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The Debate: Who’s UNC’s most exciting returning player on the 2019-20 team?

We’ve spoken about this year’s newcomers, but who among the veterans is going to help make the Heels appointment TV?

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, The Debate tackled the issue of recruiting hype. There seemed to be a majority opinion in the comments that Harrison Barnes was the incoming freshman who garnered the most excitement. That is a relevant discussion with Cole Anthony leading a highly touted incoming class of Tar Heels.

Despite the graduations and NBA declarations, there is still a considerable amount of talent returning. It would be easy to have concern over the veteran leadership for the 2019-2020 Tar Heels given the core group of upperclassmen that just moved on. Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, and Cameron Johnson were staples for the last two Carolina squads. Add to that core the departures of Coby White and Nassir Little, leaving the team without five of its top six players. Seventh Woods has transferred to South Carolina, depriving the team of another experienced player.

At this time a year ago, however, there was a lot of conversation about how deep the Heels would be in 2018-2019. It was a team that looked to go 11 or 12 deep with tons of talent on the bench. Sure, the playing time would dwindle as the season advanced, but those players who were in the mix last year will be expected to be leaders this season, the minutes they played last year becoming their jumping-off point for center stage in the year ahead.

Leaky Black, Andrew Platek, Brandon Robinson, Shea Rush, Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley, Brandon Huffman, Walker Miller, Caleb Ellis, and K.J. Smith return. Thus begins this week’s debate.

The Debate for the week of June 24: Who will be the best returning player for the North Carolina basketball team?

Point: Garrison Brooks

Once we’ve said that five of the top six players from last year’s team have departed, it’s fair to answer the question with a question: who is the sixth? That player is Garrison Brooks. Brooks started 16 games his freshman year and elevated to a full-time starter as a sophomore. He averaged 7.9 points and 5.6 rebounds in only 23 minutes per game. While these are not eye-popping offensive numbers, it is important to remember that Brooks was the fifth scoring option at nearly all times he was on the floor, able to defer to a host of talented offensive players. That will change next year.

At times, Brooks was the vocal leader of the 2018-19 team and a frequent provider of emotional spark, with his memorable faces and abundant... vocalization. He was tremendous in the first victory against Duke with 14 points and 8 rebounds, including a slam dunk to end the first half that turned the tide.

The expanded length of the three point line could also benefit more traditional post players like Brooks. He should find himself with additional room to operate assuming that the perimeter players can consistently knock down threes.

There is another factor weighing strongly in favor of the 2019 Brooks; he will finally get to play power forward. With Luke Maye firmly entrenched as a stretch four, Brooks was forced to primarily play center for the first two years of his career. Brooks is an excellent interior defender, but at 6’9” he is a bit undersized for the five. He has shown a solid and improving mid-range touch (his free throw percentage increased five points over his freshman year) and is a confident ball handler around the rim.

Brooks is poised to be a break out star in 2019. He will certainly be an all conference defender if not the defensive player of the year. With increased minutes and offensive opportunities, averaging a double-double is not outside the realm of reasonableness.

Counterpoint: Leaky Black

Leaky Black was lost a bit in the preseason freshman hype last year. He was expected to be a role player that could act much as a utility infielder, if you’ll forgive the cross-sport analogy. Given his size and high school experience as a point guard, he offered an option to play up to four positions.

Unfortunately, Black’s freshman campaign was marred by a series of nagging injuries that limited his opportunities. Black averaged just over 10 minutes per game across the 23 games he played. He only scored 2.5 points per game, but also grabbed 2.1 rebounds and handed out 1.2 assists per game. If those numbers hold for 30 minutes a game, then it is Theo Pinson type stat line.

At 6’7”, Black could not only be a starting wing, but he could also be the primary point guard backup. Seventh Woods’ transfer has left a question mark around who will sub in for Cole Anthony. Black has shown the ability to distribute the ball in transition, even if his few appearances at point guard were a bit rocky last year as far as managing the guys on the floor.

Also somewhat overlooked is Black’s shooting ability. He finished over 41% from three and nearly 86% from the line. Granted, we’re operating on a miniscule sample size,, but he is athletic enough to get to his spots and his height makes him borderline unblockable. If his stroke stays true, he should be able to hit shots all over the floor consistently.

The most exciting thing about Black was that he seemed to regularly make the right decision with the ball, particularly early in the year when he was healthy and playing more regularly (his last game of double figure minutes was against Louisville on January 12). That is an attribute that will earn more playing time on a Roy Williams team and that will be greatly needed when surrounded by players new to the system. Leaky is primed to make a huge leap between his first and second year and will have fans salivating for the future.

Time for you to decide! Will Garrison Brooks be the best returning Tar Heel in 2019-20 or is Leaky Black poised to excel? Perhaps Brandon Robinson or Sterling Manley is really the correct choice.

As always, readers are encouraged to join in through the comments and point out what we got right, what we got wrong, and what we never thought of. Also, please feel free to provide suggestions for future topics so we can cover what interests readers and what information is needed to ensure victory when debating slow-witted friends who don’t read the articles!