Photo: Cole Anthony
North Carolina and point guard Cole Anthony can finally put to rest he’s not playing the remainder of the season to protect his NBA draft stock. Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said Friday Anthony has resumed practicing.
That doesn’t mean the projected lottery pick will play Saturday when the Tar Heels play host to Boston College at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Dean Dome. Maybe it won’t be until Monday night’s game at Florida State. That will give him a game under his belt before the Battle of the Blues, Duke at UNC on Feb. 8 at the Dean Dome.
But his return is imminent.
“Yesterday we allowed him to go five-on-five, and he probably went 25 to 35 percent of practice,” Williams said on Friday before practice. “I didn’t time it or anything; I’m just giving you my gut feeling. If he feels alright today, we’ll probably let him do at least that, and if he feels alright tomorrow when we come in for shoot around there’s a probability that we play him tomorrow.”
Anthony has missed the last 11 games after arthroscopic knee surgery six weeks ago. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound freshman had been averaging 19.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists through UNC’s 6-3 start prior to his injury on Dec. 15.
Williams dismissed speculation on Anthony’s return, saying he hadn’t practiced beyond shooting and would play until he participated in live practices. But in today’s sports world, speculation began to mount he wouldn’t return. Duke’s Zion Williamson also heard such recommendations when he hurt his knee late last season.
Williams said he hasn’t doubted Anthony wanted to return.
“I think he’s been responsible,” he said of the rehab routine. “I think our trainer (Doug Halverson) has been responsible. I think everybody has tried to look at the big picture and see what’s best. He’s an athlete I have a tremendous amount of respect for and trust in what he’s saying about how he feels. It hasn’t been easy for him, he wants to play, he likes to play – but he’s been very cooperative in every situation we’ve possibly had.”
Without Anthony, the Tar Heels went into a tailspin. They lost their first five ACC games of the New Year, but have snapped the slump with back-to-back wins over Miami (94-71) and N.C. State (75-65).
Through the slump and bounce-back games, power forward Garrison Brooks has picked up the scoring load. Against George Tech he scored 35; Pitt, 21; Clemson 13; Pitt,, 16; Virginia Tech, 28; Miami, 14; and N.C. State 25.
Brandon Robinson also has improved at shouldering the point guard role. He scored 29 in the win over Miami.
Now Anthony faces fitting back into the offense after driving it in the early games.
“Nobody knows, Williams said. “We’ve got good kids who look at the big picture and look at the team. He looks at the team. Ryan Kelly (of Duke), who sat out a long time, came back and had 36 points in his first game. Raef LaFrentz sat out an extra week for me (at Kansas), came back and had 32 his first game. I’ve had other guys come back who didn’t play very well in their first game. We’ll just have to wait and see on all of that.
“He’s a good teammate, his teammates care about him and understand what’s going on. I’m not saying it’s going to be the smoothest ride, but nobody knows until you get into it.”
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