It is safe to say that the University of North Carolina has had its fair share of exceptional athletes on campus, who then went on to have great careers in their respective sports. Every now and then, there have also been athletes who have played more than one sport, showing off their tremendous abilities across the board. Mike Tanier with Bleacher Report released an article Friday ranking the best athletes in NFL history, and UNC’s own Julius Peppers made the cut at no. 15.
Peppers set foot on campus in 1999 as a football recruit, but he became a walk-on power forward for the basketball team as well under Bill Guthridge. For those that may not remember Julius Peppers the basketball player that well, it looked a little something like this:
During Peppers’s time on the basketball court, he averaged 5.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. He was a part of the 1999-2000 team that managed to get to the Final Four, only to eventually fall to Florida. Peppers only played his freshman and sophomore seasons before deciding to focus solely on football during his final year at UNC. While these numbers seem rather mediocre, it wasn’t for a lack of skill and was more of a byproduct of having to join the basketball team late in the two seasons he played because of football. Still, the potential of Peppers was not lost on Matt Doherty, who replaced Guthridge after he retired in 2000.
“I’ll tell you this, I do believe if Pep would’ve just focused on basketball, he could’ve played in the NBA,” Doherty told ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky in 2015.
Doherty also went on to say that while a lot of football players felt like they could have been basketball players, Peppers actually could do it. This was evident in his final college game when he managed to score 21 points and grab 10 rebounds against Penn State in the NCAA Tournament. Another notable game was against Clemson in January of 2000, when he managed to pull down 13 rebounds against Clemson his freshman year. Two months later, he scored a career-high 14 points shooting 6 of 7 against Georgia Tech.
As good of a basketball player as Peppers was, it’s hard to argue that any one decision he made about his sports career would have been a bad move. What is very easy to say, however, is that playing football worked out well for him, as he will undoubtedly be a hall of famer once he finally retires. During his career at UNC, Peppers recorded the 2nd most sacks in UNC history with 30.5. He also recorded 167 tackles, 5 interceptions, and 5 forced fumbles.
In the NFL, Julius Peppers has recorded 143.5 sacks, 11 interceptions, 47 forced fumbles, and 4 touchdowns in his NFL career as a defensive end. He currently ranks 5th all-time in sacks, and has an opportunity this year to pass No. 4 Chris Doleman who finished his career with 150 sacks. Peppers recently re-signed with the Carolina Panthers, who drafted Peppers back in 2002.
With an athlete as gifted as Julius Peppers, one can’t help but wonder how his career would’ve gone had he chosen to stick with basketball. Peppers will go down as one of the greatest players of all-time. What do you think? Do you think Peppers could have been successful in the NBA? Would we be speaking as highly of him had he chosen to hang up his cleats in exchange for basketball shoes? Feel free to let us know in the comments below.