The point guard position is the last most important position on the floor for the Carolina Basketball program. The lists of greats to play that position while in Chapel Hill further confirm this belief, as both Dean Smith & Roy Williams value great play from their floor leader. When Carolina signed Cole Anthony last summer, you felt comfortable the team was in good hands following the departure of Coby White to the NBA, after just one season. After Anthony scored 34 points in the season opener to lead the Tar Heels past Notre Dame, we never thought we'd have to worry about this team struggling this winter. Sprint ahead 6 weeks later, Carolina has lost 5 out 6, is currently not ranked in the AP poll, and is without Cole Anthony until mid January at the earliest. The team has played two games without Anthony, and K.J. Smith who was put on scholarship this summer has started in place of the freshman sensation. While Smith hasn't hurt the team while on the floor, Carolina certainly needed one of the reserve guards to step up. That guy just happened to be Jeremiah Francis.
Jeremiah Francis hadn't played a game of basketball in over two years, when Roy Williams subbed him in the second half in Charlottesville earlier this month. Williams' and his staff stayed committed to Francis, while the high school prospect suffered injuries that might've even hindered his ability to play basketball game. It appears that the faith has been rewarded as Francis, in 3 games appears to have given the offense some life with him on the court. He scored 11 points in the loss last night to Gonzaga, which was third best on the team. His play has many of Tar Heels fans wondering should he be the starter until Anthony returns from injury? Here are reasons as to why that answer is yes:
1. Maximum Effort: While this isn't something you should have to ask for, this team has struggled with their effort at times. When Francis is on the floor, you know he's going to olay as hard as he possibly can, to give himself and the team a chance to be successful. He was clearly at a disadvantage against Gonzaga, but you would't known that watching him compete his tail off. The thing about effort is that it's contagious whether it's positive or negative, and when Francis is one the court the effort level from his teammates rises.
2. Transition: Francis isn't afraid to take the ball and run it down the court. It's something this offense has been sorely lacking, is the awareness to push the tempo no matter the situation. Does he always make the right decision? Take the right shot? No, but he has the ability and the desire to get the offense playing at a tempo his head coach demands.
3. Ability to Drive the Lane: Even in the Virginia game, you could see that Jeremiah isn't afraid to take his man off the dribble, and attack the basket. This has actually helped open up the offense for Carolina, as he draws double teams, and can drop it off for a easy bucket for either Garrison Brooks or Armando Bacot. You have to love his attitude and aggressiveness, because noting appears to intimate him. His play is somewhat reminiscent of former national champion Joel Berry II, one of the more beloved Tar Heels in recent memory.
We don't know if Francis has passed the conditioning test a requirement to start, but whether or not Francis starts, his story makes him a easy guy to root for moving forward. Remember we didn't think he'd play at all this season, but he is turning out to be a pleasant surprise, and a key to the future of Carolina Basketball.
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