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UNC Basketball: Biggest Surprise of the Year - Kerwin Walton

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Where would the Tar Heels have been this year without Walton?

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-North Carolina Florida State Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

This week the Tar Heel Blog staff will be handing out postseason awards to wrap up the season that gave us a little bit of everything, for better or worse. We’ll cover everything from Defensive Player of the Year to Sixth Man of the Year and everything we can think of in between. Today we kick things off with our biggest surprise of the year.

Imagine going back in time to tell yourself eight months ago that a kid from Hopkins, Minnesota, would be one of the brightest spots on this year’s UNC basketball team. Kerwin Walton didn’t come in with the fanfare that fellow freshmen Caleb Love, Day’Ron Sharpe, or Walker Kessler had, but the 6’5” small forward did everything in his power to make sure he wasn’t overlooked.

Walton started the season slow off the bench, scoring just six points total in the team’s first six games. He really turned it on with a 13-point game against Kentucky in December in which he was a perfect 3-3 from beyond the arc. That would prove to be a sign of things to come as Walton became easily the team’s most effective three-point shooter.

After the team’s loss to NC State in Raleigh, Walton started consistently getting starter minutes playing over 20 minutes per game. He made four threes in UNC’s one-point win over Notre Dame and another three three-pointers in the team’s two-point win at Miami. Walton’s best game was a 19-point game in the blowout win over Louisville in which he made five of his seven three-pointers and threw in four assists for good measure.

In all, Kerwin finished the season shooting 42% from long distance and 44% from the field. He was also the team’s most reliable free throw shooter among players who received regular playing time with an 84% mark from the charity stripe. Free throws and three-pointers were kryptonite for this team all season and it would have been much worse without the efforts of Walton.

There have not been a lot of sure things from deep at UNC in recent memory, at least not on the level that it seemed like Walton was on when his teammates could get him the ball with his feet set. That reliability was huge on a team that struggled mightily to create offense at times. Getting it from Walton may have been an unlikely source considering the status of those around him, but he earned his starting spot and then some by just being a huge boost each time he was on the court.

Uncertainty abounds for the Tar Heels this offseason. It’s extremely unclear who will be left to suit up for next year when the dust settles. Hopefully whatever next year brings will include another season of Kerwin Walton lighting it up from downtown because it was a true pleasure to watch this season.