The University of North Carolina has had some of the best players to play the game of basketball, but fans will always wonder of the hypothetical, “what if that player signed for the Tar Heels?”, or “what would have happened if he joined that team?”.
We could have had superstars joining Championship Teams such as 1982, 2005 and 2009, or players that could have been the missing pieces on that team cutting down the nets in the last game.
Here is a list of players who nearly or could have signed for the University of North Carolina, the Top 10 “What If They Were Tar Heels”.
10. Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard is probably in the Top 10 players currently in the NBA, but coming out of high school he was a Two-Star Recruit and was not heavily recruited. Lillard went on to have a great career at Weber State and by the end of his college career, he was a top prospect going into the NBA Draft.
It is a stretch to say that Lillard could have been a Tar Heel, due to not even having an offer from Chapel Hill. Although, Lillard tweeted a few years ago, regarding what other college he would have gone to, his answer… North Carolina.
Lillard was at college from 2008 to 2012, meaning Lillard would have been on the bench for the 2009 championship team and what I am more intrigued about is his role in the 2011-2012 team. The team that should have gone all the way in a lot of Tar Heel’s minds, but… Creighton.
After the injury to Kendall Marshall against Creighton, Damian Lillard would have taken full control of the point guard role and led Coach Williams to at that time, his third championship.
POTENTIAL 2011/2012 TEAM:
9. Brandon Ingram
Brandon Ingram coming out of one of the best high schools for basketball in America, Kinston High School, where Tar Heels such as Jerry Stackhouse and Reggie Bullock have graced the court. Ingram was heavily recruited in high school and the gyms were packed in North Carolina to see him play.
North Carolina’s Mr Basketball was the Number 3 overall recruit in the 2015 class. Duke, Kentucky, UCLA and Kansas were all trying to get Ingram to sign for them. Carolina was also on the list and had a good shot, except for all the scandal allegations aimed at UNC. Ingram even commented about UNC and the scandal.
“I probably would have committed in November.”Brandon Ingram’s comments about committing to UNC during the scandal allegations
Brandon Ingram would have joined the 2015-2016 team, the team that was so close to bringing back another championship to Chapel Hill. Ingram would have teamed up with the likes of Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Joel Berry II.
That team, led by Paige, was one shot away from cutting down the nets and imagining what Ingram could have brought to that team. Ingram started 34 games for Duke in his one season there, it would have been interesting to see the role he would have had in Chapel Hill.
POTENTIAL 2015/2016 TEAM:
JOEL BERRY II
JUSTIN JACKSON/BRANDON INGRAM
8. JamesOn Curry
To the average basketball fan, you may not have heard of JamesOn Curry, his professional career has been spent with time in the NBA D-League, Overseas Leagues and the shortest NBA career in history. To a basketball fan from North Carolina, you may have thought about it a few times… what could of happened to JamesOn Curry?
Curry signed a letter of intent to join the University of North Carolina. He held the record for all-time North Carolina scoring record with 3,307 points, a record that stood for some time before Coby White broke it in 2018. Curry would break numerous records in high school.
In February 2004, Curry was among 49 students to get arrested in a drug raid. He pleaded guilty to the drug charges and the Tar Heels rescinded their scholarship offer. Curry signed with Oklahoma State and had three seasons there, before getting picked up by the Chicago Bulls in the second round of the 2007 NBA Draft.
Curry, an unbelievable scorer would have joined the Tar Heels for the 2004-2005 season, where he would come off the bench for the championship team. But the season after, I imagine he would have started and led the back-court. Over the next couple of seasons, UNC added some star power with Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough and more.
What could have been of JamesOn Curry? If he wasn’t at that drug raid? If he didn’t go down that route at high school? More than likely an NCAA Champion.
POTENTIAL 2005/2006 TEAM:
7. Earl Joseph ‘J.R’ Smith
Earl Joseph ‘JR’ Smith was a 6 ft 6 Guard coming out of New Jersey. JR was one of the top players in the nation and in high school, he shared the MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game with Dwight Howard.
JR Smith committed to the University of North Carolina and was set to have his college career in Chapel Hill, but the story goes after that McDonald’s game he decided to declare for the NBA Draft after he had such a good performance.
If JR Smith did not declare for the draft and stayed at the University of North Carolina, in his first season he would have been an NCAA Champion for the 2004/2005 team. Some people may wonder, what would Smith and Rashad McCants have been like on the same team, can you imagine!?
Smith likely would have been a one-and-done off the bench for North Carolina and probably gave Coach Williams some more grey hairs earlier than expected. Perhaps, he may have got the starting role over Jackie Manuel? I would have loved to have seen that team play though… would it have been better than 2009?
POTENTIAL 2004/2005 TEAM:
6. Andrew Wiggins
Andrew Wiggins was probably the most talked-about high school player since LeBron James at the time. Everyone was getting excited about the potential of Wiggins in a ‘Carolina Blue’ jersey. He cut his options down to just Kansas, Kentucky, Florida State and North Carolina… sadly, for Tar Heel fans he wore a different shade of blue.
Wiggins was always going to be in college basketball for just a short time and he had his year at Kansas, where he was in the running for all the prestigious college basketball awards. He was part of a very young class in Kansas with Joel Embiid and Frank Mason.
At North Carolina, Wiggins would have been surrounded by a little bit more experience. Paige, Tokoto and Johnson were all sophomores, while McAdoo was in his junior season. UNC went out in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, the same as Kansas.
You wonder what Wiggins abilities could have brought the Tar Heels during the 2013/2014 season?
POTENTIAL 2013/2014 TEAM:
JAMES MICHAEL MCADOO
5. Dwight Howard
Okay, potentially the 2004/2005 Team could have been over-stacked. Dwight Howard was heavily recruited by Coach Williams and Howard has gone on to say that he would have gone to North Carolina, if he didn’t make the jump from high school straight to the NBA.
As you’ve already read, it could have had Howard, JR Smith and JamesOn Curry on already, one of the most dominant teams of the decade.
The 2004/2005 team had six future NBA players on its roster (Williams, Felton, May, McCants, Noel, Terry), throw in the number one pick from 2004 NBA Draft, that team could have gone undefeated!
Dwight Howard was the number one player in the nation and was the first pick in the NBA Draft. A player of his calibre to an already championship team is a fun thought to have. Also, Howard was a good baseball player… could you imagine Howard playing for the Diamond Heels as well?
North Carolina would have had Sean May, Marvin Williams and Dwight Howard providing the strength inside would have caused so many nightmares for teams in college basketball.
POTENTIAL 2004/2005 TEAM:
4. Zion Williamson
The most recent big-time recruit that UNC missed out on was Zion Williamson. There has been so much hype on Zion since his days at Spartanburg Day School and North Carolina were in his last six schools (Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Clemson, South Carolina and UNC).
Zion was heavily recruited by Carolina and Coach Williams wanted his man. Zion had a close friendship with Nassir Little and UNC was hoping that would swing in the favour of the Tar Heels. Sadly, he chose the team down the road and blew out his shoe (that was his only highlight, right!?).
If Zion came to North Carolina, he would have been part of a very experienced team with some unbelievable young talent. Coby White and Nassir Little were the star freshmen for UNC. Luke Maye and Cam Johnson provided the experience.
Would he have started? Likely. I see Zion taking some of Garrison Brooks’ minutes. Instead, he went to that team down the road and blew out his shoe, the rest is history.
By the way, I can’t ever cheer for a Dook player… even Zion.
POTENTIAL 2018/2019 TEAM:
3. Patrick Ewing
Yes, the same guy who UNC went to battle within the 1982 NCAA Championship Game, well… that game would have been a little easier if Ewing signed for UNC.
Patrick Ewing was getting national attention at a young age and was a player everyone wanted. Ewing’s college career went as planned; a National Champion, Most Outstanding Player and College Player of the Year, although this all could have happened at UNC.
Coach Dean Smith was recruiting Ewing, alongside other schools; Georgetown and UCLA. Ewing was close to signing at UNC, but his experience on his official visit was likely the reason Ewing never became a Tar Heel.
“I was close, North Carolina was a very good school, when I went down there, they had me in the Carolina Inn and there was a Ku Klux Klan rally when I was there. You know what I’m not going here, I’m staying my butt in Boston.”Patrick Ewing on why he didn’t choose the University of North Carolina
Coach Dean Smith did tell Ewing, that if he doesn’t sign for UNC, he should go to Coach Thompson and the Georgetown Hoyas.
Could you imagine what he would have done in North Carolina? Imagine his junior season joining up with Michael Jordan, a freshman Kenny Smith, a young Brad Daugherty and a senior Sam Perkins. Another championship in 1984 as well? I think so.
POTENTIAL 1981/1982 TEAM:
JAMES WORTHY/PATRICK EWING
2. Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant, one of the greatest scorers of all time, was nearly a Tar Heel. Durant has openly said that he could have gone to North Carolina.
Kevin Durant was roommates with Ty Lawson in high school, when they both played for Oak Hill Academy. Durant spoke on Player Tribunes’ Podcast about his experience in being recruited by the Tar Heels.
“They were recruiting me heavy with Lawson. They were expecting us to come together. I’m going on official visits. I went to a game where they beat Duke at the buzzer, and they won a national championship that year, my junior year in high school. So I was like, ‘Man I want to go to Carolina.'”Kevin Durant on his recruitment to North Carolina
Coach Williams was able to recruit the best class in the nation at Chapel Hill, including Brandan Wright, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Deon Thompson. This class being added to an already stacked team of Hansbrough, Green, Ginyard and more.
“They were stacked though. They had a nice senior class. They went to the Elite Eight that year. Tyler Hansbrough was there, Danny Green, all those dudes, so I would’ve gotten kind of lost — not lost, but I would have been playing 25 minutes instead of 40 minutes like I should have been playing.”Kevin Durant on the playing time he would have got at North Carolina
Durant was crowned with every major College Player of the Year award in his one and only season with the Longhorns. Durant declared for the NBA Draft after one season. UNC made the Elite Eight that season, would Durant have stayed more than one season in Chapel Hill? The next season the Tar Heels reached the Final Four and the one after that, they won the whole daggum thing!
Either way, if Durant did go to UNC, that season would have been a very exciting team to watch.
POTENTIAL 2006/2007 TEAM:
1. Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant + Vince Carter + Jerry Stackhouse + Antawn Jamison + Rasheed Wallace… maybe the greatest WHAT IF Team of ALL-TIME!
Kobe Bryant is on the Mount Rushmore of basketball greats and he did announce that if he went to college, he would have gone to the University of North Carolina. Bryant was heavily recruited by Coach Dean Smith until Smith stopped recruiting him and said this was because he believed Bryant would go pro, as he did.
Bryant said in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel that he would have chosen the Tar Heels due to the competition he would get at practice every day.
“I probably would have wound up going to Carolina, because of the competition. The year before my senior season, Vince Carter went to Carolina and the year before he was the best guard in the country. I want to play against him every single day.”Kobe Bryant on where he would have ended up going.
Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse declared for the NBA Draft in 1995 (if they stayed, they would have been seniors in 1996/97 season), but Bryant would have played with National Player of the Year, Antawn Jamison and the player who he wanted to practice against every day, Vince Carter. The team was also made up of freshman guard Ed Cota who surely would have got even more assists to his career total if Kobe joined. As well, Serge Zwikker who provided a lot of strength at the post.
Well, the truth has come out and Kobe Bryant would have been a Tar Heel!
And that is what I think about when I go to bed.
POTENTIAL 1996/1997 TEAM:
I hope you enjoyed this post, it was fun to think about the hypothetical. Of course, we do not know how each team would have worked out or if the championship teams would have gelled as well as they did.
Who else would you put on this list?
Also, check out the latest podcast below with Joel Berry II. Berry talks about his first season overseas, the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons and some fun stories on his Tar Heel Teammates… and SUBSCRIBE!
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