One of the unspoken pressures hovering over every player who takes the court for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels is the shadow of the greatest basketball player who ever lived. Once you put on that Carolina Blue and establish yourself as a key part of the latest Tar Heels team, you figuratively step into the shoes of Michael Jordan, while often literally wearing his shoes as well. What that means of course is you will always be compared to His Airness. This includes while you play at UNC and especially if you end up in the NBA. The names on this list consist of players who followed valiantly in Air Jordan’s Air Jordans with illustrious careers in North Carolina followed by excellent careers in the NBA. It also includes players that had comparable, better, or at least longer careers with the Tar Heels but who never made a mark in the pros. It even has some young guys who appeared as if they could be like Mike but never panned out as well as everyone may have hoped. Read on about these 15 North Carolina Tar Heels who could have been “the next Michael Jordan” but obviously were not.
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15 Joseph Forte
One of the most disappointing pro players from the University of North Carolina that was seen as a possible “next Michael Jordan” was Joseph Forte. Forte had a great career as a scorer with the Tar Heels, averaging over 18 points and almost six rebounds per game over his two seasons. He was named ACC Rookie of the Year in 2000 and after an even better sophomore campaign, was named a consensus All-American and ACC co-Player of the Year in 2001. The Boston Celtics grabbed Forte with the 21st overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft. He barely played in Boston however, averaging less than a point per game in only eight games before wearing out his welcome. He played his second year with the Seattle SuperSonics but that was his last season in the NBA. He did manage to play internationally and in the D-League for 15 years.
14 Rashad McCants
A key part of the Tar Heels highly rated 2002 recruiting class, Rashad McCants made his mark at the University of North Carolina right away during his freshman year when he averaged over 17 points per game. McCants upped his production during his sophomore year to 20 points per game as the Tar Heels returned to the NCAA tournament. In his junior year the Tar Heels developed into the best team in the nation winning the NCAA Championship in 2005. As a big time scorer, putting up over 17 points per game while at UNC, McCants fit the Jordan template. After being drafted with the 14th overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves however, he did not live up to the billing. Injuries became a problem during his second season, and McCants never really blossomed into a star during his four years in the NBA. He did manage to put up 10 points per game while in the league, and continued to play internationally and in the D-League over the next several years.
13 Jerry Stackhouse
Before he even headed to college, Jerry Stackhouse was being talked about as one of the best prep players to come out of the state of North Carolina since Michael Jordan. Stackhouse spent two years at the University of North Carolina, mostly coming off of the bench as a freshman as he scored over 12 points and grabbed five rebounds per game. He became a star in his sophomore year as he averaged almost 20 points and 8.2 rebounds per game while being named a consensus All-American and Sports Illustrated Player of the Year and leading the Tar Heels to the Final Four. The Jordan comparisons continued when he was selected with the third overall pick in the 1995 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. Although he had a great career, and was twice named an All-Star, Stackhouse could not come close to matching Jordan’s impact. He did last 18 years in the NBA and finished averaging almost 17 points per game.
12 Wayne Ellington
Like Michael Jordan, Wayne Ellington spent three years at the University of North Carolina. He had a solid freshman year, playing in every game and averaging over 11 points per game. His production went up the next year as he led the Tar Heels to the Final Four. After considering heading to the NBA, Ellington decided to return for one more year. The decision paid off as he averaged almost 15 points per game as Carolina returned to the Final Four and won the National Championship, with Ellington claiming the honor of the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. In the ensuing 2009 NBA Draft Ellington was selected with the 28th overall pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves. After three years in Minnesota, Ellington played in Memphis, Cleveland, Dallas, LA for the Lakers, Brooklyn, and is now with the Heat. He has averaged over seven points through his eight seasons in the league.
11 Kenny Smith
The very first ‘next Michael Jordan’ was actually the guy who sat on the bench behind Jordan in his first year before establishing his place in the lineup for the remainder of his University of North Carolina career. As a freshman Kenny Smith and the Tar Heels made it to the NCAA tournament but lost in the second round in Jordan’s final season. Smith spent four full seasons in Chapel Hill and averaged just under 13 points and six assists per game. He made it to two Elite Eights and a Sweet Sixteen while being named consensus All-American in 1987. Smith was drafted with the sixth overall pick in the 1987 NBA Draft and after three seasons in the NBA with the Kings and Hawks, was traded to the Rockets where he spent six seasons and won back to back championships in 1994 and 1995, albeit when Jordan out of the league for two years. Through ten seasons Smith averaged 12.8 points and 5.5 assists per game.
10 Marvin Williams
Despite being just a freshman on a talented and experienced team, Marvin Williams became a key piece of the NCAA Championship winning team in 2005. He excelled at his role as North Carolina’s sixth man, coming off the bench for scoring pop for the Tar Heels throughout the season. His efforts earned him honorable mention All-ACC accolades even though he was not a starter. After averaging over 11 points and almost seven rebounds per game Williams was a one and done, declaring for the draft following UNC winning the National Championship. In the 2005 NBA Draft, Williams was selected one spot higher than Jordan had been, with the number two overall pick by the Atlanta Hawks. Williams did not become a star but he has managed to have a solid career so far, averaging over 10 points per game while spending seven years with the Hawks, two with the Jazz ,and his past three with Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Hornets.
9 P.J. Hairston
As a highly touted freshman P.J. Hairston played 13 minutes per game and scored just under six points per game. He broke out in his sophomore year however, upping his scoring to almost 15 points per game while grabbing 4.3 rebounds and leading the Tar Heels to the second round of the NCAA tournament. After a suspension before his junior year Hairston decided to join the NBA D-League and signed with the Texas Legends. In the ensuing NBA Draft in 2014, the Miami Heat selected Hairston with the 26th overall pick and then traded him to the Charlotte Hornets. Another Jordan heir joined Jordan’s team but did not live up to Jordan’s standard, playing two season with the Hornets and averaging less than six points per game. He played the end of his second season with the Grizzlies and is now in the NBA D-League looking to make his way back to the NBA.
8 Tyler Hansbrough
Although nobody really expected him to be one of the Tar Heels who was supposed to be the next Michael Jordan, Tyler Hansbrough did in fact have a more impressive overall career at the University of North Carolina than MJ. For all of the legendary players who have worn Carolina blue over the years Tyler Hansbrough is the most decorated Tar Heel of them all. He was named first team All-ACC four times, which was more than #23. He was named consensus first team All-American one more time than Michael. He averaged over 20 points and over eight rebounds per game throughout his time at North Carolina which is more than Jordan ever did. Hansbrough did have the same number of National Championships as MJ, but he also got the Tar Heels to one additional Final Four. Once he made it to the NBA however, Hansbrough did not quite match His Airness. Through seven seasons he has averaged less than seven points per game and has bounced around to three teams.
7 Hubert Davis
Another Carolina shooting guard who did end up having a solid NBA career, if not anything close to what Jordan was able to do was Hubert Davis. Davis spent four seasons at UNC, playing mostly off the bench early in his career before averaging over 20 points per game as a senior. Upon wrapping up his career at the University of North Carolina, Davis was selected by the New York Knicks with the 20th overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft. He spent four years with the Knicks where he made the 1994 NBA Finals after helping the New York get past the Jordan-less Bulls earlier in the playoffs. Davis lasted 12 years in the NBA, putting in time with six teams and averaging 8.2 points per game during his career.
6 Donald Williams
As another shooting guard out of the state of North Carolina who chose to play basketball in Chapel Hill for Dean Smith, Donald Williams fit the Michael Jordan template pretty accurately. Through four years at the University of North Carolina, Williams averaged over 11 points per game. The highlight of his career came in 1993 when the Tar Heels won the National Championship. Williams was a key contributor along the way, first by hitting consecutive threes against Cincinnati to beat them in overtime and advance UNC to the Final Four, then by scoring 25 points in the Final Four victory over Kansas, and finally by scoring 25 points again in the National Championship game against Michigan’s Fab Five. Williams’ performance was reminiscent of something Jordan would do, but he was unable to reproduce it. He ended up undrafted in 1995 and never played in the NBA, although he had a decent international career.
5 Antawn Jamison
As a three time first team All-ACC selection Antawn Jamison was one of the most decorated Tar Heels ever. Jamison was a star for UNC right off the bat, scoring over 15 points per game as a freshman. He upped his production as a sophomore to 19.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. After scoring over 22 points and grabbing more than 10 rebounds per game during his junior year Jamison was named ACC Player of the Year, consensus first team All-American, and won both the Wooden and Naismith Awards as the best player in college basketball. When the 1998 NBA Draft came around he was selected with the 4th overall selection by the Toronto Raptors and traded to the Golden State Warriors. Jamison did better than most in living up to the hype of being the next Jordan during his 16 year career in the NBA where he averaged 18.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. He was an All-Star twice and the Sixth Man of the Year in 2004.
4 Jason Capel
Another highly touted schoolboy star from the state of North Carolina like Michael Jordan, who went on to play his college ball in Chapel Hill, was Jason Capel. Capel started all four years for the Tar Heels, one of only nine players all time to do so. He helped Carolina make the NCAA tournament three times including a trip to the Final Four in 2000. Capel averaged just over nine points per game as a freshman and then 12.3 his sophomore year. By his senior year he was up to over 15 points per game. Capel did not follow Jordan any further however as he was not selected in the 2002 NBA Draft. He was signed to the Charlotte Bobcats for a spell but did not manage to make it into a game. He played a few years in the NBA D-League and then moved around internationally for a few more years before moving into coaching.
3 J.R. Reid
As the most highly recruited high school player in the nation, J.R. Reid was the first big superstar player to commit to North Carolina since Michael Jordan had departed for the NBA. Despite being more of a power forward than a Jordan-esque slashing guard type, Reid was still looked to as the player who could lead the Tar Heels to glory in the same way Jordan had. Reid was a key piece of Carolina's success over his three years in Chapel Hill but they never made it past the Elite Eight during his time there. Reid averaged over 16 points and over seven rebounds per game through his UNC career with his best year coming as a sophomore when he averaged 18 points and almost nine rebounds per game. Reid was selected with the fifth overall pick in the 1989 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets. He spent 11 seasons in the NBA averaging over 10 points per game for his first three seasons but never exceeding ten points after that.
2 Harrison Barnes
Coming out of high school as one of the top players in the nation, with a pedigree as a great scorer, Harrison Barnes insured comparisons to Michael Jordan when he decided to attend the University of North Carolina. Barnes stepped into the show valiantly, right off the bat, and had a great freshman year, averaging over 15 points and almost six rebounds per game while being named ACC Rookie of the Year as the Tar Heels advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. Returning for his sophomore year, Barnes upped his production to 17.1 points per game and was named first team All-ACC and second team All-American as UNC reached the Elite Eight again. Barnes chose to forgo his remaining two years and was selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors. Although Barnes was never a go to player for Golden State with two and sometimes three or four other offensive options ahead of him, he was still a solid contributor and helped them win the 2015 NBA Championship as a member of the famed lineup of death, which terrorized the NBA with their ability to all shoot from deep, drive, pass, and defend all five positions. After the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals in 2016, Barnes was released and is now with the Dallas Mavericks where he is one of their main weapons and averages over 20 points per game.
1 Vince Carter
The one University of North Carolina player who came closest to living up to the tag of “next Michael Jordan” was Vince Carter. One category where he almost matched or maybe even exceeded Jordan was in the NBA Slam Dunk contest. Although Jordan won it twice, Vince Carter’s win in 2000 is considered by many to be the greatest NBA Slam Dunk contest performance ever. In addition to his dunk-scapades, Carter’s career in college and the pros were very respectable relative to those of Jordan as well. At UNC Carter actually only averaged 12.3 points per game during his career but did help the Tar Heels to back to back Final Fours in 1997 and 1998. After being drafted by the Golden State Warriors with the fifth overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft he was sent to the Toronto Raptors where he played for seven years and was an All-Star for six of them. He then played five seasons with two more All-Star appearances for the Nets and continues to produce after 19 seasons and three more teams.
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