Freshman Cole Anthony embraces Tar Heels’ point guard legacy

The five-star recruit and son of college and NBA star Greg Anthony knows about high expectations

North Carolina freshman point guard Cole Anthony speaks to reporters during the Tar Heels’ media day last Wednesday in Chapel Hill. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

CHAPEL HILL — Cole Anthony isn’t just a student at North Carolina. He’s also a student of the game of basketball.

That’s understandable since, as the son of a former NBA player and current league broadcaster, the five-star freshman has been around the game his entire life. He’s been especially studious when it comes to point guards, the position both he and his father, Greg Anthony, have played.

“I watch a lot of basketball,” the Tar Heels’ newest star said at the team’s preseason media day last week. “Whenever I watch, there’s probably one thing you can pick up from every point guard I watch.”

He said he doesn’t pattern his game after one specific player, rather “it’s a lot of players put together.”

It’s a list that includes some of the best point guards of the past and present. Surprisingly, the point guard whose college jersey is tattooed permanently onto his left forearm isn’t among them.

That doesn’t mean he hasn’t picked up a few pointers from his famous dad along the way.

“Not with the physical part, but with the mental,” the younger Anthony said. “We talk all the time. We’re both nerds when it comes to basketball.”

If the 19-year-old New York native sounds mature for his age, it’s because he is. It’s a trait that’s likely to serve him well once what promises to be his one-and-only college season begins on Nov. 6 because of the pressure and expectations that have already been placed upon him.

The top-ranked point guard recruit in the nation this year, Anthony is only being asked to replace first-round NBA draft pick Coby White and immediately become a leader for the Tar Heels both on the floor and the stat sheet.

He’s already earned the respect of his older teammates through his play in summer pickup games, and his drive to be the best at everything he does — including UNC’s preseason conditioning program. He was tops on the team in the Tar Heels’ 12-minute run.

“Cole is one of the best players in the country already, and he hasn’t even played a game,” junior forward Garrison Brooks said of his new teammate. “That’s a lot to say, but I believe in him. He’s a really talented guy and a hard worker.

“Cole is here at all times of the night and stays longer than anyone after practice. Those are the things that stand out to me. He’s growing as a leader to try and get everyone on the same page.”

That’s something White did well in his freshman season a year ago. While Anthony would like to duplicate that success, the style with which he pursues it is different from that of his UNC point guard predecessor.

White was a score-first ballhandler who led the team with 232 3-point attempts and finished second in scoring at 16.1 points per game. The 6-foot-3 Anthony is capable of scoring too, as his 18 points per game average as a senior at Oak Hill Academy attests, but according to coach Roy Williams, “he’s more of a quarterback” who makes everyone else on the court better.

Anthony described himself as an “all-around player” during his first session with the media last week, saying that his only goal as a member of the Tar Heels is to win a national championship — just like his father did at UNLV in 1990.

“Forget my individual goals,” he said. “I’m here to win. That’s my one goal.”

In that respect, he’s no different from many of the other great point guards that have worn Carolina blue.

It’s a UNC tradition that dates back to Hall of Famer Phil Ford and includes such luminaries as Kenny Smith, national champions Derrick Phelps, Raymond Felton, Ty Lawson and Joel Berry, along with fellow Bob Cousy Award winner and current staff member Kendall Marshall.

As a student of the game, Anthony is well aware of that line of succession and that his place in it is something that has to be earned.

“Coach Williams and everyone on staff here, they’ve showed me footage of some of the dudes playing before,” he said. “I’ve just tried to take that and envision myself into those same roles. It means a lot. Hopefully I don’t mess it up.”

Having the opportunity to be the Tar Heels’ next great point guard played a major role in Anthony’s decision to attend UNC for his presumed one-and-done college season.

“Coach Williams has the most Cousy Award winners here, so that’s awesome to come into this program that has a great lineage of point guards,” the freshman star said. “There are a lot of expectations to live up to, but I’m ready.”