The WNBA Draft took place yesterday, and for the first time in a while, we saw a Tar Heel drafted: redshirt senior guard Paris Kea went with the first selection in the 3rd round, 25th overall, to the Indiana Fever. This comes after a sensational career in Chapel Hill, where she leaves as UNC’s second-highest per-game scorer with an average of 18, a top-10 player in 3-point percentage and free throw percentage, and 17th in total scoring after just three seasons as a Tar Heel, as she spent her first year in Vanderbilt before transferring.
Kea’s efficiency dropped a little bit in her last season, as she was taken off the ball this year to make room for transfer point guard Shayla Bennett and didn’t always look comfortable doing so. She still managed to lead the Heels in points per game with 17.3, while shooting 43/31/79 from the field, three-point range, and free-throw line, respectively. Her free throw percentage was second-best on the team (among players who took more than 10) to three-point specialist Leah Church, and was a career high for her as well as she clearly took steps to control the things she could control. She was second on the team in assists and had the squad’s best assist-to-turnover ratio with 113:77, continuing to show her playmaking prowess even when she wasn’t running the offense. She led the team in steals. And she showed up in big moments: She put up 30 points and 10 assists to win against then-#1 ranked Notre Dame (who would go on to play in the National Championship), 32 to beat then-unbeaten N.C. State, and averaged 23 points in two ACC Tournament games. The week where UNC took down the Fighting Irish won her National Player of the Week honors from multiple publications. In other words, in a season where she was not in her natural position, she was still good enough to be first-team All-ACC and an All-American honorable mention according to the WBCA.
When she was on the ball, her junior year was one of the best UNC has ever seen. She averaged 19.4 points per game, ranking 10th all-time, and added nearly 5 assists per game with a 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio. She was better than 40% from behind the three-point line, a pesky defender with over 2 steals per game, and became just one of four Tar Heels ever to score 1000 points in two seasons with the program. Had she been on an even slightly winning team, she almost assuredly would have been an All-American, but the Heels as a whole were just starting to cohere and went just 15-16.
Kea joins an Indiana team that’s been headed in the wrong direction since making the league finals in 2015, which they followed with a first-round exit and two seasons near the bottom of the league. She has a chance to see immediate playing time; Fever starting point guard Erica Wheeler is a good passer, but a limited defender and relative scoring non-presence. Kea could push her early on and play alongside fellow young scoring machine Kelsey Mitchell, and hopefully turn the Fever franchise around.
For the last two, maybe three seasons, Paris Kea has been the UNC women’s team’s shining star. She is a three-level volume scorer with good court vision and ice in her veins, showing up in big moment after big moment after big moment. But even more than that, with a program in turmoil that has never really subsided since the NCAA investigation began back in 2014 and is now under new scrutiny, she was at times what Kemba Walker has been at times for the Charlotte Hornets: a clearly phenomenal player in a crumbling situation, who made a team that shouldn’t have been fun to watch exactly that. She’s given us most of the team’s good moments the past two years, and while the team started to come together this year with some big wins and an NCAA Tournament appearance, it was still her at the forefreont. From this point on, UNC will almost totally rebuild, with nearly none of this year’s major contributors set to return, either through graduation or transfer, and a possible coaching search impending as well. It’s hard to know when the program may re-stabilize, but Kea gave us some great memories during a down period. We wish her the very best of luck in her professional career.