UNC Basketball: Top 5 UNC power forwards of all time

If you asked me two of my favorite power forwards who played for the North Carolina Tar Heels, George Lynch and J.R. Reid would come to mind.

Lynch has the second-most steals in UNC basketball history. In addition, he ranks 15th on UNC’s all-time scoring list. Reid ranks 27th in scoring all time with a three-year career at UNC.

Unfortunately, both players failed to make this list.

This does not negate their greatness, however. Other Tar Heels who did not make this list include Pete Brennan, Brice Johnson, Mitch Kupchak, Sean May and many other great power forwards who represent one of the best basketball programs in the nation.

This list is the toughest top five UNC position list, by far. All top five spots could switch places based on how you rank their accomplishments while attending North Carolina.

We can all agree that all of these players were great at UNC and there are many more who belong on this list.

#5: Mike O’Koren, UNC (1976-80)

Mike O’Koren (#31 in the video) does not get the props he deserves as one of the greatest power forwards at North Carolina.

O’Koren was a three-time All-American from 1978-80. He was a first-team All-ACC player in 1978 and 1980. As a sophomore, O’Koren led the ACC in field goal shooting as well as being the ranked second in shooting percentage in the nation.

O’Koren was a charismatic player, Carolina blue collar player. He could dunk with power with either hand. He had a trademark finger roll layup that was less than perfect.

Likewise, he was an underrated defender who backed down from nobody.

During his UNC career, O’Koren ranks 14th all time in scoring, 18th in rebounding at UNC all time (815) and 10th in career steals (183).

#4: Antawn Jamison, UNC (1996-1998)

Antawn Jamison was a king from the Queen City. During the late 90s, Jamison dominated the ACC. He was the unanimous 1998 National Player of the Year.

Jamison was the second Tar Heel and third player in ACC history to win the ACC Player of the Year, ACC Tournament MVP, NCAA Regional MVP and National Player of the Year in the same season. 1998 ACC Male Athlete of the Year, first freshman to lead ACC in field goal percentage.

He’s the only player in ACC history to earn first-team All-ACC honors as a freshman, sophomore and junior.

Jamison ranks eighth in UNC history in all time points (1,974), 13th highest scoring average in UNC history (22.2 points per game), third most points scored in a season (822), eighth highest career scoring average (19 points per game), third most games scoring in double figures (36), second-most double-doubles (points and rebounds) for career (51), third most double-doubles (points and rebounds) in a season (21).

He’s one of 16 UNC players to average a double-double for an entire season (22.2 points and 10.5 rebounds in 1997-98), ranks first in most field goals made in a season (316 in 1997-98), fifth most field goals made in UNC career (787), 10th highest field goal percentage in a season (62.4% in 1995-96), sixth in career rebounds (1,027) and fourth most rebounds in a season (389).

Jamison was a two-time All-American who led North Carolina to two final Fours in three seasons. He enjoyed a long 15-year NBA career where he was an all-star in 2005 and 2008.

#3: Billy Cunningham, UNC (1962-1965)

Billy Cunningham is also known as “The Kangaroo Kid” due to his extraordinary leaping ability. At 6’6 210 pounds, Cunningham outrebounded many of his defenders.

He attains several records at North Carolina including most consecutive double-doubles in points and rebounds during career (40; NCAA Record), highest rebounding average for UNC career (16.1 in three seasons; 339 rebounds in 21 games), Actually has the top three highest single-season rebounding averages (16.1, 15.8, 14.3), highest career rebounding career average (15.4), two of the top three single-season records for most double-figures in rebounds season (21 in 1962-63, 22 in 1963-64), three of the top five single-game records for most rebounds (25 against Tulane 1963, 27 against Clemson in 1963, 28 against Maryland in 1964), fifth most rebounds in a single season (379), 18th all time in career points (1,709), most field goals made in a game (21 against Tulane in 1964).

Cunningham was a third-team AP All-American in 1965.

He won an NBA Championship with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1967 as a player and as their coach in 1983. He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1985, in addition to being named one of the NBA’s 50th greatest players of all time.

#2: Tyler Hansbrough, UNC (2005-2009)

Tyler Hansbrough (better known as “Psycho T”) is clearly the most decorated North Carolina Tar Heels player. Hansbrough could have easily been ranked first on this list considering what he achieved in four seasons as a Tar Heel.

Best known for his enthusiasm and heriocs, Hansbrough holds several records including

  • the ACC and UNC record for most points all time (2,872)
  • the ACC scoring record for most games scoring in double figures (133).
  • the NCAA record for total made free throws (982)
  • the UNC record for most career rebounds (1,219)
  • the ACC record for most free throws made in a season (304 in 2007-08)
  • the ACC record for most free throws attempted in a career (1,241)
  • the UNC record for most free throws attempted in a season (377 in 2007-08)
  • highest free throw percentage in an NCAA Tournament game (100%; made all 12 free throws against Radford in 2009)

He has the sixth-most highest career scoring average at UNC (20.2), second-most rebounds in a single season (399), second-most steals in a single game (eight steals against UNC-Asheville in 2005),  and the third-most career double-doubles (points and rebounds) during a UNC career (47). Psycho T remains one of 16 players to average a double-double during a single season (22.6 points and 10.2 rebounds in 2007-08).

Hansbrough was the National Player of the Year, ACC Player of the Year, ACC Male Athlete of the Year, ACC Tournament MVP and NCAA East Regional Player of the Year during the 2007-08.

Hansbrough is the only ACC player to lead his team in scoring and rebounding for four seasons.

He was the 13th ACC player and first Tar Heel to earn first-team All-ACC Tournament honors three times. Despite not winning the ACC Player of the Year in the following season  (teammate Tywon Lawson won this honor), Hansbrough led the Tar Heels to a national championship in 2009.

His will to win, work ethic, leadership and skill level make Hansbrough one of the best power forwards in UNC basketball history.

#1: James Worthy, UNC (1979-1982)

Many people believe that James Worthy is the best power forward to play for the North Carolina Tar Heels ever.

I am one of those people.

Worthy would dunk on ANYONE, no matter who they were. He went toe-to-toe with Virginia’s 7’4″ center Ralph Sampson several times and never feared him. Worthy was one of the first basketball players to “posterize” many of his defenders.

He was the MVP of the 1982 Final Four, when UNC defeated Georgetown 63-62. Worthy was a All-American in 1981 and 1982. He was the Helms Foundation’s 1982 National Player of the Year in 1982. During this same season (1981-82), he was the ACC Athlete of the Year and first-team All ACC.

In the 1982 NBA Draft, Worthy was the overall number one pick selected by the Los Angeles Lakers.

Worthy averaged 14.5 points and 7.4 rebounds during his career at UNC. He ranks 54th in scoring all time at UNC (1,219). He does not have the individual statistics that other players have on this list. Keep in mind that Worthy played alongside great players in Al Wood, Mike O’Koren, Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins.

His statistics carry a great deal of weight in this discussion, although his greatness supersedes what he accomplished on a per game basis. Many other UNC players surpassed Worthy’s individual statistics, but very few players dominated the game as good as he did.

Worthy accomplished things no other player ever did at UNC. Worthy is a prime example of a basketball player who went pro at the right time. He was the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four after leading his team to a national championship. Then, he was selected as the number one pick in the NBA Draft.

No other player has experienced this sequence of events, which makes him the best power forward at UNC ever.

Worthy was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2003. He was a part of the 2016 ACC Legends Class, in addition to being named one of the NBA’s 50th greatest players of all time.

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