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Ranking the best freshman seasons in UNC basketball history

Coby White could be on his way to joining some elite company.

North Carolina Tar Heels v Duke Blue Devils Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

With Coby White’s terrific and, in some respects, historic play through the ACC schedule thus far, it begs the question: If he can keep this up, where would Coby’s season rank against the great freshman seasons in UNC history? To qualify his terrific present, we must go back and take a look at the past.

Here are the 10 Greatest Freshman Seasons in UNC History:

Honorable Mention:

James Worthy- 1979-80

Walter Davis- 1973-74

Raymond Felton/Rashad M*****s- 2002-03

Jerry Stackhouse- 1993-94

Ed Cota - 1996-97

10) Brandan Wright - 2006-07

NCAA Regional - East Rutherford: USC v UNC Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Stats: 14.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 65% fg, 57% ft

The rare Roy Williams one-and-doner, Wright came to Chapel Hill as the crown jewel of a terrific recruiting class that included Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, and Deon Thompson. Wright lived up to the hype: He formed a dominant frontline duo with Tyler Hansbrough and provided efficient interior scoring to go with disruptive rim protection on defense. He also was one of the first players to cause Jay Bilas to go ga-ga over “wingspan” on Draft Night. Wright helped lead the Heels to an ACC Regular Season (shared) and ACC Tournament Title, as well as an Elite Eight berth.

9) Harrison Barnes - 2010-11

Texas v North Carolina Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Stats: 15.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 47% fg, 34% 3-pt, 75% ft

The most heralded recruit Roy Williams has ever brought to Chapel Hill, Barnes was hailed as the next great Tar Heel, even being named a 1st-Team Preseason All-American. Though he never quite measured up to THAT preposterous standard, Barnes had a very strong year, particularly in ACC play, that featured several terrific performances in the clutch, notably with a buzzer beater against Florida State and against Clemson in the ACC Tournament when he tied the UNC freshman record with 40 points.

8) Mike O’Koren - 1976-77

Atlanta Hawks v Washington Wizards Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Stats: 13.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.8 apg, 58% fg, 73% ft

On a Dean Smith team as loaded as the 1977 Tar Heels were, you wouldn’t have thought a freshman would get much shine. That wasn’t the case with Mike O’Koren. The freshman guard had a terrific rookie campaign, providing floor-stretching shooting that opened things up for stars Phil Ford and Walter Davis. When the infamous injury bug smote the Heels in the postseason, O’Koren was there to pick up the slack. He scored 31 points in Carolina’s thrilling win over favored UNLV in the National Semifinal, the signature moment of one of UNC’s most underrated players.

7) J.R. Reid - 1986-87

Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jim Gund/Getty Images

Stats: 14.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.8 apg, 58% fg, 65% ft

In 1986 the Tar Heels were looking to recover from the loss of #1 overall pick Brad Daugherty. Thanks to J.R., they hardly missed a beat. Reid was one of Dean Smith’s most highly sought after recruits and paid dividends the minute he hit the floor. Along with Joe Wolf and Kenny Smith, he formed a dominant trio that had the Tar Heels ranked in the top 5 all season long, nearly making the Final Four before being upset by Syracuse.

6) Joseph Forte - 1999-2000

Joseph Forte #40...

Stats: 16.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.6 apg, 46% fg, 36% 3-pt, 75% ft

Lost at times during the whacky-waving-inflatible-arm-flailing season that was UNC’s 2000, was just how good of a season Joseph Forte had. That all changed when the Tar Heels hit the NCAA Tournament. Bill Guthridge’s Heels, maddeningly inconsistent all season long, suddenly locked into fifth gear and went on an unlikely tournament run, reaching the Final Four. No one was more important to that run than Forte, who came up with big games against Stanford, Tennessee, and Tulsa to send the Tar Heels to the National Semifinal.

5) Antawn Jamison - 1995-96

Antawn Jamison UNC

Stats: 15.1 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 1.0 bpg, 62% fg, 53% ft

The Tar Heels were fresh off a trip to the Final Four and were hoping to replace All-American studs Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace with Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison. Carter, it turned out, would need some time to develop. Jamison, however, was ready from Day One. A hyper efficient scorer and a monster rebounder, Jamison wreaked havoc on opponents on the offense end and would only get better throughout his career at Chapel Hill. The crowning achievement of his rookie campaign was his terrific 31-point performance in an overtime win over Maryland, a game he won at the buzzer.

4) Michael Jordan - 1981-82

NCAA Men’s Final Four - National Championship - Villanova v North Carolina Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Stats: 13.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.8 apg, 53% fg, 72% ft

Hard to rank Michael Jordan #4 at anything, but with star players James Worthy and Sam Perkins playing alongside him, there wasn’t an opportunity for Jordan to be the star we all came to know...yet. Nonetheless, MJ was a terrific freshman, providing mature-beyond-his-years offense and terrific defense in Dean Smith’s tight and efficient system. He was a vital cog of arguably the greatest team in UNC history. Oh yeah, he hit a kinda big shot against Georgetown as well...

3) Sam Perkins - 1980-81

T-Mobile Magenta Carpet At The NBA All-Star Game - Arrivals Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Stats: 14.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 63% fg, 74% ft

As great as Jordan was in 1982, what his frequent co-star Sam Perkins did in 1981 was even better. Perkins provided to Dean Smith what his team had been missing ever since the graduation of Tommy LaGarde: A dominant post player. Coupled with James Worthy, Perkins lit it up on the interior right away, scoring, rebounding, and defending efficiently. His play was noticeably mature for his age and he proved himself equal to any challenge, squaring off three times with the mighty Ralph Sampson. Indeed, by the end of his freshman campaign, some believed it was Perkins, not Worthy, and not incoming frosh Jordan who would be Carolina’s great star.

2) Tyler Hansbrough - 2005-06

North Carolina Tar Heels v Duke Blue Devils Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Stats: 18.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.3 apg, 57% fg, 74% ft

What Psycho T did his freshman year at UNC has already been chiseled into the stone of Carolina lore. We all know the story by now: The 2005 Championship, the mass exodus of Carolina seven top scorers, the unranked start to the season. Hansbrough led arguably the scrappiest teams in UNC history to an unexpected 12-4 ACC Season, a #3-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and a certain victory on a certain court against a certain team on a certain player’s Senior Night. Throw in the 40-point game against Georgia Tech and you’ve got one of the best frosh seasons ever by one of Carolina’s finest players.

1) Phil Ford - 1974-75

Phil Ford UNC

Stats: 16.4 ppg, 5.2 apg, 52% fg, 78% ft

Here’s all you need to know about Phil Ford’s freshman season: Dean Smith, in his then 14 years as the head coach of North Carolina, had never started a freshman who hadn’t been a junior varsity player. Phil Ford started from Day One. The first star freshman in UNC history was also the best: Ford assumed command of a talented UNC team that featured Walter Davis and Mitch Kupchak and led them to new heights. Ford was a lethal threat both as a scorer and playmaker and ran Dean’s dreaded Four Corners offense to perfection. The Tar Heels won the 1975 ACC Tournament (one of the best tournaments the ACC has ever had), knocking off mighty NC State and wrapping up the career of the legendary David Thompson. One of the great images in Tar Heel history is the image of Ford, his neck draped with the game net, holding the ACC Tournament Championship plaque in one hand, and the Tournament MVP plaque in the other as the crowd chanted “Three More Years! Three More Years!”

So where will Coby rank? Only the next two months will tell. But one’s thing for certain, if he can find a place on a list like this, he’ll be in some mighty strong company.