UNC Basketball: 2015 Team Awards


Well, it is that time of the year when we reminisce about this past season. The North Carolina Tar Heels finished the season with a 26-12 record. UNC had a roller coaster of a season. They started the season with a loss in an exhibition game in the Bahamas to the Providence Storm, 83-84. Unexpected losses to Butler (66-74 in the Battle 4 Atlantis) and Iowa (55-60 ACC/Big 10 Challenge) started the season on a sour note. Wins against ranked teams Florida (75-64), UCLA (78-56) and Ohio State (82-74) helped to right the ship.  Although there were some ups and downs including deaths to iconic Tar Heels Stuart Scott (ESPN/ABC basketball analyst) and Dean Smith (Hall of Fame basketball coach), several UNC players stood out during the 2015 season. We will pay homage to the resilience of these players amidst some great wins and even greater losses.

Most Valuable Player (MVP) – Marcus Paige

This should not be a surprise. He was a second team all-ACC player. Paige led UNC in scoring (14.1), assists (4.5), steals (1.7), three-point percentage (39.5%) and minutes played (33.2). Despite these numbers, some people believe that Paige had a down year. Some may argue, “he was not an all-American.” This is not a fair assessment of how valuable Paige is. There are many good college basketball players who did not make that list.

Paige was Carolina’s most valuable player because there is not a player who can duplicate what he does; consistently. Paige plays both guard positions, hits big shots when necessary and he is money from the free throw line. His 86.5% free throw percentage was second on the team next to Nate Britt’s 88.2 % free throw percentage.

Expect a better season from this young man in 2016. He is coming back for his senior season in Chapel Hill and he wants to cut down the nets in April.

Most Improved PlayerIsaiah Hicks

Hicks is vastly underrated. You could make an argument that he did not get a fair chance during his freshman season because he played out of position as a small forward. As a freshman, Hicks averaged 7.3 minutes, 1.2 points, 1 rebound, 0.2 assists, 0.1 steals, 0.4 blocks, had a 41.7% field goal percentage and a 57.9% free throw percentage. This past season, Hicks was the backup power forward to Brice Johnson. Hicks provided UNC with solid play and better numbers including 14.8 minutes, 6.6 points, 3 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.4 blocks, had a 54.4% field goal percentage and 62.1% free throw percentage. When his minutes doubled (in addition to playing his natural power forward position), Hicks delivered. As the season progressed, UNC head coach Roy Williams relied on Hicks down the stretch in close games.

North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina Tar Heels /

North Carolina Tar Heels

Although Hicks started in a few games (Boston College, UCLA, Pittsburgh) this season, his best outing came against Boston College, he was 7-of-10 from the field and 7-of-11 from the free throw line. He finished the game with 21 points and 5 rebounds in 28 minutes. Boston College could not stop Carolina in the low post. UNC’s frontcourt (consisting of Hicks and Johnson) accounted for 41 of UNC’s 79 total points.

Hicks provides toughness for Carolina team that was not regarded as tough. Hicks runs the floor well and he attacks the rim for rebounds and shots. He is a nice contrast to Johnson and Meeks, whose styles of play are more finesse to his power style of play.

Rookie of the YearJustin Jackson

Jackson had some freshman woes this season. He was heralded as a “one-and-done” player by some due to his freakish athleticism and talent. It is great to know that he will be a Tar Heel next season. Jackson averaged 10.7 points this season, which was good for fourth-best on the team. Along with Paige, Jackson was on the ACC all-Tournament team. In addition, he was the only freshman from UNC who was a part of the 2015 all-ACC freshman team. Not too bad for a freshman.

Stats aside, Jackson’s play improved a great deal over the season. Earlier in the season, Jackson was timid. He waited for the game to come to him. By the end of the season, Jackson was asserting himself and playing with a chip on his shoulder. At 6’8″, he developed a trademark “tear drop” shot that made him difficult to guard. You usually see smaller guards using “tear drops.” Adding this shot to his repertoire gives Jackson another way of torching defenses.

Prior to his freshman season at UNC, Jackson was known as a three-point specialist. Although he had a slow start to this past season, he finished the season strong. His three-point shooting elevated to the point where he went 4 of 5 from three-point range against No. 2 ranked Virginia in the ACC Tournament and he went 3 of 3 from three-point range against Wisconsin in the Sweet 16. When UNC faced two of their toughest opponents, Jackson delivered.

Jackson may start at the small forward position next season, if J.P. Tokoto follows through with his decision to turn pro. This opportunity will allow Jackson to flourish as a scorer and leader for UNC.

Defensive Player of the YearBrice Johnson

This was a close race between Johnson and Kennedy Meeks. Their numbers were very similar; however, Johnson had a higher differential when it came to rebounds. He averaged 7.8 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 1.1 blocks, whereas Meeks averaged 7.3 rebounds, 0.6 steals and 1.2 blocks.

In Johnson’s first year as a starter, he had a solid season. He was a third team all-ACC Johnson was UNC’s most consistent defender in the low post this past season. Although his numbers were not extraordinary, expect more from Johnson next season. As a senior alongside Paige, he wants to win a championship. Next season will be a sense of urgency for the veteran players.