UNC Basketball: 5 freshman that would have started for other programs

SYRACUSE, NY - MARCH 27: Marvin Williams
SYRACUSE, NY - MARCH 27: Marvin Williams /
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CHAPEL HILL, NC – MARCH 6: Marvin Williams
CHAPEL HILL, NC – MARCH 6: Marvin Williams /

Marvin Williams

Marvin Williams had one of the best freshman seasons in the history of North Carolina basketball, and he didn’t start a single game.

The 6-foot-9, 225-pound power forward joined a North Carolina team that already boasted the talented trio of Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants and Sean May. Also on board were senior mainstays Jawad Williams and Jackie Manual, two players who had suffered through the Tar Heels’ 8-20 season three years prior.

Williams and fellow five-star prospect J.R. Smith headlined Roy Williams’ first recruiting class at North Carolina. Williams, by himself, was a highly anticipated five-star prospect that was seen as a player who would add depth and talent to an already star-studded front court. Smith was a bonus, really, adding elite-level shooting and slashing to a back court that was led by former McDonald’s All-Americans Felton and McCants.

Smith eventually chose to forgo college, opting to enter his name into the 2004 NBA Draft. That left Williams and top-100 point guard Quentin Thomas as the Tar Heels’ two-man recruiting class.

North Carolina fans were disappointed, watching a top-10 recruit of Smith’s caliber never play a single game in Carolina blue. However, it seems to have worked out well for all parties concerned.

Smith would go on to have a solid NBA career that still carries on today. Williams played one season of college ball before doing the same. And even Thomas did alright for himself, playing basketball at UNC for four years before graduating in 2008 with a national championship on his resume.

Williams, in particular, though, has stood out in the memory of fans ever since. Maybe no memory is more vivid than his game-winning shot and free throw against Duke that helped the Tar Heels win the 2005 ACC regular season championship outright.

In his lone season at North Carolina, Williams came off the bench in each of the 36 games he played. He was always the first man off Roy Williams’ bench, and logged better than 22 minutes per game. In that time, he played some of the most efficient basketball, particularly for a freshman, in the entire nation.

Williams averaged 11.3 points per game on better than 50 percent shooting. Combine that with the fact that he hit 43.2 percent of his three-point attempts and nearly 85 percent of his free throws, and it makes the numbers all the more impressive. He also recorded 6.6 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game in giving the Tar Heels the boost that they needed to get over the hump.

North Carolina would go on to win the 2005 NCAA Tournament title, knocking off a one-loss Illinois team that seemed nearly unbeatable through much of the season.

Williams was subsequently named Freshman of the Year and selected second overall in the 2005 NBA Draft. It was with the Atlanta Hawks that Williams would make his first start since graduating high school.