The only consensus is there isn’t one.
Scouts and analysts are split on Cole Anthony, North Carolina’s stud freshman point guard, who has yet to announce his intentions to return to school or go pro.
Some forecast that Anthony will fall into the low teens in the NBA draft, if he does forego his final three years of college eligibility. Others believe the son of former NBA point guard Greg Anthony, who will turn 20 on May 15, will be a top-five pick or possibly will fall to his hometown Knicks at No. 6. Projections are across the board for the Upper West Side native who has been in the public eye since starting as a freshman at Catholic school Archbishop Molloy in Queens.
“I’ve gotten the complete spectrum,” former NBA point guard and ACC Network analyst Cory Alexander, who coached Anthony for one year as an assistant at powerhouse Oak Hill Academy, said in a phone interview. “Some people love him, and some people would not want him on their team for whatever reason.”
Entering the year, the 6-foot-3 Anthony was seen as a no-doubt top-five prospect. Most mock drafts had him going in the top three. He was ranked as the No. 4 prospect in his class by 247 Sports. He was the ACC Preseason Freshman of the Year and set a North Carolina record for most points by a freshman in his debut, dropping in 34 points in a home win over Notre Dame.
But after North Carolina started 6-1, the Tar Heels’ season took a drastic turn. They lost two straight games with Anthony in the lineup and then fell apart after he was lost for seven weeks following arthroscopic knee surgery. The Tar Heels finished tied with Wake Forest for last place in the ACC and ended their season 14-19, their worst record since going 8-20 in 2001-02.
Anthony put up solid numbers, averaging 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.3 steals in 22 games, but his shooting percentages — 38 percent overall and 34.8 from 3-point range — were criticized. As the face of the program, he received a lot of the blame, along with coach Roy Williams.
Of course, with Anthony in the lineup, North Carolina defeated Oregon, Syracuse and North Carolina State, and took Duke to overtime, all games in which he shined. It’s also worth noting that after he returned from his injury, Anthony was a more efficient player, averaging 17.5 points, 4.5 assists and shooting 41.4 percent from the field and 36 percent from beyond the arc over his final 11 games.
“I don’t know how many guys have been injured like that and came back as strong as he did,” ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said. “I thought he handled adversity really, really well, both his injury problem and then the fact his team had struggled, not only in his absence, but throughout the year.
“You always blame someone. It’s like blaming the highest-paid person. You’re going to blame the most talented player — he’s the most talented player. He took a lot of heat for the team for not doing well. But, man, they were a helluva lot better when he was in there. When he played against high-profile opponents, he played very well most of the time. … I thought he was a top-five pick before the season, and I haven’t really changed my mind. I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t be taken in the top 10.”
Two NBA scouts offered differing opinions. One scout said he sees Anthony as more of a scorer than a point guard and someone who needs the ball in his hands. ESPN draft analyst Fran Fraschilla had a similar viewpoint, raving about Anthony’s athleticism and star potential, but worrying about his inefficiency for a player drafted in the top five or six.
“I just don’t think he wins you games,” the scout said.
The other scout expected Anthony to go in the top-10 and felt his up-and-down season was more of a result of the lack of talent around him, than an indictment of his own ability. He also praised his competitive fire and the decision to return from knee surgery, calling it a “plus” in scouts’ eyes.
“North Carolina not winning was not his fault. The fact he tried to do too much, I attribute that to the fact they weren’t that good,” the second scout said. “If he was around better players, he wouldn’t have made the mistakes he did.”
Alexander, who has known Anthony since he was a freshman in high school, believes evaluators have developed fatigue when it comes to him. They’ve been watching him for years. He has been at the top or near the top of his class since early in his high school career. Other top prospects are newer and not getting picked apart like him as of yet.
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It is, of course, worth nothing, that Anthony averaged a triple-double in his one season at Oak Hill when surrounded by elite talent. Williams bemoaned his team’s lack of talent at North Carolina this year, saying it was “the least gifted team I’ve ever coached in the time that I’ve been back here” in January. But Anthony handled the adversity well, opting to return following knee surgery when others in his shoes might have opted to err on the side of caution and get ready for the professional ranks.
“He’s not a me-first player, which was his reputation coming out of high school, and it doesn’t look accurate,” Bilas said. “You have to look at who was around him this year. When you have guys around you who aren’t making shots, he had to do it himself. He had games where he had high assists totals. He’s proven to be easy to play with.”
In fact, Alexander said he believes that if Anthony does enter the draft, he should be the first point guard taken. His ceiling is that high.
“I think he can be Baron Davis, and Baron Davis was great,” Alexander said of the two-time NBA All-Star. “I think Cole has a chance to be that good.”