After a week hiatus, we’re back to continue our summer preview series for UNC basketball. Before I was stricken with a broken collarbone in a bicycle accident (thus the minor break in service), Leaky Black was our last subject. His preview, and every junior and senior preview, can be found at the links below.
June 23rd: Brandon Robinson preview
June 30th: Brandon Huffman preview
July 8th: Sterling Manley previewJuly
15th: Andrew Platek preview
July 21st: Garrison “Mr. Pickle” Brooks preview
July 29th: Rechon “Leaky” Black
Since Black is the only sophomore on this year’s team, it’s time to move on to the freshmen. There are four, and we’ll start the festivities with shooting guard Anthony Harris. A later addition to the 2019 recruiting class, Harris will attempt to find playing time in what is anticipated to be a fluid backcourt situation.
Our analysis from Harris’ commitment can be found here. Originally a Virginia Tech prospect, he re-opened his recruitment when Buzz Williams bolted Blacksburg for College Station. The Heels’ immediate interest was reciprocated, and Harris gave a verbal commitment approximately 12 hours after Cole Anthony officially committed.
A member of Armando Bacot’s 2018 Team Takeover on the AAU circuit, Harris was often overshadowed on a squad that went undefeated through the EYBL season and ultimately won the 2018 Peach Jam title. Despite the talent on that team, he still averaged 8.6 points per game over 22 games. He displayed some offensive versatility by shooting 47.8% from two, 43.8% from three, and 82% from the foul line.
His summer was impressive enough to solidify his spot as a top-75 recruit heading into his senior season. Unfortunately, a torn ACL in late 2018 ended his high school career. The injury prevented him from improving on his increased confidence, and he remained an under-the-radar recruit for the Hokies.
So what does the 2019-20 Heels have to look forward to in Anthony Harris? Honestly, much of Harris’ contributions will hinge on two things.
The first issue is a recurring theme in these previews. Can Harris return to full strength after rehabbing his knee over the past nine months? We mentioned similar questions for Sterling Manley and Leaky Black, but Harris also is a health concern. Last year’s versatility and depth took a detour when untimely injuries hit the bench. This year’s team will not be as likely to navigate those kind of injuries.
Undoubtedly a multi-year player, North Carolina is a notoriously cautious program with player’s health. Harris is expected to be cleared for full basketball activities by October, but does that mean he’ll be at full strength to compete for the massive amount of backup minutes that will be up for grabs? ACL injuries are not the dreaded injury they used to be, but don’t expect the Heels to rush Harris to the court just because a “need” arises. We’ve all witnessed Joel Berry, Theo Pinson, Tony Bradley, Kenny Williams, and Cameron Johnson sit for extended time after major injuries. The Heels won’t rush an incoming freshman into the lineup.
The second area that may influence Harris’ contribution is his defensive ability. It’s rare that “defense” and “two-way player” are mentioned as strengths for top-100 players. Those are usually platitudes kept for less athletic guys who try to force their way into more talented rotations. With Harris, though, the hype is backed up by his high school and AAU coaches.
Doug Martin, an assistant for Team Takeover when Harris played last summer, told the Washington Post:
“I think Ant is one of the best two-way players in the country. I think he epitomizes what a combo guard is. I think if he does have a basketball in his hand or without, he does a great job of helping his teammates as well.”
Glenn Farello, his high school coach at Paul VI Catholic in Alexandria, Virginia echoed that sentiment.
“I like to call him a complete guard. He will be a playmaker. He will be able to score. I think he’s one of the best defenders we have here at PVI. He brings toughness. He’s a winner.”
The Heels always reward defensive prowess. If healthy, Harris will have the chance to use those talents and earn key playing time. Even if the shooting guard position is crowded with senior Brandon Robinson and incoming graduate transfer Christian Keeling, Harris might also slide over for spot minutes at the point guard spot. Leaky Black is also expected to get first dibs at backing up Cole Anthony, but as both Harris’ coaches said, he’s a complete player. If Black’s talents are needed elsewhere on the court, the backup point guard spot may be the team’s most glaring weakness.
Regardless, it’s important to manage expectations accordingly. Here are the freshmen stats of recent freshman guards who faced similar roster roadblocks.
Leaky Black: 23 games, 10.3 mpg, 2.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.6 stl
Brandon Robinson: 36 games, 7.8 mpg, 1.9 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 0.8 apg, 0.3 stl
Kenny Williams: 29 games, 4.2 mpg, 0.8 ppg, 0.4 rpg, 0.2 apg, 0.1 stl
Theo Pinson: 24 games, 12.5 mpg, 2.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.5 apg, 0.6 stl
Joel Berry: 30 games, 13.2 mpg, 4.2 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 1.5 apg, 0.4 stl
There are some heavy hitters on there. Berry is a Tar Heel legend, and Pinson has worked his way onto an active NBA roster. Yet, they all struggled in their first season. Most of them also battled injuries, and none were as significant as recovering from a torn ACL.
Harris was a major recruiting win late in the cycle. He adds depth, two-way versatility, and will eventually be a major cog in a future title contender. As a freshman, though, he’s likely to spend most of the year learning, developing, and trying to take advantage of opportunities as they come along.
But after watching three freshmen leave for the NBA in the last three years, there’s nothing wrong with developing stability for the future.