For the first time since the 2012 NBA Draft, the University of North Carolina will have at least four players leaving school early or graduating in hopes of pursuing a career in the NBA. Reigning ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson and freshman Tony Bradley were first round picks for the Tar Heels, as Jackson was selected fifteenth overall by the Portland Trail Blazers (rights traded to Sacramento Kings) and Bradley selected twenty-eighth overall by the Los Angeles Lakers (rights traded to Utah Jazz).
As these two became two of the five Tar Heels from the national championship team to pursue a career in the NBA, they also became the 48th and 49th first round picks from the University of North Carolina.
While Jackson and Bradley were the only Tar Heels selected in the draft, three more will seek a career in the NBA. The trio of seniors in Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks, and Nate Britt agreed to terms as undrafted free agents and were granted opportunities to play in the NBA Summer League.
These five Tar Heels are going to attempt to take their careers to the professional level following the 2017 NBA Draft, but it is only a matter of time before a new class of Tar Heels pursue the same dream following the 2018 NBA Draft.
Although there is no guarantee any of the ensuing Tar Heels mentioned will be selected in the 2018 NBA Draft, their performance in the upcoming season will provide them the opportunity to prove to NBA scouts and GMs that they should be.
Joel Berry II- PG, Senior
Joel Berry II emerged as a star at North Carolina during his sophomore campaign, averaging 12.8 points per game during the regular season and scoring double digits in five of UNC’s six NCAA Tournament games.
The rising senior took over the reigns at point guard following the departure of Marcus Paige, leading the Tar Heels to its sixth NCAA national championship in 2016-2017. The Apopka, Fla. native averaged 14.7 points and 3.6 assists per game.
After an impressive senior season and earning the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, Berry initially decided to test the draft waters before ultimately deciding to return to North Carolina shortly after.
In the 2017-2018 season Berry will potentially be the No. 1 option for the North Carolina offense, and will have one last opportunity to further impress NBA scouts and GMs as UNC seeks to defend their national championship.
Regardless of if he’s drafted, Berry will be a part of UNC basketball forever as his No. 2 jersey will hang in the rafters at the Dean Dome.
Theo Pinson-SF, Senior
Theo Pinson has eclipsed 25 games played in a season just once due to a plethora of injuries, but the rising senior offers a lot to be desired by NBA GMs. Pinson has improved his points per game in each of his three seasons in Chapel Hill and is a lock-down defender for the Tar Heels.
During the 2015-2016 season, Pinson was third for the Tar Heels in assists with 115, becoming the first non-starting UNC player to eclipse 100 assists in a season since Quentin Thomas in 2008.
Six ACC games with Theo Pinson: Carolina has 45 more assists than TOs— Jones Angell (@JonesAngell) January 31, 2017
Three ACC games without Pinson: Carolina has 10 more TOs than assists
The Greensboro, NC, native provides the Tar Heels with reliable defense on the wing and was a vital part of the Tar Heels national championship run, as he was top five on the team in steals, rebounds, and blocks in addition to leading the Tar Heels in assists. Leading a national championship winning team in assists in one thing, but doing so in just 21 games in another.
As Pinson and the Tar Heels look to win back-to-back national championships, the senior will look to have his best season yet. If Pinson can stay healthy and prove he is durable, don’t be surprised to hear his name called in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Luke Maye-F, Junior
As a former walk-on, Luke Maye has made one of the biggest strides of anyone from the 2016-2017 national championship team. Maye improved his minutes per game from 5.4 as a freshman to 14.1 as a sophomore while averaging 5.5 points per game. Maye’s shooting percentage, three point percentage, and free throw percentage all jumped as he became a staple on the court for the Tar Heels.
The rising junior provided valuable minutes off the bench for North Carolina during the regular season, but the NCAA Tournament was when Maye cemented his name into UNC basketball history. After scoring in double digits just three times in the regular season, Maye tallied double digits points in three of UNC’s six NCAA Tournament games.
The Huntersville, NC, native recorded his first career double-double in the Tar Heels Sweet Sixteen victory over Butler, tallying 16 points and 12 rebounds. This important milestone for Maye was highlighted for merely 48 hours before he was propelled into the national spotlight. The rising junior hit the game-winning jumper against Kentucky with .3 seconds remaining to send North Carolina to the Final Four as Maye recorded a career high 17 points.
Following the departure of seniors Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks, Maye will see an increase in playing time and fill the SF spot for UNC in the starting lineup.
While Maye’s shot at the NBA more than likely will not come until after his senior season, a breakout year for Maye could propel his journey to the NBA.
Jalek Felton-SG, Freshman
Jalek Felton, nephew of former UNC guard and NBA veteran Raymond Felton, will join the North Carolina basketball program for the 2017-2018 season. Felton is ranked as a five star recruit by ESPN and as the 26th best prospect in the class of 2017.
Felton is listed as a combo guard and could provide the Tar Heels with minutes at point if need be. Felton is a dynamic scorer who can knock down shots from anywhere on the court and has great play-making abilities. The rising freshman is a consistent scoring threat who finishes strong at the rim.
One issue for Felton is his defensive presence and intensity. Early on in his collegiate career, this may prevent him from receiving extended minutes. If Roy Williams can flip the switch on Felton and improve his efficiency on defense, Felton can become a big time star early on and make his case for the 2018 NBA Draft.
Cam Johnson-SG, Graduate Transfer
After Pittsburgh finally cleared Cam Johnson to transfer to North Carolina, he has joined the team for the 2017-2018 season. Following the departure of reigning ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson, Johnson has the potential to fill the void and give UNC a big threat from behind the arc.
Johnson is a big time shooter with one of the best three point percentages in the country. To put his shot making ability into perspective, Justin Jackson set the UNC three point single-season record by making 105 with a .370 shooting percentage. If Johnson were to attempt the same number of threes as Jackson did (284) with his 2016-2017 shooting percentage, he would set the UNC record with 119 three pointers.
As Johnson enters North Carolina with two years of eligibility after graduating from Pittsburgh in three years, he will provide the Tar Heels with a veteran presence and bolster their threat from behind the arc.
While the NBA opportunity for Johnson is sure to come with his consistency from the three-point line, there’s no certainty whether it will be in 2018 or 2019.
As the Tar Heels lose five players from the national championship team to the NBA, they will seek contributions from guys who weren’t heavily relied on last year. Although this is the case, they will rely on established veterans to seek a national title repeat. These veterans will attempt to catch the eye of NBA scouts and GMs, while also balancing the life of a student-athlete.
The 2018 NBA Draft could feature a plethora of Tar Heels if their upcoming season is successful, but the time for the NBA will come when it’s best for their career. With the 2018 NBA Draft approximately a year away, the current Tar Heels will turn their attention to the upcoming season and prepare for another run at a national title.