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UNC Basketball: The top 5 pass-first point guards in recent history

In anticipation of Elliot Cadeau’s arrival, let’s reminisce about some other great Tar Heel passers.

Marquette v North Carolina Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images

The point guard position has long been arguably the most valued role in the Carolina system; the quarterback of the offense and the fuel that makes the engine go. There have been greats like Ty Lawson and Coby White who used their freakish speed to transition the offense, beasts like Joel Berry, and fan favorites like Marcus Paige. There has been no shortage of elite point guards to walk through those Dean Dome doors, and by all accounts Elliot Cadeau seems poised to be the next to join those ranks.

Shoot-first combo guards have dominated the UNC backcourt of late. Some say to the detriment of the patented Tar Heel fast break, but here’s a list of the best traditional dime-droppers of the past few decades.

Disclaimer: I would be remiss if I failed to at least mention the fantastic facilitator Phil Ford, but I never actually saw him play with my own eyes so I’m leaving him off this list.

5. King Rice — With some great playmakers like J.R. Reid, Rick Fox, and Pete Chilcutt alongside, King led the Heels to two ACC tourney championships and the 1991 Final Four, where Dean Smith was ejected ridiculously early in the game and eventually fell to protege Roy Williams and Kansas. Not sure what the signal meant but the image of him backpedaling with two fists in the air after knocking down a three is indelibly burned into my brain.

4. Raymond Felton — The record-holder for assists in a single game with 18, Felton was the ultimate floor general. One of the most competitive players to ever wear the Carolina uniform, the dude just gave it his all and absolutely hated to lose. And any captain that can hold a team together with a character like Rashad McCants on it gets extra points.

3. Kenny Smith — I can only recall the tail end of Kenny’s career but I do remember him as one of my first favorite Tar Heels. Ranking second all-time in career assists, he was also an amazing athlete. It’s always an impressive sight to see a 6’3 dude who has the ability to dunk like a big man. As a bonus, these days “The Jet” holds his own and does an incredible job setting up huge personalities in Shaq and Charles Barkley on TNT’s Inside the NBA.

2. Kendall Marshall — Super fun to watch, Marshall was on pace to break the UNC record for all-time assists, with 14+ in seven games. Alas, in a down point guard year the NBA came a-callin’ and he only played two seasons as a Heel. He may not have been the fastest or most athletic, but he could turn an ordinary possession into a fast break with a full-court dime in the blink of an eye. You’ll never convince me the Tar Heels wouldn’t have one more natty in 2012 if it weren’t for the cheap shot by Creighton, ending his season in the NCAA tourney.

  1. Ed Cota — One of my all-time favorite Heels and leader of one of the greatest Tar Heel teams to never win a title in 1998. Sure he had the likes of Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison to dish to, but he made it look effortless and turned Chapel Hill into the original Lob City. Still the all-time assist leader (by far) with 1,030 it’s a record that has and probably will stand for a long time.

Who did I leave out? Derrick Phelps? Jeff Lebo? Let me know your first pick to run the offense.