An­thony’s re­turn could give Tar Heels a big boost

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - SCOREBOARD - By Jonathan M. Alexan­der

North Carolina guard Cole An­thony, who has missed the last seven games af­ter an arthro­scopic knee pro­ce­dure in De­cem­ber, has been hint­ing he could re­turn soon.

He posted a photo on In­sta­gram Thurs­day night with the cap­tion, “Can’t wait to join my broth­ers on the court again,” rais­ing speculatio­n that he may be ready for UNC’s game against Pitts­burgh on Sat­ur­day.

But should An­thony, a pro­jected NBA lot­tery pick, re­turn to the Tar Heels? UNC (8-8, 1-4 ACC) is on a three-game los­ing streak and is 2-5 with­out An­thony.

If the NCAA Tour­na­ment were to start to­day, or even two weeks from now, the Tar Heels would not make it, prompt­ing some to ask why An­thony would re­turn if he’s a pro­jected lot­tery pick. Ac­cord­ing to nbadraft.net, An­thony is pro­jected to go No. 9 over­all.

ESPN an­a­lyst and former Vir­ginia Tech coach, Seth Green­berg said on ESPN in De­cem­ber that he could not see a sce­nario where An­thony re­turned.

“As a basketball guy, I want him to come back,” Green­berg said in an in­ter­view with the N&O on Wed­nes­day. “But in a busi­ness de­ci­sion, he’s got a lot at stake.”

Former Duke star Zion Wil­liamson went through the same scru­tiny af­ter he went down with a knee in­jury last Fe­bru­ary. Wil­liamson, the No. 1 over­all pick in the 2019 NBA draft, missed six games and some ques­tioned whether or not he should re­turn to the Blue Devils. He did.

How­ever, An­thony’s and Wil­liamson’s sit­u­a­tions are dif­fer­ent. Duke was one of the fa­vorites to win the na­tional cham­pi­onship last sea­son. The Tar Heels may not even make the tour­na­ment.

“Ob­vi­ously, Cole is like one of my best friends, so if he comes back or not, I’m go­ing to sup­port him re­gard­less,” UNC fresh­man for­ward Ar­mando Ba­cot told the N&O last week. “But Cole, I can tell you, he wants to come back.”

Be­fore his in­jury, An­thony led the Tar Heels with 19.1 points per game, 6.3 re­bounds and 3.6 as­sists.

UNC will face Pitt (11-6, 2-4) for the se­cond time in 10 days. The Tar Heels led the Pan­thers by nine at half­time on Jan. 8 be­fore Pitt hit 8 of 12 3-point­ers in the se­cond half and won, 73-65.

Layups: Mis­sis­sippi State coach Ben Howland was slapped with a $25,000 fine and a rep­ri­mand from the SEC on Fri­day for dis­cussing a con­ver­sa­tion he had with the league of­fice about the of­fi­ci­at­ing in a loss to LSU last week . ... Michi­gan State’s Cas­sius Win­ston had four as­sists to give him the Big Ten record for ca­reer as­sists as 15th-ranked Spar­tans beat Wis­con­sin 67-55 in East Lans­ing, Michi­gan. Win­ston broke the record held by ex-Spar­tan Ma­teen Cleaves, who was at the game and fin­ished with 816 ca­reer as­sists in 2000.

GERRY BROOME/AP

North Carolina G Cole An­thony may be a top-10 pick in this sum­mer’s NBA draft.

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