Rank’ Em: UNC’s Best Defenders Ever


Historically, the Tar Heels basketball team is known more for their stars on the offensive side of the ball to the casual fan. Most people can remember highlights of offensive stars like Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Jerry Stackhouse, Vince Carter, Tyler Hansbrough, and Harrison Barnes.

However, true UNC fans know that there have been plenty of great defensive players to come down the good side of Tobacco Road to play for the Heels. In this edition of “Rank ‘Em” we’ll take a look at my take on the best defenders in UNC history.

Here we go.

Brendan Haywood (1997-2001)

Jan 11, 2015; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings forward Carl Landry (24) shoots against Cleveland Cavaliers center Brendan Haywood (33) during the fourth quarter at Sleep Train Arena. The Sacramento Kings defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 103-84. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Haywood has got to be on this list for his shot blocking ability, if nothing else. He held down the middle for the Heels for four years from the 1997-98 season through 2000-01. It was obvious even in his first season in Chapel Hill that he had an affinity for blocking shots when in 8 minutes per game as a freshman, he still managed just about 1 block per game (0.9) in those limited minutes.

By the time he was an established player for UNC he was swatting shots back with regularity, which eventually led to him becoming the all-time leader in blocked shots for the Tar Heels with 247. During his senior season he averaged 3.6 blocks per game which eventually landed him as the #20 overall pick of the 2001 NBA draft.

For his 4-year career at North Carolina Haywood averaged 10 points, 6 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, and 0.3 steals per game.

Jackie Manuel (2001-2005)

Manuel was a one-dimensional star for the Heels during his tenure that brought home the 2005 national championship banner. He was a constant for the Heels and always took on the best perimeter threat from the opposing team. He chased JJ Redick around screen after screen after screen for three of his years among many, many others.

His offensive skills were limited at best (career 28% 3-pointers, 57% free throws) but he was on the floor for his defensive prowess. Manuel was a player that UNC fans knew was not going to make it further than the NCAA. He had a few brief stints in the NBDL and was signed to a non-guaranteed one-year contract with the Boston Celtics in 2007, but was released shortly afterwards. For his career he averaged 6.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 0.5 blocks.

*Unofficially he averaged 47 screens run around/through per game.*

Danny Green (2005-2009)

Although the casual basketball fan knows Green more for his performances in the NBA Finals in recent years, or at the very least this…

Now that we’ve all got a good laugh out of the way, lets take a look at Danny Green, the defensive player. He would always take on the best perimeter player from his opposition with pride and did a fantastic job. In 145 career games he averaged 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks per game for his career. Green was a solid and consistent performer for the Heels and that has translated into his professional career and paid dividends for the San Antonio Spurs.

He was an absolute no-brainer to be on this list.

Derrick Phelps (1990-1994)

The last addition to this week’s “Rank ‘Em” would be the all-time leader in steals for the Heels, Derrick Phelps. Not only is he the all-time leader in steals in an individual game (9) but also the all-time leader in career steals with 247 thefts (No, he didn’t play for Butch Davis) for the Heels. A member of the 1993 national championship team, Phelps’ career was stellar in college. He was honorable mention to the ACC all-conference team in 93 and a second team selection that team in 1994.

He had a lengthy career playing professionally overseas and around the D-League among a “cup of coffee” with the Sacramento Kings (3 games played) in 1995.

Anyone notice something about this list? Three of the four I mentioned were on National Championship winning teams.