk decided that, among many other plans, it’d be a great idea to list the top 10 players in UNC history.

We forgot just how daunting that task is. The four sports editors haggled for days, eventually made our respective lists and tallied the votes in a combined poll to come up with these 10 players. Each player has career statistics, accolades, and our reasoning for putting them in such hallowed company.

That being said, this type of thing is up for debate. If you think our list needs tweaking, go to dailytarheel.com/100years and vote in our online poll. While you’re there, you should also check out the DTH’s timeline documenting every one of the past 100 basketball seasons. 

1. Phil Ford (1974-1978)

Points per game: 18.6
Assists per game: 6.1
Accolades: UNC’s second-leading scorer all-time; three-time All-America; national player of the year in 1978.

A full picture isn’t even necessary. To identify Phil Ford, all that’s needed is a shot of his hand, four fingers extended.

For the past 40 years, Ford has been the most iconic UNC player ever to dribble a basketball.

Coach Dean Smith had developed the four corners delay offense before Ford arrived at UNC, but nobody ran it better than the skinny freshman from Rocky Mount.

When Ford raised four fingers, the game was often over. Ford could dribble around anyone, and his staccato crossover was unguardable.

Ford finished his career with a national title game appearance, three straight first-team All-ACC team honors, three All-America honors and 2,096 career points.

He will be, and remains, the greatest player ever to wear a North Carolina basketball jersey, and his retired No. 12 is one no UNC player will ever wear again.

2. James Worthy (1979-1982)

Points per game: 14.5
Rebounds per game: 7.4
Accolades: Co-national player of the year in 1982; national champion 1982; NCAA tournament MOP in 1982; No. 1 overall pick in 1982 NBA draft.

Too often, James Worthy’s abilities are overshadowed by his teammates.

His playing days at North Carolina are forgotten because the greatest basketball player ever followed him.

But before Michael Jordan could become the best ever, Worthy was better.

Worthy captained the 1982 team to a 32-2 record and into the Louisiana Superdome for the national title game. After locking up first-team All-America honors as well as sharing the national player of the year award with Virginia’s Ralph Sampson, Worthy began the legend of “Big Game James.”

His performance in the championship game ranks among the best showings in UNC title game history. Worthy went 13-for-17 from the field while racking up 28 points — the most points ever by a Tar Heel in a championship game — en route to being named Most Outstanding Player.

3. Michael Jordan (1981-1984)

Points per game: 17.7
Rebounds per game: 5.0
Accolades: ACC Rookie of the Year in 1982; national player of the year in 1984; winner of Rupp, Wooden, and Naismith awards in 1984; ACC player of the year in 1984.

Michael Jordan was not The Greatest Ever when he first stepped on the court for Dean Smith in 1981. But under Smith and as a Tar Heel, Jordan took the strides that would eventually lead him to that consensus title.

With an average of 13.5 points per game in his first season, Jordan was named ACC Rookie of the Year. He eventually went on to average 17.7 points per game on 54 percent shooting during his three seasons in Chapel Hill.

And after 1984, when Jordan won the Naismith and the Wooden College Player of the Year awards as a junior, he decided to forgo his final year and enter the NBA Draft.

4. Tyler Hansborough (2005-2009)

Points per game: 20.2
Rebounds per game: 8.6
Accolades: Consensus National Player of the Year in 2008, national Champion in 2009,
four-time All-America.

Tyler Hansbrough arrived in Chapel Hill after they had left. Marvin Williams. Sean May. Raymond Felton. Rashad McCants. National champions and now all former Tar Heels.

But it was Hansbrough who became UNC’s all-time leading scorer — an accolade full of memories.

When it came time to either return for his senior season or test the NBA waters, Hansbrough didn’t hesitate. He’d be spending one more year in Chapel Hill.

While most of the media attention went to Ty Lawson and his sensational season, Hansbrough quietly and efficiently piled up the points as always. He surpassed Phil Ford as North Carolina’s all-time scoring leader against Evansville. He became a four-time All-American and All-ACC performer.

And by season’s end, he had won a national championship. He had accomplished it all.

5. Lennie Rosenbluth (1954-1957)

Points per game: 26.9
Rebounds per game: 10.4
Accolades: National champion, 1957; National Player of the Year, 1957, All-America in 1956 and 1957.

Lennie Rosenbluth was blessed with a six-foot-five frame, a feathery touch around the rim, an unstoppable hook shot and a set of arms that seemed to unfold forever.

He also brought the Tar Heels something they hadn’t seen in 32 years and have never seen since.

Perfection.

Rosenbluth led UNC to a perfect 32-0 record in 1957 and capped it all by matching Wilt “the Stilt” Chamberlain (he of the 100-point game) basket-for-basket in the title triple-overtime victory against Kansas.

For his career, Rosenbluth averaged 26.9 points and put up 2,045 total. No other UNC player maintained a scoring average as high. He scored at least 40 points five times in his career, more than any other player in UNC history.

Rosenbluth was awarded the Helms national player of the year in both 1956 and 1957.

6. Antawn Jamison (1995-1998)

Points per game: 19.0
Rebounds per game: 9.9
Accolades: Unanimous National Player of The Year in 1998; ACC player of the Year in 1998.

One of the recurring anecdotes regarding Antawn Jamison references a missed basketball practice in high school because of church choir.

At North Carolina, it was often Jamison’s opponents who looked in need of a prayer. 

During his stint at North Carolina, Jamison averaged 22.2 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. His scoring average marked the highest by a Tar Heel since Charlie Scott averaged 27.1 points per game in 1970. 

With Jamison as a star forward, the team enjoyed two consecutive Final Four appearances with arguably one of the most talented squads in program history.

And though Jamison left UNC after his junior year, he remains a part of one lasting fraternity. 

With his No. 33 hanging in the rafters, Jamison became the seventh of just eight UNC basketball players to have his number retired.

7. George Glamack (1938-1941)

Points per game: 17.0
Accolades: Two-time All-America in 1940 and 1941; Helms National Player of the Year in 1940 and 1941; Southern Conference champion, 1941.

One of the best players in North Carolina basketball history could hardly see the basket he was shooting at.

Nicknamed the “Blind Bomber” because of his poor eyesight and historic hook shot, George Glamack actually shot the ball based on the painted lines of the floor.

The 6-foot-7 center was an All-America selection and the recipient of the Helms Foundation Player of the Year in 1940 and 1941.

His jersey is one of the eight to be retired and hanging in the Smith Center rafters.

His single-game point total of 45 against Clemson in 1941 still ranks as the fourth-highest in UNC history.

Later that year, Glamack led UNC to a Southern Conference championship and a berth to their first-ever NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels lost to Pittsburgh by a 26-20 score in the eight-team tournament.

8. Charlie Scott (1967-1970)

Points per game: 22.1
Rebounds per game: 7.1
Accolades: ACC Co-Athlete of the Year, 1970; All-America in 1969 and 1970.

When Charlie Scott suited up in blue, he became the first to transcend black and white.

Scott’s tenure at North Carolina basketball marked one of the most successful eras in the program’s history.

It also coincided with one where the Civil Rights Act had been signed but racial intolerance, bigotry and prejudice remained prevalent.

Neither was a coincidence.

From 1968 to 1970, Scott led his team to three ACC titles and two consecutive Final Four appearances beginning in 1968.

Racism imbued his career, including his junior and senior years when he was widely regarded as the best player in the ACC. Both years he was overlooked for the player of the year honors.

Today his No. 33 jersey hangs in the rafters as a testament to his extraordinary career.

9. Sam Perkins (1980-1984)

Points per game: 15.9
Rebounds per game: 8.6
Accolades: Consensus All-America in 1983 and 1984.

Sam Perkins might have been overshadowed by a couple of legends while at North Carolina, but he did plenty of damage on his own during his four years at UNC.

Playing sidekick to either James Worthy or Michael Jordan, Perkins still managed to get his hands on the ball enough to outdo both NBA Hall of Famers in the Tar Heels’ record books.

Perkins scored 2,145 career points, good enough for third all-time at North Carolina, and he snared 1,167 career rebounds, which was good for first place until Tyler Hansbrough broke his record last season.

The player nicknamed “Big Smooth” also earned three straight first-team all-American selections from 1982-1984.

Perkins’ career collegiate averages for points and rebounds are 15.9 and 8.6 respectively.

10. Ed Cota (1996-2000)

Points per game: 9.1        
Assists per game: 7.5
Accolades: ACC rookie of the Year in 1997; Final Four appearances in 1997, 1998 and 2000; UNC’s all-time assists leader with 1030 total; third-most all-time assists in NCAA history.

In Carolina history, there was no finer glue guy than Ed Cota, and his resume speaks for itself.

Cota ranks 3rd all-time in NCAA history for assists, finishing his career with 1,030. Not only did he have great teammates, he also saw the game of basketball differently than others. He could usually pick out that hidden passing lane that no one else saw.

Like all of his stats, those assists have a subtle skill about them. While he didn’t pile up the points, his contributions were every bit as important as those from the guys who rocked the rims.

He holds the record for most games in a career without fouling out (138). He is also the only player in NCAA history to record 1,000 points, 1,000 assists and 500 rebounds.

And in a program renowned for pointing out the passer, it seems appropriate to point out the contributions of Ed Cota.

Contact the Sports Editor at sports@unc.edu.

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