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Column: Picking the 12-man all-decade team for North Carolina basketball

marcus paige thp.jpg
Former North Carolina guard Marcus Paige dribbles in the 2016 national championship game.

Picking an all-2010s team for North Carolina men's basketball is not an easy task. 

In what was maybe — all things considered — the most successful decade in team history, head coach Roy Williams saw an astonishing nine different players earn first-team All-ACC honors, while four Tar Heels were named first-team All-America by various outlets.

Suffice it to say that making this list wasn't exactly a cut-and-paste job.

And in order to up the degree of difficulty, I've decided — in the style of Bill Simmons' "Wine Bottle" teams — to pick "vintages" of each player. This means that instead of finding (for example) Marcus Paige on this list, you might find (for example) 2013-14 Marcus Paige.

I've also made this list under the assumption that this team of Tar Heels will play their first-round NCAA Tournament game tomorrow. Which permutation gives UNC the best chance at a title? 

Without further ado:


Guard: Kendall Marshall, 2011-12

Who better to lead the Tar Heel fast break than the program's all-time leader in assists per game? Marshall came in as a first-year expecting to back up Larry Drew II in 2010-11; he ended up spelling him midway through the season and helping UNC to a 29-8 record. Marshall followed that up with a sophomore season where he averaged 9.8 assists and was named a first-team All-American by CBS (despite not making first-team All-ACC). How many assists would Marshall average on this hypothetical team? 12? 15?

Guard: Marcus Paige, 2013-14

The perfect shooting compliment to Marshall and UNC's all-time leader in three-pointers made. Paige was the best player on a relatively undermanned North Carolina team in 2013-14, and his clutch 35-point outburst against N.C. State will go down in Tar Heel lore. Two seasons later, he was responsible for the biggest what-if shot of the decade in the 2016 NCAA title game. I want him spotting up alongside Marshall.

Forward: Justin Jackson, 2016-17

One year after that 2016 loss to Villanova, Jackson led the North Carolina redemption tour by averaging 18.3 points on 37 percent from three-point range. When he wasn't bombing from distance, the junior All-American was frustrating bigs with his trademark floater, which served the Tar Heels well on the way to the national championship.

Forward: Brice Johnson, 2015-16

As a senior, Brice Johnson ticked every box on the Roy Williams Big Man checklist: an athletic forward who could run the floor, defend the rim, post up and knock down the occasional midrange jumper at the top of the key. People talk about the 2014 recruiting class for UNC that had Jackson, Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson, but they rarely mention the 2012 class that had Johnson and Paige, two of UNC's most important four-year players in recent memory. Johnson peaked in his final season in Chapel Hill when he averaged 17 points and 10.4 rebounds, highlighted by a monster 39-point, 23-rebound outing against Florida State.

Center: Tyler Zeller, 2011-12

UNC's most dominant low-post player since Tyler Hansbrough, Zeller earned first-team All-American honors by posting 16.3 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. As a first-year, he started his career behind Hansbrough on the 2009 national championship team; he nearly ended his career with a title, too, before No. 1 seed North Carolina fell to Kansas in the Elite Eight.


Harrison Barnes, 2011-12: The highly-touted forward from Ames, Iowa struggled to put it all together in his rookie season, but surprised many by returning to Chapel Hill with aims of winning a title. On this hypothetical team, he comes off the bench and carries the offensive load for the second unit with his advanced one-on-one game and scoring knack — he led the Tar Heels his sophomore season with 17.1 points per game. 

John Henson, 2011-12: A dominant defensive force.

Joel Berry II, 2016-17: He would earn first-team All-ACC honors a year later, but give me the NCAA title-winning version of Berry, the one who became only the seventh player in history to score 20 points in back-to-back championship games. If Justin Jackson was the Tar Heels' best player that season, Berry was the most important.

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Theo Pinson, 2016-17: I also want Berry's running mate, the multifaceted Pinson, who did a little bit of everything on the way to the national championship. Need someone to grab a rebound and go coast-to-coast for a crowd-pleasing dunk? Need someone to lock down Malik Monk in the NCAA regional final, then set up the winning basket? Pinson did it all — and was also the best bench celebration guy of the Roy Williams era.

Luke Maye, 2017-18: The swaggering, first-team all-conference, "I hit the biggest shot of the century for UNC basketball" version of the beloved forward. On this team, he works as a stretch four, and is a part of the Tar Heels' best shooting lineup along with Berry, Paige, Jackson and...

Cameron Johnson, 2018-19: He shot a blistering 45.7 percent from three-point range last season and was North Carolina's leading scorer on a team that went 29-7 and won a share of the ACC regular season title. You could make the case that he should have a starting spot as a three-and-D wing on this hypothetical team, and you wouldn't get any argument from me.

Coby White, 2018-19: And if all else fails, and the likes of Johnson, Barnes, Paige and others can't find the bottom of the net? Give me a quick four-minute stretch with White, an all-time heat check guy for the Tar Heels who could score quick, fast and in a hurry. A "break glass in case of emergency" pick who would be the best scorer on most regular college teams — but then again, a UNC basketball all-decade team is anything but regular.


@DTHSports |