CHAPEL HILL — The Cole-and-Done Era has begun.
Hide the records, or he might re-write the entire book.
Cole Anthony's first basketball game tonight in the Dean Dome was a game unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
The freshman from New York City scored 34 points, more than any UNC freshman in his first game. He also grabbed 11 rebounds and added five assists and a steal in Carolina's 76-65 victory over Notre Dame.
A late-arriving crowd was left breathless. Years from now, every Carolina fan in the world will say he was here.
Those who came wanted only one thing, to see if the phenom recruit was anything close to the hype.
For one game at least, he was better.
Anthony carried North Carolina, a 19-year-old freshman who was the best player on the court. By far.
“That was pretty impressive,” Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “To say the least. I’ve got nothing. You saw the game.”
Anthony had been careful in preseason not to say too much, but Williams made up for it. While the freshman said Williams wasn’t “just going to hand me the keys,” that’s exactly what Williams did.
In his first game, Anthony did the impossible. He took the Carolina fast break honed through the years by Williams and Dean Smith before him. And he changed it.
The pace is no longer wide-open. The pace now is what Anthony decides it will be.
The preseason adjectives were bold, borderline hyperbole. Williams said Anthony was “wired like Kobe and MJ” and said he was the most complete guard he’d ever recruited.
Williams said Anthony is possibly “the best rebounding point guard I’ve ever seen.”
He might just be the best any of us have ever seen.
OK, so it’s just one game. There are 30 or 40 to go. Only then will the Cole Anthony Era be defined.
But for one night, the game seemed to pause as Anthony took the stage. By the end of the night, he’d gone nationwide.
“It was cool,” Anthony said. “I just wanted to win. I’ll celebrate. No, I won’t celebrate. I might give myself a little pat on the back. But we have practice tomorrow.”
After listening to recruiting experts and basketball people gush about his high school and AAU days, Tobacco Road was primed. A packed Dean Dome wanted to see what his game is all about.
Anthony is the full package, a ball-handler who starts and stops with sudden control. An explosive first step gets his shoulders past defenders immediately, and his vertical leap is physical and yet athletic, with the ability to float or bang before finishing.
He draws fouls and is an uncanny free-throw shooter with a high finish and a flick of the wrist, not unlike his shot from beyond the arc, which is textbook, right out of the old coaching maxim: finish high, wave goodbye and land in your own footsteps.
Minutes into the second half, as Carolina tried to regain control of a game it had let get away in the first half, Anthony went off. He started firing at will, making shot after shot, some behind screens, some wide-open, some off-balance and some that looked pure gold.
Anthony showed his complete game, creating space for himself and lanes for his teammates, reading defenses before passing or shooting, mostly shooting.
The critics warned that he was under-developed, scrawny in his upper body and prone to getting knocked off-balance.
That’s really not the case. Anthony has a runner’s build. He has put on weight and muscle since coming to Carolina, and besides, he doesn’t take contact as much as he delivers it.
Again, it’s only a game. But what a game it was.
A 23-point second half, hitting five of eight three-pointers and playing every minute after halftime.
That’s something Williams has never let happen. The coach swore he’d never do it again.
But he will.
He saw the same game we did.