The University of Arizona has been labeled as “Point Guard U” over the years because of the quality amount of point guards the program has produced that have been above average players in the NBA. Guys like Steve Kerr, Mike Bibby, Damon Stoudamire and Gilbert Arenas are just a few who qualify on the list, but let’s be real here. If there is one program whose point guard pedigree exceeds that of “Point Guard U”, it’s North Carolina.
Ever since Dean Smith brought in a guy named Phil Ford, the Tar Heel offense has been synonymous with great point guard play. No matter who the coach was, they always made sure to recruit the best of the best in the country to put on the floor. Roy Williams has been no exception.
Roy has brought his fair share of highly regarded point guards to Chapel Hill out of high school and has had a few big time success stories. We all remember Ty Lawson and his remarkable collegiate career that was capped with a national championship in 2009 and of course, we will never forget what the 2012 Cousy Award winner Kendall Marshall meant to the Tar Heel offense, but Roy has had his share of point guard disappointments as well.
Roy’s first ever recruit at the floor general position as the Head Coach for North Carolina was a young man by the name of Quentin Thomas. Thomas wasn’t what we’d call an overwhelming success as a recruit. Quentin or “Q”, as he was later known, was brought in to be a capable backup for All American Raymond Felton and did not get off to the best of starts. With Felton serving a one game suspension at the beginning of 2005 championship campaign, Thomas got the start in his first ever game as a Tar Heel and was part of one of the biggest upsets in Carolina history when the #1 ranked Tar Heels were beaten by an upstart Santa Clara team. Q was never the same after that. In what was supposed to be a year where UNC had two solid options at point guard, they ended up playing Felton close to 40 minutes every game.
Thomas ended up being very valuable off the bench for several games during his senior season when Lawson and Bobby Frasor were out with extensive injuries. His play led to several key victories and his career was validated in a way as well, but he still had to play without the virtue of a true backup at his position. Frasor was another PG recruit for Roy Williams who really only served in that role for one season before he became a combo guard playing beside Lawson and not so much behind him. Frasor was an above average ball handler as well as a decent shooter and did a great job transitioning the Heels from Felton to Lawson during the one year gap between the two. Bobby came in pretty highly regarded at the position, but never truly served his intended purpose there. Like Thomas, Frasor had his games where he was great and had others where he was just OK, but unlike Thomas, he never really committed an abundance of errors. I like Frasor as much as the next guy, but he was never that pure point guard that the Tar Heels had as a fallback option leaving Lawson carrying the bulk of the load.
The worst PG experiment that Roy has ever gone through and perhaps the worst recruiting experience he has ever gone through in general was with Larry Drew II. Drew came in as highly regarded player in 2009 and was really the first pure point guard coming off the bench that was expected to get relatively consistent minutes in quite some time for the Heels. Drew, however, turned out to be vastly overrated based on his play for the Tar Heels. Drew came in with reputation as a playmaker and excellent in transition, but unfortunately proved to be below average at both. Drew played great defense and was a good ball handler, but turned the ball over far too much and couldn’t make up for it by scoring. His performance, both off the bench behind Lawson and afterwards as a starter, drew a lot of criticism and eventually ended up costing him the job as starter with freshman sensation Kendall Marshall taking over. Drew was so irate at the situation that he up and left the team midseason in order to create more spotlight time for himself. His departure was needed, but it once again left Carolina without a true two man tandem.
Next season, Roy Williams will finally have a depth chart deeper than one at the point guard position for the first time really since he took over the job. Freshman Marcus Paige proved to be a success at point guard for Roy this past season as he stepped in as a freshman and was expected to take Kendall Marshall’s vacated starting spot immediately. Paige had his share of freshman jitters on the court, but his development as a player was quite evident over the course of the season and he returns to Carolina next season with experience to run the uptempo offense and a renowned sense of confidence to do it successfully. Fortunately for Paige, he’ll have some support behind him. Even with Dexter Strickland (who was a combo guard and not a point guard) leaving, Paige will be joined in the backcourt by top 100 prospect Nate Britt next season.
Britt is the definition of what a pure point guard is. He’s quick with the ball and he excellent court vision. While Paige is typically a shoot first type of player, Britt is as selfless with the ball as he is a person and constantly looks to get his teammates in position to score. What I love most about his play is that it varies enough from Paige’s that it allows both of them to potentially play on the floor at the same time. Not only does giving UNC a pure PG to add to the depth chart extremely valuable, but giving Roy the flexibility in his game to play alongside another ball handler on the floor just gives the Heels so many additional options on offense.
It’s been a long while since the Heels have been able to boast two pure PG’s on a team where they will both warrant consistent playing time. The way Roy’s offense is dictated around the play of his ball handler will just prove how much of a forgotten luxury that Britt’s addition will be for his team. If Paige continues to improve and Britt lives up to his early potential, the Tar Heels will undoubtedly boast one of the more talented PG tandems in the country and the best part is, is that they’re both so young.