COLUMN: Roster turnover and the significance of Cole Anthony’s recruitment

COLUMN: Roster turnover and the significance of Cole Anthony’s recruitment

Wounds are fresh, with a brutal 97-80 Tiger mauling leaving North Carolina players, personnel and fans all mourning the end of a promising run. Yet, all runs must come to an end at some point — for over 300 D-I programs vying for an NCAA Tournament championship, those runs end in somber defeat. Perhaps what makes this loss sting so much is the fact that it is in fact an ending, signifying the end of a season and end of a team as we know it. For UNC, several key players must leave the program, leaving several empty spots to fill.  

UNC will be losing three key upperclassmen from the current starting lineup: SG Kenny Williams, G/F Cameron Johnson, and F/C Luke Maye. Looking at box score stats alone—let’s not even dig into the intangibles that will be missed—this means that the Tar Heel offense will be losing a combined 40.4 points, 20.1 rebounds, 8.2 assists and 4.9 three-pointers on a per-game basis, and that’s before we even get to the two first-year talents who are potentially NBA lottery-bound this June in PG Coby White (16.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists) and SF Nassir Little (9.8 points, 4.6 rebounds). With the two freshmen declaring for the Draft, UNC will be losing five of its top six players. That’s rough.

Immense roster turnover to this degree isn’t an uncommon casualty in collegiate sports, as graduation and pro-leaps are inevitabilities that all programs must face, some more than others. North Carolina isn’t a stranger to losing several players at a time, as is the norm for a program that regularly boasts more upperclassman talent on average than its NCAA counterparts that often prefer one-and-done (and sometimes two-and-done) underclassmen. Yet, what makes the transition from this season to the next so concerning is the questionable influx of talent that is coming to Chapel Hill this offseason.

As of today, UNC will be adding 3-star PG Jeremiah Francis, whose senior season was left unplayed due to injury, and 5-star C Armando Bacot Jr., who should step in right away as a positive contributor in Roy Williams’ duel-post scheme. Beyond those two, the 2019 recruiting class looks barren—the trail is littered with miss after miss, with Indiana-native Keion Brooks’ decision to commit to Kentucky being the latest blow, as he was a 5-star small forward that would’ve brought much-needed scoring and defense to a 2019–20 Carolina team that will be lacking in both departments.

Next year’s rotation (not including players who will likely only see minutes during blowouts) currently projects to look like this:

That’s … not great.

With only two commits so far, UNC is still looking at other prospects to add to next year’s roster. Five-star forwards Matthew Hurt and Precious Achiuwa are both considering the Tar Heels, but it’s currently considered a long shot that either player will ultimately don baby blue next year—Hurt is reportedly leaning toward Kansas and Duke, while Achiuwa’s status is completely up in the air and likely will be until deep into May. UNC is also rumored to be interested in pursuing potential graduate transfers in the coming months, reportedly reaching out to Arkansas Little Rock’s Rayjon Tucker and Akron’s Daniel Utomi, with the hopes of grabbing veteran contributors from low- and mid-major teams. Of course, this is far more uncertain than the recruitment of high school seniors, since players across the nation are still figuring out whether they want to even transfer or not.

That brings us to five-star point guard Cole Anthony, the highest ranked, uncommitted prospect left on the board. Son of former UNLV star and NBA point guard Greg Anthony, Cole Anthony is the top point guard in the 2019 recruiting class, possessing an array of skills and physical attributes that will possibly make him the next top-notch guard to go one-and-done and get selected early in the NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-3 Anthony is an explosive athlete, capable of finishing in traffic off of either one or two feet, using a variety of layup packages or highlight-worthy slams. His vertical pop, when combined with his blazing open-court speed and adept ball-handling, makes him a lethal threat in transition. Anthony also possesses an advanced feel for the game — as vague as that sounds, it’s a legitimate trait — and is capable of making advanced reads as a facilitator in the half court, pick-and-roll, and in transition. Although his jumpshot features some funky mechanics it’s still fairly efficient, with Anthony showing potential as a regular pull-up threat in college and in the NBA. He shows promise defensively, too, with his athleticism, motor, and instincts enabling him to be a pesky point-of-attack defender capable of competing with just about anybody.

As a star for Oak Hill Academy, Anthony has proven himself capable of putting the team on his back on multiple occasions thanks to his full skillset—this, obviously, is what makes him such a sought-after recruit by colleges throughout the country, and especially a UNC squad that will likely be losing its starting point guard.

Anthony just released a top-four list (which includes UNC, Oregon, Georgetown and Notre Dame) and after several visits to Chapel Hill and various beaming reports from recruiting analysts, it seems like the interest between UNC and Anthony is mutual. 247 Sports’ Crystal Ball currently has the race for Anthony as a heat between UNC and Oregon, with recruiting analysts such as Corey Evans and Evan Daniels expressing the belief that Anthony will ultimately don Carolina blue next year. A decision date being set for April 20, the day of the Jordan Brand Classic, also seems like a compelling indicator that Anthony may be favoring a certain program that rocks the Jumpman logo, but nonetheless, the only person who knows where Anthony will go is Anthony himself.

Gaining the commitment of Cole Anthony is a matter of life-or-death for next year’s Carolina squad. With him in the fold, UNC should be capable of making the NCAA Tournament as a middle-of-the-pack seed. He is the ideal point guard in a Roy Williams offense and his all-around pro-ready game would elevate the team’s performance drastically.

A 2019–20 UNC team without Cole Anthony? Well, they’d be lucky to even earn a bid in the tournament.

And no, I don’t mean NCAA — I mean NIT.