The names just keep coming, a who’s who of point guard legends.
The four ACC schools in North Carolina have produced some of the greatest floor generals in college basketball history.
Just looking at the NCAA’s all-time assists leaders tells the story. No. 1 is Duke’s Bobby Hurley. No. 2 is NC State’s Chris Corchiani, and No. 3 is UNC’s Ed Cota.
Then there are the other names from the annals of history. Wake Forest fans will bring up Chris Paul, Muggsy Bogues, Randolph Childress and Jeff Teague.
Duke will point to Tommy Amaker, Tyus Jones, Jason Williams, Johnny Dawkins and Chris Duhon.
NC State has Spud Webb, Cat Barber, Sidney Lowe, Lorenzo Brown and Nate McMillan.
UNC’s entries include Phil Ford, Raymond Felton, Ty Lawson, Kendall Marshall and Kenny Smith.
The argument will continue this season, with each school having a new entry to add to the list, leading to the promise of one-on-one showdowns during ACC games between the Big Four teams.
Here’s a look at who will be running the show for the teams in North Carolina this season:
Brandon Childress, Wake Forest (14.7 points, 4.0 assists, 1.5 steals)
The senior arrived at Wake as the son of all-time Demon Deacon Randolph Childress, but he’ll leave having carved out a name of his own in Winston-Salem. While the team hasn’t had a great deal of success during his first three years, Childress has developed into one of the ACC’s top guards. He led Wake in scoring, assists and steals and hit more threes than any Deac in a dozen years last season.
He’s done it all in the shadow of his father, whose banner hangs over the court and who stands on the sideline each game as a member of Danny Manning’s coaching staff.
“I can relate to that scenario because that was what I was in college,” Manning said. “My father was an assistant coach at Kansas under Coach (Larry) Brown when I was there, and so it’s a great memory for me. You know, Brandon is going through a very similar situation. He gets very aggressive counseling, so to speak, day in and day out from our coaching staff and from his father, as well.
“But for Brandon, his situation, his growth as a player is kind of what you want your players to go through. He comes in as a freshman and he has a role, he gets a chance to contribute, but he also gets a chance to take things in. His sophomore year, he gets a little bigger role. His junior year, his numbers speak for itself and the things that he was able to do. His work ethic, his preparation gave him a chance to be successful like that.”
Markell Johnson, NC State (12.6 points, 4.2 assists, 1.1 steals)
The other senior among the in-state point guards, Johnson will be running Kevin Keatts’ high-octane fast-break offense for the Wolfpack.
“You have to be in great shape in order to play in our system,” Keatts said. “We’re trying to get the ball out in transition as fast as we can. I tell Markell and (the other guards) all the time we want to run a three-second offense and fast break and try to get the ball up and try to score without setting the offense up. Defensively, we want to create off the defense trying to get as many easy baskets as we can. I like where we’re at with our pace. Obviously, you know, scoring 80-plus points a game has been great for us. I would love to run even a little bit more if we could.”
Johnson was among the ACC leaders in assists, 3-point shooting and assist-to-turnover ratio. Johnson (and Keatts) focused on the fact that he fell out of the league leaders in steals.
“I really don’t know why my steals were down,” Johnson said. “I would say I wasn’t really that locked in defensively last year as I am this year.”
Tre Jones, Duke (9.4 points, 5.3 assists, 1.9 steals)
Call him two and not through. Jones was second in the ACC in assists, third in steals and led the conference (and was sixth in the nation) in assist-to-turnover ratio.
Jones then surprised everyone by declaring that he was staying in school, bucking Duke’s one-and-done trend. Jones took the season-ending loss to Michigan State hard, sobbing uncontrollably in the locker room afterward.
He returns to school to try to match older brother Tyus, who won a national title with the Blue Devils in 2015. He’ll also take a run at continuing Duke’s tradition of national defensive player of the year honorees. He’s one of the best on-ball defenders in the nation.
It seems surprising that Jones would decide to return with his top assist targets — Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish — all gone. Coach Mike Krzyzewski said he expects Jones’ assist numbers to go up this year, however, since the three one-and-dones last year were so good at creating on their own and often didn’t need to be set up by Jones.
“Tre is a key guy for us because he’s going to have the ball most of the time,” Coach K said. “Last year he got the ball especially designed and RJ. Now he’s going to have to distribute it to a number of guys. His ball pressure gets things going.”
Cole Anthony, North Carolina (18 points, 9.8 rebounds, 9.5 assists [high school])
The son of former UNLV and NBA point guard Greg, Anthony is ready to start from day one at UNC. He doesn’t arrive with quite the same hoopla that Williamson brought to Duke last year, but his star power is significant. Rapper J. Cole visited UNC for media day to catch up with Anthony, and the freshman playmaker’s social media presence was enough for coach Roy Williams to decide to end the school’s ban on media speaking to freshmen in the preseason, a rule that had been around since Dean Smith was coach.
Anthony’s play on the court in high school certainly lived up to the hype. He was a USA Today first-team All-American and the Gatorade Player of the Year in Virginia. He also won MVP at the McDonald’s All-American Game, the Jordan Brand Classic, the Nike EYBL and was all-tournament at the FIBA championships as a member of Team USA.
He’s already embraced the role of team leader and alpha dog at UNC.
“Cole has been a guy that wins almost every sprint, won the 12-minute run,” Williams said. “One day we had maybe the toughest conditioning test, and he finished and made all his times. (Other) guys had to make up five times, and he ran that with them and won those too. So he’s gotten the respect by doing the little things, the tough things.”
Two seniors, a freshman and a sophomore. All of them can score, distribute and defend, and they’re all playing for Big Four rivals. As if fans needed any more reason to look forward to the games.