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Heel Tough Blog: All-Time Underappreciated Starting 5

The off-season is a great time for fans to have arguments or discussions about a variety of different topics in sports. This is usually the time of year you see lists of best players, moments in sports, etc. Tar Heel fans love to discuss what’s the best team to have won a national title or debate the greatness of Dean Smith and Roy Williams. This time we’re going to do something a little more unique, which is compose a starting 5 of the most underappreciated Tar Heels since the ACC was formed in the 1950’s. There was no certain criteria that was required to be met. There’s also a chance players listed have been on national title or Final Four squads. Our list goes as followed:

Point Guard:

Josh - Jeff Lebo (1986-89)

When you think of Carolina Basketball, one of the first things that comes to mind is great point guard play, and it crosses many decades of play under both Dean Smith & Roy Williams. The 1980’s featured great point guard play, and it’s where I found my floor leader. Jimmy Black was a great leader and was an instrumental part of the 1982 national championship team. Kenny Smith followed in his footsteps, and was a fan favorite of young Tar Heel fans. Jeff Lebo is often forgotten about, as being a great player at Carolina. Lebo was a 4 year starter, and averaged double figures scoring 3 of his 4 seasons on campus. HIs best season was his junior campaign, where he averaged 12.2 points, 4.8 assists and shot 46% from the floor. His great individual season landed him on the All-ACC team that season. During his career, he set records for most assists in a game ( 17 against Chattanooga ), and upon his graduation he set the mark for the highest free throw percentage at 83%. Lebo was also a 3 time All-ACC Tournament selection, as Carolina found it difficult to make it back to the Final Four.

Anthony - George Karl (1971-73)

The Tar Heels have had plenty of success at the point guard spot, but it’s hard say most of them are underappreciated, especially recently. However, there are still some solid candidates here. Jeff Lebo definitely has a case, but I have to go with George Karl. In his three seasons with the Tar Heels, Karl averaged 13.8 point per game and shot a sensational 51.2% from the field on his 964 career shot attempts. In each of his three seasons on campus, Karl increased his assist per game, increasing it by at least 1.5 assist per game in each of those three seasons. As a senior in 1972-73, Karl led the Tar Heels in scoring, averaging 17.0 points per game, and assists, averaging 5.8 per game. Although he did receive some postseason recognition, he only received All-ACC first team honors just once.

Mark- Ed Cota (1997-2000)

With North Carolina being Point Guard U, most all point guards to pass through Chapel Hill have gotten the notoriety and appreciation they earned. I chose Ed Cota as my point guard because many forget that he played a lead part in guiding three Tar Heel teams to the Final Four. Cota’s handles, court vision, and ability to create puts him as one of UNC’s all time greatest passers. Known for being a pass first point guard, Cota played a large role in making Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter the players they were. Cota ranks third all time among NCAA assist leaders. While at Carolina, Cota averaged 9.1 points, 7.5 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game.

SB Nation

Shooting Guard:

Josh - Dante Calabria (1993-96)

There was a strong case for shooting guard being the deepest and hardest position group to find a player for this project. For all the love the point guard position receives, and rightfully so there’s been a lot of great talent at the 2 guard as well. You can argue Donald Williams to some degree even Rashad McCants, but I ultimately settled on Dante Calabria. Calabria was a 4 year player at Carolina, and was a starter his junior and senior seasons. He wasn’t a big part of the 1992-93 team that eventually cut down the nets in New Orleans. As a sophomore his minutes nearly tripled, and his scoring increased from 1.8 to 8.1. As you could expect his numbers were far better the two seasons where he was a fixture in the starting lineup. As a junior he averaged 10.5 points while shooting 50% from behind the three point line. As a senior, he averaged 12.7 points, and while his three point shooting dropped to 40%, he was still wildly efficient from bonus land. HIs play in his final season was enough to earn him a spot on the 1995-96 All-ACC Team, to go along with his 1995 All-ACC Tournament honors.

Anthony - Hubert Davis (1989-1992)

With the focus in the backcourt being on the point guards historically by most that follow the program, there were plenty of great candidates here. Both Dante Calabria and Donald Williams have strong cases and you don’t know how hard it was for me not to go with Calabria here. However, I just have to go with Hubert Davis here. In his four years in a Tar Heel uniform, Davis shot 49.8% from the field and averaged 11.8 points per game. While those numbers might not be mind-blowing, his final two seasons were. In those final two seasons on campus, Davis averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 51.3% from the field, all while starting just 50 of the 68 games. The most impressive part, might be the fact that he shot a combined 45.3% from deep during that time. Davis had a monster senior season where he led the Tar Heels in scoring, averaging 21.4 points per game, helping lead the team to the Sweet 16. Still, the highest recognition that Davis ever received was second team All-ACC honors, which came in that 1991-92 season.

Mark - Shammond Williams (1995-1998)

When it comes to accolades, there is no shortage for Shammond Williams. Williams was a two time NCAA all regional player, two time all ACC, two time all ACC tournament, and ACC tournament MVP. During his four year career in Chapel Hill, Williams shot 52% from the field and 40% from three. He still lands as my pick for one of the most underappreciated shooting guards because despite everything listed above, his overall legacy is remembered more for his shortcomings, specifically in big games, than for his accomplishments. In the ‘97 and ‘98 national semifinal games, Williams shot a combined 3/25 (12%) from the field and 2/17 (12%) from three. Rather than being remembered as one of Carolina’s most pure shooters, Williams is remembered as a guy whose team never got it done. Williams’ situation illustrates the importance of performing when on the biggest stage.

Small Forward:

Josh - Kevin Madden (1986-1990)

For the second time, I go to the 1980’s to find a player that deserves a lot more love than he originally received. Madden was another play that didn’t play a lot right away, but over his time on campus developed into a big part of the success the team enjoyed. After not appearing in the starting lineup as a freshman, Madden cracked the starting lineup as a sophomore. While his numbers weren’t eye popping, he averaged 8.6 points, and shot 58% from the field. As a junior he frequented the starting lineup even more, and he averaged a career best 14.6 points per contest. In addition to his career best scoring average, his field goal percentage improved to 59% also a career best. His career year landed him on the All-ACC Team, for the only time in his Tar Heel career. His final year on campus, he averaged 10.1 points, as other options became available. For his career, Madden averaged 9.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 58% shooting, while being a forgotten member of some great Tar Heel teams.

Anthony - Jason Capel (1999-2002)

This is probably my most controversial selection that I have because Rick Fox has such a great case. After a lot of debate, though, I’m going to go with Jason Capel. In his four seasons on campus, Capel averaged 12.1 points per game and 6.7 rebounds per game, shooting 44.3% from the field and 37.5% from downtown. I like the fact that Capel not only gave you the scoring, but also brings you some added help on the glass. In each of his four seasons on campus, Capel improved his rebounding numbers, peaking out in 2001-02 where he averaged 8.6 per game, a team-high to go along with his team-leading 15.6 points per game. Even with his strong all-around game, the highest honors Capel ever received was third team All-ACC honors, something that he did receive twice.

Mark - J.P. Tokoto (2013-2015)

I’m not here to tell you J.P. Tokoto is underappreciated because of his stats. Career averages of 6.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists isn’t going to turn anyone’s head. The impact Tokoto had, goes far beyond a stat line. Tokoto’s contributions were everything else he did to make his team competitive. He was a superior athlete to anyone who stepped on the hardwood. He used his athleticism to rebound, dish the rock, and play lockdown defense resulting in steals and blocked shots that led to coast-to-coast, high flying dunks. Tokoto is without question the most prolific athlete North Carolina has had since Vince Carter.

Bleacher Report

Power Forward:

Josh - Isaiah Hicks (2014-2017)

When going through my lineup, power forward was a tough decision to make a selection, but I ultimately went with Isaiah Hicks, and recency bias wasn’t a factor here. Hicks was a 4 year player, although he only started extensively his final season in Chapel Hill, which resulted in a national championship. He improved his scoring every year, improvising from a 1.2 average to 11.8 as a senior, displaying the type of growth we’ve grown accustomed to under Roy Williams. 3 of his 4 seasons, he shot better than 50% from the field, topping out at 61% as a junior. Coming off the bench he averaged 8.9 points & 4.6 rebounds as he won ACC 6th Man of the Year, and was a big part of the eventual national runner up squad. While his senior season wasn’t always pretty, he came up huge in the national title game, converting on a layup that made it a 3 point game. For his career, he amassed over 1,000 points, and grabbed over 500 rebounds. In addition to winning the 6th Man Award in 2015-16, he was a member of the 2017 All-ACC Tournament team.

Anthony - Jawad Williams (2002-2005)

Like shooting guard, there were a ton of great options to pick from here, as the focus on the interior has historically been on the centers. Both Isaiah Hicks and Ed Davis have interesting cases, but I just didn’t feel there was enough production to be the selection here. It came down to an extremely difficult decision between George Lynch and Jawad Williams, but I think Lynch is just a little too decorated and talked about to be the selection. That’s why I give just a slight edge to Williams. In his four year career in a Tar Heel uniform, Williams averaged 12.7 points per game and 4.8 rebounds per game, while shooting 48.9% from the field and 34.9% from three. With Capel being as good of a rebounder as he is, I feel comfortable with the fact that Williams rebounding numbers aren’t as strong as some of the other players who were in consideration here. Williams received all-conference just once in his time on campus, despite consistently being a double-digit points per game and 45% shooter from the field, leading him to be my choice here.

Mark - Jawad Williams (2002-2005)

When considering options for my lineup, Jawad Williams was my easiest choice. Williams is underappreciated for many reasons. Number one in my opinion is his perseverance through the ‘02 eight win season and the ‘04 coaching change.While everyone was elated to have Roy Williams come home, Jawad was uncertain. Roy and his staff at Kansas were the only top-tier program to not recruit Jawad. Transferring was an option, but Jawad honored his Carolina commitment. In doing so, Williams became the glue and leader of the ‘05 National Championship team, a team in which much of the hype goes to Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, and Sean May. On that team, Williams averaged 13.1 points and 4.9 rebounds. Williams is a big reason Coach Roy Williams got his first NCAA Championship.


Josh - Joe Wolf (1984-1987)

A common theme of Carolina Basketball is having a great big man to run with an elite point, so it wasn’t easy to find a center to complete my team. After much debate, I landed on Joe Wolfe, the third player from the 1980’s to appear in my lineup. Wolf also joins the other 4 players, as guys that never left Carolina early for professional basketball. And a lot like every other member, Wolf wasn’t a consistent member of the rotation right away. After not being a starter his first two seasons, he finally cracked the starting 5 in the 1985-86 season. He didn’t disappoint, averaging 10 points and 6.6 rebounds. He did that while actually playing less minutes than the prior season, when he averaged 30 minutes off the bench. As a senior, his numbers jumped to 15 points and 7 rebounds, as he was a big part of the ACC regular season champion Tar Heels.His great play was rewarded as he was named to the All-ACC Team and All-ACC Tournament Team respectively. It wasn’t easy being the guy to follow the likes of James Worthy, Sam Perkins & Brad Daugherty, but Wolf was more than capable of being the big man Carolina needed on the floor.

Anthony - Rusty Clark (1967-69)

There are a lot of decorated centers in program history, but this was still a tough decision. Brendan Haywood has a case because he didn’t receive the national respect that he deserved, but I think most Tar Heel fans have shown him the amount of recognition he deserves. Personally I’m a huge Joe Wolf fan, but he just doesn’t compare to my pick here, who fits what my starting lineup also needs. Rusty Clark is not a name that many of you may be familiar with, but that you should be. In his three year career at Carolina from 1966-1969, Clark never averaged less than 14.0 points per game or 9.0 rebounds per game while helping to lead the Tar Heels to a Final Four appearance in each of those three seasons. Clark finished his career averaging 14.7 points per game and 10.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 51.1% from the field. Even with all of that success, the highest postseason honor Clark ever received was a spot on the second team All-ACC as a junior.

Mark - Kennedy Meeks (2014-2017)

I landed on Kennedy Meeks as my underappreciated big man because he doesn’t get the attention or appreciation a player deserves that arguably, should have been the 2017 Final Four Most Outstanding Player. Simply put, without Meeks the Dean Dome would not be housing the 2017 National Championship banner. Meeks had a knack for making big plays when big plays were needed most. This was best demonstrated in the 2017 NCAA tournament. Meeks had a critical late game tip-in that secured the Tar Heels win vs Arkansas. He tallied a seven point, 17 rebound performance vs Kentucky. Against Oregon he scored 25 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, including an offensive rebound that sealed the win. Saving the best for last, Meeks made the two biggest plays of his Carolina career vs Gonzaga. With time running down in a tight game, Meeks made a game altering block on Nigel Williams-Goss and intercepted a Gonzaga full-court pass on the insinuating possession, resulting in the confetti falling for North Carolina. “Redemption” was had.

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