Top 10 Best North Carolina Basketball Players

Top 10 Best North Carolina Basketball Players

The North Carolina Tar Heels have cemented their legacy in college basketball, with six NCAA Championships under their belt and a long history of churning out NBA players. Below are the top ten best North Carolina basketball players of all time.

Who are the best North Carolina college basketball players of all time?

  1. Michael Jordan
  2. James Worthy
  3. Tyler Hansborough
  4. Antawn Jamison
  5. Lennie Rosenbluth
  6. Charlie Scott
  7. Phil Ford
  8. Jerry Stackhouse
  9. Sam Perkins
  10. Billy Cunningham

1. Michael Jordan

  • 1982 ACC Freshman of the Year
  • 1982 NCAA Championship
  • 1984 ACC Men's Basketball Player of the Year
  • Averaged 17.7 points per game and 54% shooting
  • One of seven players in history to claim an NCAA championship, an NBA championship, and an Olympic gold medal
  • 2002 ACC 50th Anniversary men's basketball team
  • 2009 Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

One can’t begin to discuss the basketball greats without immediately thinking of Michael Jordan. He was born February 17, 1963, in New York City, and enrolled at the University of North Carolina in 1981. At UNC, Jordan was immediately a force to be reckoned with.

In the 1982 National Championship game, Jordan exploded onto the scene when he made the game’s winning shot. He was named College Player of the Year as both a sophomore and junior, before leaving UNC to play professionally. After graduation, he led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships, the Olympic team to two gold medals, and redefined what it means to be an A-list athlete as his fame and enterprises soared to unprecedented heights. He retired in 2002 with 32,292 total points and averaged 30.12 points per game, the most in league history. The five-time MVP set a new standard of athletic excellence and became a global sensation on a scale basketball had never seen, easily earning him the top slot on our list. 

2. James Worthy

  • 1982 NCAA champion
  • 1982 ACC tournament MVP
  • 1982 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player
  • Averaged 22.1 points per game and 63.8% shooting in the 1983-1984 season
  • 2002 ACC 50th Anniversary men's basketball team
  • 2003 Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

James Worthy was born February 27, 1961, in Gastonia, North Carolina, and began his tenure as a Tar Heel in 1979. His college career started off rocky when he broke his ankle as a freshman, but he made a determined recovery the following season and truly earned himself the name “Big Game James”. In 1982,  as a junior, he was the team’s leading scorer and part of one of the most formidably talented rosters in college history, dominating the season with teammates Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins. After graduation he was drafted by the Lakers, and played twelve seasons, averaging between 17.6 points and 21.4 points for eight of them consecutively. Worthy was a crucial element of the Lakers’ three championship teams and received the Most Valuable Player Award from the 1988 NBA Finals. His career is marked by his resilience, versatility, and humility, as he spent his entire career in successful collaboration with some of basketball’s biggest names.  

3. Tyler Hansborough

  • First-team All-ACC (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009)
  • 2008 National College Player of the Year
  • 2008 ACC Player of the Year
  • 2009 NCAA Champion
  • Inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2023 

Tyler Hansborough was born November 3, 1985, in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and played for UNC from 2005 to 2009. He developed a reputation for his explosive skill and emotional intensity on the court, earning himself the name “Psycho T.” Hansborough became the first player in ACC history to receive both first-team All-American and first-team All-ACC honors in all four of his seasons at UNC. In 2008 he was named both National and ACC Player of the Year, and the following year helped push the Tar Heels to the 2009 NCAA title. After graduation, he was drafted by the Indiana Pacers and had a solid four seasons before new recruits began cutting down on his play time. He’s played for several other NBA teams and struggled to find a good fit, and most recently he transitioned to the Chinese Basketball Association to play for the Sichuan Blue Whales. Despite a somewhat rocky career in the league, he shone in his college years and his contributions to UNC make his talent undeniable. 

4. Antawn Jamison

  • 1998 ACC Player of the Year
  • 1998 ACC Tournament MVP
  • Consensus First-Team All-American (1998)
  • Inducted into the National College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2021

Antawn Jamison was born June 12, 1976, in Shreveport, LA. Jamison enrolled at UNC in 1995, where his efforts got him selected for the All-ACC First-Team three times, and earned him both ACC Player of the Year and ACC Tournament MVP. His strength, precision, and powerful jumping ability made him an immediate asset to the team, and after posting strong numbers as a freshman, he helped lead the team to two consecutive Final Fours as a sophomore and junior. In one of UNC’s most dominant seasons, Jamison averaged 22.2 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 57.9 percent shooting. He joined the NBA before his senior year, and was drafted by the Toronto Raptors, before being traded to the Golden State Warriors for his former teammate Vince Carter. He spent sixteen seasons in the NBA, playing for six different teams before retiring in 2014. To this day, he is eligible for the Hall of Fame and is one of only two players in NBA history to have scored over 20,000 career points and not be inducted.

5. Lennie Rosenbluth

  • 1957 ACC Player of the Year
  • 1957 NCAA Champion
  • Consensus First-Team All-American (1957)
  • Inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 2012

Lenne Rosenbluth was born on January 22, 1933, in the Bronx, New York, and was North Carolina’s star player from 1954-1957. Rosenbluth was key to UNC’s success in this era, leading the team in a 32-0 season in 1957 that culminated in a high-stakes triple-overtime NCAA Championship win. He played only two seasons in the NBA with the Philadelphia Warriors before retiring to become a high school teacher in Florida. He eventually returned to Chapel Hill, NC, where he spent the last decade of his life before passing away at the age of 89 in 2022. He was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, and recognized by his successors as one of the players that helped put UNC on the map. 

6. Charlie Scott

  • 1968 Olympic gold medalist
  • 1970 ACC Athlete of the Year
  • Three-time First-Team All-ACC (1968-1970)
  • Two-time Second-Team All-American (1969,1970)
  • Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018

Charles Scott was born on September 15, 1948, in New York, NY, and made history in 1967 as the first Black student-athlete to receive a scholarship from UNC. Scott quickly became one of UNC’s star players, leading the Tar Heels to two consecutive Final Fours in 1968 and 1969, while averaging 22.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. In announcer Woody Durham’s words  "He was the first Carolina player that really would compare to today's player. His build, his speed, his ability—you could take him out of the late 1960s and drop him into today's game, and he wouldn't miss a beat." Before going pro he joined team USA and played an essential role in their victory in 1968. After graduation, he spent eight years in the NBA, playing for five different teams including the Boston Celtics who he helped win the NBA Championship in 1976, before retiring in 1980.

7. Phil Ford

  • 1975 ACC Tournament MVP
  • 1978 ACC Player of the Year
  • Consensus First-Team All-American (1977, 1978)
  • Inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1991

Phil Ford was born on February 9, 1956, in Kannapolis, North Carolina, and played for UNC from 1974 to 1978. His presence on the team was nothing short of commanding, and he had a level of control over the ball that had to be seen to be believed. Ford was named one of the ACC's Top 10 Male Athletes in history, and throughout his college career never shot below 51.6 percent. After graduation, he was drafted by the Kansas City Kings and earned himself the NBA’s rookie of the year. His promising NBA run was truncated when he struggled to recover from eye surgery and return to his former level of play. He played for the Nets before being traded to the Bucks and then finishing out his career with the Rockets. He retired in 1985, and later went on to spend twelve years as UNC’s assistant coach, helping lead his successors to six Final Four appearances.

8. Jerry Stackhouse

  • 1994 ACC Tournament MVP
  • 1995 Sport Illustrated National Player of the Year
  • Consensus First-Team All-American (1995)
  • Inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 2023

Jerry Stackhouse was born on November 5, 1974, in Kinston, North Carolina. Though he only played two years at UNC before going pro, he quickly made his mark there. Known for his versatility and scoring capability, Stackhouse averaged 19.2 points per game as a sophomore, led the Tar Heels to a Final Four, and was voted Sports Illustrated’s National Player of the Year. When his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, Stackhouse made the decision to leave UNC and begin his professional career in order to help carry the financial burden. He was a first-round draft pick for the Philadelphia 76ers in 1995 and played with a slew of other teams before retiring from the Brooklyn Nets in 2013 and transitioning to a career in broadcasting and coaching.  

9. Sam Perkins

  • 1981 ACC Tournament MVP
  • 1981 ACC Rookie of the Year
  • 1982 NCAA Champion
  • Consensus First-Team All-American (1983, 1984)
  • Inducted into the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008

Sam Perkins was born on June 14, 1961, in Brooklyn, New York, and played for UNC from 1980 to 1984. His size, athleticism, and skill as both a center and power forward left him a legacy as one of North Carolina’s most well-rounded and prominent players. Perkins was a key member of the 1982 NCAA Championship team, held the record for 25 years with 1,167 career rebounds, and finished his career with the Tar Heels as the second-highest scorer in team history. In 1984 he was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks, and also selected as co-captain for the Olympic team.  In 2002 he was acknowledged as one of the top 50 players in ACC history when he was selected for the 50th-anniversary team. 

10. Billy Cunningham

  • 1965 ACC Player of the Year
  • 1,062 rebounds, the most in UNC history at the time of his graduation
  • Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1986
  • 2002 ACC 50th Anniversary men's basketball team

Born June 3, 1943, in New York City, Billy Cunningham excelled at UNC from 1962 to 1965. In an era before the Tar Heels really hit their stride he was a standout. Cunningham was named the ACC Player of the Year in 1965, averaged 24.8 points per game, and led the ACC in rebounds all three of his years. Barring a brief stint with the Carolina Cougars, he played most of his professional career with the Philadelphia 76ers, with whom he won the NBA championship in 1967. After retiring from the court following an injury in 1975 he returned to the 76ers as head coach and claimed another championship title. He cemented his legacy as both a player and a coach, and he was named to both the NBA 50th, and 75th Anniversary Teams.

Honorable Mentions

  • Vince Carter
  • Bob McAdoo
  • Brad Daugherty
  • Kenny Smith
  • Walter Davis
  • Rasheed Wallace
  • Ty Lawson
  • George Lynch
  • Justin Jackson
  • Hubert Davis


Who is the best North Carolina men’s basketball player of all time?

The best North Carolina men’s basketball player of all time is, indisputably, the legendary Michael Jordan. With six championships and two gold medals to his credit, no other player in UNC’s history has come close to Jordan’s level of excellence or global recognition.