Despite not getting drafted, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Nate Britt will all get some sort of a shot with an NBA team. Meeks signed a partially guaranteed contract with the Raptors, the Clippers picked up Hicks, and Britt was given a spot on the Hawks’ summer league team.
If any of them carve out a place for themselves in the NBA, they would not be the first former UNC players to make it there despite going undrafted.
The Tar Heel who had the best NBA career, despite not being drafted, was Scott Williams. After a four-year career in Chapel Hill, Williams was not selected in the 1990 NBA Draft. The Bulls picked him up, and Williams played 50 games in the following season.
Williams was a part of all three Bulls championship-winning teams led by Michael Jordan from 1991-93. He was a solid bench player, averaging five points and five rebounds a game in those three championship seasons. That got him a multi-year deal with the 76ers.
After a couple seasons in Philadelphia, he was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks where he had a couple solid years. He ended a ten-year career as a bit of a journeyman, playing for four teams over the course of his last four seasons. Williams was never a star, but he averaged about five points and five rebounds in 16 minutes a game over ten years. That’s not bad for someone who wasn’t drafted.
The drop off from Scott Williams to the next best undrafted Tar Heel is pretty steep. The next best is probably Jawad Williams. The 2005 champion played 90 games in three NBA seasons, all with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He played 54 games on the 2009-10 Cavs, the final season in LeBron James’ first stint in Cleveland. Williams got six starts that year, averaging 4.1 points per game. He played in 26 games for Cleveland the next year and has since played for several teams in Europe and around the world.
Despite being a key player on the 1993 NCAA Tournament champion Tar Heels, Derrick Phelps played in just three NBA games. He committed more fouls than he had points, assists, and rebounds combined in five career minutes with the Sacramento Kings. However, Phelps also made a career for himself in Europe, playing all the way until 2010.
Two less prominent members of the ‘93 champs ended up having longer NBA careers after going undrafted. Both Kevin Salvadori and Matt Wenstrom ended up playing more NBA games than Phelps. Salvadori played 39 games over the course of two seasons with the Kings. Wenstrom played 11 games with the Boston Celtics in 1993-94. It appears that when you’re seven feet tall, as both were, the odds of you getting a chance in the NBA go up. Funny how that happens.
Some other notable Tar Heels to go undrafted are Jeff Lebo, Makhtar N’Diaye, and Steve Bucknall. Of those three, Bucknall was the only one to have played more double digit games. He played in 18 for the 1989-90 Lakers, committing 11 turnovers in the 75 career minutes he played.
Those former Tar Heels might not be the most glamorous list of players. However, they all made it to the top level of basketball in the world.