The case for Cole Anthony playing another season at UNC is stronger than you think.
Make no mistake: the former high school phenom has plenty of reasons not to come back. The minute Anthony declares for the NBA Draft, he makes himself eligible to make inane sums of money and, you know, not have to play basketball for free while worrying about class. He'll likely be handed the keys to his own professional team immediately. He'll get to compete against the best basketball players in the world and focus completely on his game.
Anthony's no stranger to the NBA, either (see: videos of him scrimmaging with Carmelo Anthony and others in the offseason). And yet, there are a few separating factors that make his return for a sophomore year at least plausible, if not likely.
First — and this might be news to you — Cole is the son of former NBA veteran Greg Anthony. That part I mentioned about the money? It might not matter to him nearly as much. One figures that he's not hurting for cash. And if we're to believe the older Anthony, Cole's mind is far from made up.
“Absolutely, there’s been no decision as to what’s going to happen,” he said. “That’s never been the approach for us, I know it’s not for him. His job is to get better and to grow. He is still a kid. He is trying to learn and figure it out and become a man."
Greg's comments came after UNC's tilt with Virginia on Feb. 15, which saw the Tar Heels drop a fifth straight game after Tomas Woldetensae's game-winning 3-pointer with 0.8 seconds left. It was another setback in a season full of them for North Carolina, one that Anthony, Roy Williams or your hot-take roommate couldn't have predicted.
All preseason and back during his recruitment process, Cole Anthony didn't mince words about his goals in Chapel Hill: put together a successful regular reason, reach a Final Four and see what happens from there. It's safe to say that UNC has fallen short of that mark. Entering Senior Night against Wake Forest, the team has a 12-17 record and is in sole possession of last place in the ACC.
Does that make Anthony more or less likely to return? Will he be motivated to bring the Tar Heels back to glory, or be prepared to leave Chapel Hill with a bad taste in his mouth? Hard to say. What's certain is Roy Williams has the third-best recruiting class in the country, according to 247Sports, and a sophomore Anthony would help ensure that this season is a bump in the road rather than the new normal.
For now, though, let's assume that Anthony's given up on any NCAA title goals; from an individual standpoint, the point guard still has things to prove before a potential leap to the pros. Last month, The Athletic's Brendan Marks reported that some scouts have questioned Anthony's efficiency (he's shooting just 38.4 percent from the floor this season) as well as his ability to play like a true point guard (he's registered 70 assists this season to 64 turnovers).
“I think he’s a phenomenal talent,” said one NBA staffer. “I just don’t know if you ever win with him.”
ESPN's most recent mock draft has Anthony slated to be taken eleventh by the Sacramento Kings — not bad, but a slip considering his consensus top-three status entering the season.
It didn't help that Anthony missed 11 games due to meniscus surgery and hasn't had the firepower behind him that, say, the 2018-19 Tar Heels had. But virtually no prospect is a sure thing, and one way for Anthony to answer some of the questions surrounding his play would be to run it back at North Carolina.
There's only so much one player can do, and it'd be unwise to pin the Tar Heels' season on Cole Anthony. At the same time, team success matters — fairly or unfairly — in the eyes of scouts, and if Anthony were to lead a UNC turnaround next season, it would go a long way toward his draft stock and, potentially, his long-term future as an NBA point guard.
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