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UNC Basketball: Garrison Brooks and Cole Anthony earn All-ACC awards

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A tiny ray of sunlight in a season full of cloudy days.

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a frustrating season and 13-18 overall record, there is some good news for the UNC basketball program. On Monday morning, it was announced that Garrison Brooks was named second-team All-ACC and the conference’s Most Improved Player, and Cole Anthony was named to the third-team All-ACC and All-Freshman Team. Individual awards are likely little consolation for an underwhelming regular season, but they’re worth celebrating nonetheless.

For the season, Brooks averaged 16.7 points on 53.6% shooting and 8.8 rebounds a game. Those were fourth, second, and third best in the ACC. That production slightly increased to 18.8 points on 53.5% shooting and 8.9 rebounds when adjusted to just ACC competition. In ACC-only games, those numbers are good for first, second, and second in the conference. He barely nipped Syracuse’s Elijah Hughes for the ACC-only scoring title. (Which isn’t really a title, but this season we will cling to whatever we can.)

That was a big leap after averaging just 7.9 points and 5.6 rebounds as the fourth or fifth option on last year’s team. Most impressively, Brooks improved and developed as the season went on, gaining confidence in his outside shooting and footwork around the rim. It’s rare to see that kind of growth during the season, especially from an established upperclassman.

Brooks certainly “benefitted” from having to carry the team during Cole Anthony’s absence, but he also used an explosive second half of the season, alongside the freshman point guard, to cement his place among the ACC elite. In the first 24 games, he only reached the 20 point mark five times. After a re-acclimation period when Anthony returned from a knee injury, Brooks scored 20 or more points in his final six games. (He missed the game at Louisville with an illness). The junior big man also recorded 12 double-doubles on the season. It’s frustrating, but understandable, the voters held the team’s lackluster performance against Brooks.

Cole Anthony was also rewarded for his season, despite missing 11 games with a torn meniscus. Anthony finished the season averaging 19.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game. If he was eligible for the final statistical standings, he would have led the league in scoring and slotted in the top-10 in assists per game.

As with Brooks, Anthony was equally impressive against ACC competition. In 13 ACC games, he averaged 20.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.2 assists. It’s impossible to predict how differently the season might have gone for UNC had Anthony not gotten hurt, but UNC’s 9-11 overall record with Anthony is deceiving. Other injuries across the entire team denied the Heels from truly forming the chemistry we’re all used to seeing. It was not until the final two weeks of the season that we all finally got a glimpse of the “what-if” scenarios.

Both players will attempt to help North Carolina become the first team in ACC history* to win five games in five days when the ACC Tournament kicks off on Tuesday. They’ll face Virginia Tech at the Greensboro Coliseum at 7 P.M. ET.

*This specific five-games-in-five-days format has only been around since 2014. Let’s not get carried away with “historical” events. Regardless, may the odds be ever in their favor.