While at least two of the positions surprised everyone, on Thursday night, three Tar Heels were selected in the 2019 NBA Draft. It was the 11th time multiple UNC players were selected in the first round, and the fourth time at least three were.
Now that we know where everyone’s officially landed, where does 2019 rank in the pantheon of UNC draft classes?
For this exercise, we’re not judging the draft classes on careers in the NBA. Obviously none of Coby White, Cameron Johnson, or Nassir Little have taken a summer league court yet, never mind played in a regular season game. This is more so about determining where 2019 lands among the rest of UNC’s most impressive draft nights.
Only two other times has UNC had more than three players selected in the first round. Not shockingly, one followed a national championship season. In 2005, Marvin Williams, Raymond Felton, Sean May, and Rashad McCants were all selected in the first 14 picks. Not only that, but McCants was the only one selected outside the lottery, and even he was only one pick away.
The other one with four was 2012 when Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall, John Henson, and Tyler Zeller all went in the opening round. A couple stuck around a bit longer than in 2015, but not by much. Zeller was the last of the four picked, and he went 17th overall.
If you’re ideal of a good draft is most players selected, then there’s one from history where five Tar Heels were picked, but that comes with a bit of an asterisk. In 1980, the draft was 10 rounds long with 214 players picked, and five Carolina players had their names called. Mike O’Koren went sixth overall, followed by John Virgil in the third round at 49th. However, they were the only two taken in the first 60 picks which is the current draft length. Had the current draft gone for another 150 or so picks, it hard to imagine Luke Maye and Kenny Williams wouldn’t have gone somewhere to equal that total. There are probably even other years where five would have been equaled or surpassed had the draft not been shortened to two rounds.
Another way to consider the best would be the drafts with the highest “slugging percentage,” if you will.
For example in 1995, only two UNC players were selected. They just happened to be Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace who went third and fourth. Three years later, Antwan Jamison and Vince Carter went fourth and fifth, while Shammond Williams went towards the top of the second round at 34th. The aforementioned ‘05 and ‘12 drafts are also good candidates for that category.
Of course, the players’ careers are the thing that matters more than where they were drafted.
One of the #narratives of the draft from a UNC perspective was Nassir Little’s slide. No one associated with the program wanted to see that, but it sometimes happens. Nothing anyone can do now. However, getting three first round draft picks is impressive, it’s not something that happens every year.