UNC Basketball: Chapel Hill, College Basketball’s Point Guard U


I try not to take anything for granted in life, sports is no different.  But one thing I’ve learned you can count on like taxes and junk mail, great point guards at the University of North Carolina.  The history of great PGs in Chapel Hill started with the Dean Smith era and has continued under Roy Williams.

Feb, 29, 2012; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Kendall Marshall (5) passes the ball to forward John Henson (31) in the second half. Marshall became the all-time season assist leader for North Carolina. The Tar Heels defeated the Terrapins 88-64 at the Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

The fast paced, break offense that Carolina has employed demands quickness and effective decision making at the position. Over the years the Heels have put together what I consider to be the best collection of talent at the position in the nation.

The newest addition to this group, freshman Marcus Paige began his journey with an impressive performance at Late Night with Roy. During the scrimmage, Paige showed off his smooth ball handling, quick decision making, ability to get to the basket and his shooting range all in the short 20 minute scrimmage. His impressive performance already has us wondering, could he be even better than the man he’s replacing Kendall Marshall?

Larry Brown 1960-63– Most know Brown as a legendary head coach, but before his coaching days, he began his basketball trail in Chapel Hill.  You won’t find Brown amongst the leaders in the Tar Heel record books, but he was a very good player.  A stingy defender who was a very good passer in his own right, his 5.2 assists per game rank sixth all-time at UNC.

Phil Ford 1974-78– Ford is the standard in which all Tar Heel point guards are measured.  Ford was a true dual thread PG, his 2,290 points are second only to Tyler Hansbrough.  And his 753 career assists were nearly twice as many as the next-highest total in school history when he left Chapel Hill. He still places fourth all-time, now that’s impressive.

Jimmy Black, 1978-82– Black was apart of perhaps the greatest Tar Heel team of all time and was a contributor to Dean Smiths’ first NCAA title.  He’s famous for his assist on Michael Jordan’s game winning shot against Georgetown in that game.  Black had an impressive 525 career assists but was never the athlete that most UNC PGs are and never played in the NBA.

Kenny Smith, 1983-87– “The Jet” as he is better known, Kenny Smith is on the Mount Rushmore of Tar Heel PGs.  Smith broke Phil Ford’s record with 768 assists and averaging 6.1 a game.  Smith ran the Tar Heel offense to perfection, whether he needed to run the fast break or slow it down in Dean Smith’s slowdown, Four Corners offense.  Smith carved out a fine NBA career and is a staple NBA analyst for TNT.

Jeff Lebo, 1985-89– Lebo may be the best pure shooter on this list with a career .428 shooting percentage from three-point land is second only to the great Hubert Davis as a Tar Heel.  His 580 assists made him an impressive all around leader on the floor.

King Rice, 1987-91– A very efficient player who was a true coach on the floor.  Rice had an outstanding career assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.36.  He didn’t have the quickness or athleticism like many UNC PGs in the pre-Roy Williams era and never played in the pro’s but has carved out an excellent coaching career in the college ranks.

Derrick Phelps, 1990-94– Phelps was an exceptional defender, potentially the best UNC point on that end of the court in history.  He holds the Carolina record with 247 steals in his college career.  He helped the Heels to a national championship in his sophomore season in 1993.  A nice passer and solid overall system player, he wasn’t much of a scorer and lasted just a few games in the NBA after going undrafted.

Jeff McInnis, 1993-96– McInnis will always stick out in my mind amongst a group of UNC players I wish would have played one more year in Chapel Hill.  After playing three years, two as a starter, McInnis averaged 5.4 assists a game.  He played 11 years as a journeyman in the NBA.

Ed Cota 1996-2000– My personal favorite (tied with Ty Lawson) Cota was a machine.  An excellent defender and an even better passer.  His 1,030 career assists shattered Kenny Smith’s school record by more than 200.  I remember Cota best for being the quarterback to Vince Carters wide receiver on so many alley-oop highlight reel dunks.  Cota wasn’t a good shooter and his 6’0 frame kept him from ever seeing an NBA floor.  Something I see as a shame and I’ll never be convinced that Cota couldn’t have contributed on an NBA team.

Raymond Felton 2002-05– Felton was picture perfect and seemingly made for Carolina.  Blazing speed, great decision making mixed with a very good jump shot and three point range.  Felton helped lead the 2005 Tar Heels to the NCAA championship, the first of Roy Williams titles in Chapel Hill.  Felton racked up 698 career assists at UNC and is an all time great.  He has shown steady improvement as a professional and has been an All-Star, his return to New York where he had his best career year playing with Carmelo Anthony could  mean even more glory in the Big Apple.

Ty Lawson 2006-09– For as fast as Felton was, Lawson made him look slow.  Faster with the ball than most were without it, Lawson was perfect for the Roy Williams offense.  He developed into a terrific shooter at 40.3 percent from three for his career while dishing out 608 assists.  Lawson continues to grow as a starting PG in the NBA and has become a figure the Denver Nuggets want to lock up long term as their starting PG.

Kendall Marshall 2010-2012– Marshall’s floor vision was unmatched.  He was a true QB on the basketball floor, a master at the look ahead pass and fitting the ball into tight windows.  Marshall set the single season record for assists.  He never was consistent as a scorer but is a better shooter than most think, evident by his breakout final month as a Tar Heel.  He suffered a wrist injury in the postseason of what would be his final season in Chapel Hill derailing UNCs national title hopes, leaving everyone to wonder, what if?  Marshall was selected in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns and enters his rookie season.

Now that’s an impressive list and one that Marcus Paige and 2013 commit Nate Britt will look to add to.