Put Cole Anthony in the North Carolina Hall of Fame. Retire his number. Put a statue in the middle of campus.
Anthony arrived in Chapel Hill with a lot of fanfare that, on paper, would be tough to accomplish in a season nevertheless a game. But with his Dad watching, not only did Anthony meet expectations but, it could be argued, that he exceeded it.
With his Dad watching on, Anthony would set a school record for scoring by a freshman in his debut with 34 points. If that wasn’t enough, he grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out 5 assists. Even more importantly, he played all 20 minutes in the second half where he scored 23 on 8-of-15 shooting from the floor. He was 5-for-8 from the three-point line in the second half. The numbers speak volumes because it wasn’t like North Carolina played a directional school to get in the groove. The ACC had several teams open their season with a conference game hence the Tar Heels were playing Notre Dame. The extra pressure didn’t seem to bother the freshman.
Perhaps North Carolina head coach, Roy Williams, laid the foundation for Anthony before the New York point guard ever set foot on campus. Williams willingness to hand the keys over to freshman Coby White last season has made an impression to every high energy, top flight high school point guard in America. By allowing White to grow at an accelerated pace, he became a “one and done” who played plenty of minutes along with having a long leash to make mistakes and grow.
Anthony, the son of former NBA point guard Greg Anthony, possesses something that White didn’t, rebounding. When Russell Westbrook was breaking the record for triple-doubles, he had the ability to start the fast break with the speed of his dribble instead of receiving a pass from a big. That proved to be key to establishing a pace that would make the opponent feel uncomfortable. Anthony possesses the same trait.
Anthony isn’t Westbrook-fast but his rebounding and push allows for the Tar Heel wing players to get out in transition even faster than Williams’ previous teams. For this particular Tar Heel team, that will be a key to their success.
Due to injuries, realistically, North Carolina only went seven deep last night. It’s no secret how important rebounding is to Williams. Garrison Brooks and, freshman Andrew Bacot did a great job on the boards but a third, even fourth rebounder is needed. That is where Anthony stepped up helping the Tar Heels to an eleven point victory.
It wasn’t a flawless performance. Anthony turned the ball over four times which is acceptable considering the pace the Tar Heels play. As a team, North Carolina will need to improve on their efficiency when Anthony is on the bench. With Anthony subbed out, Notre Dame went on a 12-2 run in the first half.
North Carolina’s next three games look for like an early season schedule, even though, going to North Carolina-Wilmington isn’t something you see a lot of big programs do. But by the time the Tar Heels catch their breath, they’ll be back to their challenging schedule with games against Alabama, Ohio State, Gonzaga, and UCLA.
If first impressions mean anything, Anthony will be ready for the challenge.