North Carolina forward Justin Jackson talks on his cell phone in the locker room after the championship game against Gonzaga at the Final Four on Tuesday, April 4, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. North Carolina won 71-65. AP
North Carolina guard Joel Berry II celebrates with fans after the championship game against Gonzaga at the Final Four on Monday, April 3 in Glendale, Ariz. North Carolina won 71-65. AP
By Ross Martin
Special to the Times
After being named a consensus All-American for the 2016-17 season, Justin Jackson’s No. 44 jersey will be honored in the Dean Dome rafters. It is deserving recognition for a player who led UNC in scoring all season (18.3 points per game, 37 percent from 3-point range) and became a consistent shooting and offensive force for the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and national champions.
Joel Berry’s No. 2 jersey is also now heading to the rafters after he won the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player award for his 22-point (four 3s), six-assist performance in the championship game win over Gonzaga. Berry had 11 points in the semifinals win over Oregon.
“It means a lot to me,” Berry said after the championship game. “To be up in the rafters — when I walk out in the gym I look up there every day and see great names up there. It’s an honor and a blessing to get my name up there.”
There has been some argument that senior center Kennedy Meeks deserved to win the Final Four MOP award. The Charlotte native had 25 points and 14 rebounds in the semifinal game before adding seven points and 10 rebounds in the championship game — not to mention his critical game-sealing block in the closing seconds. Meeks also finished with 69 total rebounds in the NCAA Tournament and averaged 11.5 boards per game through the tournament. Both are Tar Heels records.
Meeks could get his jersey in the rafters if he is voted team MVP of the national championship team, another method that UNC players can get their jerseys honored.
QB QUESTIONS REMAIN
The Tar Heels held their annual spring football game Saturday in Chapel Hill. Due to construction on the Kenan Stadium field, the Blue/White scrimmage was held on Fetzer Field, UNC’s soccer stadium.
All eyes were on the quarterbacks as the offensive faced defense for roughly two hours on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Mitch Trubisky’s decision to enter the 2017 NFL draft has left a noticeable void at the quarterback spot. Four different quarterbacks rotated snaps on Saturday — redshirt sophomore Nathan Elliott, redshirt freshman Logan Byrd, redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt and walk-on junior Manny Miles.
After the game, UNC head coach Larry Fedora said that no one quarterback stood out enough to name a starter heading into the offseason and summer workouts.
“I would say that they have made a lot of progress. But I wouldn’t say that anybody has separated themselves,” Fedora said. “We’ll get into summer and we’ll get into fall camp and if someone separates at that time then we’ll make a decision, if not, then I know we have to put somebody out for that first game.”
Elliott was the clear standout for the Tar Heels. He was 8 for 12 for 213 yards and three touchdowns. Elliott hit receivers Roscoe Johnson, Austin Proehl, and Juval Mollette for touchdowns, all of 30 yards or more.
Other quarterback numbers:
Chazz Surratt: 5-14, 90 yards
Logan Byrd: 12-21, 120 yards, one touchdown
Manny Miles: 3-8, 41 Yards, 1 touchdown
There is a clear question mark at quarterback, and Fedora knows it. The whole offense is inexperienced, but none more so than at the quarterback spot. “At that position experience is pretty important,” Fedora said. “If you are not going to be experienced, then you better have a lot of experienced guys around you and we don’t have that luxury right now on offense.
“We have four guys who are competing for the job right now and I think all four have made good progress. I don’t think any one of them is ready to go for us at this point. But through all the work this summer and all the work in fall camp, we’ll have someone ready to play and lead this team.”
It is important to note that UNC is expected to bring in LSU grad transfer quarterback Brandon Harris this summer. He will compete with the names above for the starting job. Harris started 15 games for the Tigers. He finished his LSU career completing 187-of-347 passes for 2,756 yards, 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He added 370 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns.
Additional standouts from the Spring Game include sophomore receiver Juval Mollette (100 yards receiving and three scores), senior receiver Austin Proehl (109 yards and one TD), running back Jacob Schmidt (16 carries for 70 yards), and safety D.J. Ford (13 tackles).
NBA DRAFT AND UNC
A few UNC players have some decisions to make concerning the NBA draft. Jackson is expected to be a mid-to-late first round pick. It is a safe bet that the 6-foot-8 Texas native forgoes his final year of college eligibility and enters the 2017 draft. After an extremely productive and successful 2016-17 season, Jackson’s stock is as high as it will be.
UNC freshman center Tony Bradley surprised many after the national championship game when he told Aaron Beard of the Associated Press that he is “100 percent” going to enter his name into the NBA draft and test the waters. He also did not rule out the possibility of hiring an agent which would make him ineligible for returning for his sophomore season. Bradley’s father backed off these remarks in a later interview with InsideCarolina.com.
There is certainly a chance that the back-up big man could enter the draft. Bradley is listed as a late first round, early second draft pick in most mock drafts.
It makes sense that Bradley wants to test the waters. At 6-11 with great length, hands and mobility, Bradley is a future NBA player. He has a lot of room for growth and improvement, but with the NBA’s new rule that allows college players to take part in the NBA combine and meet with NBA teams, it makes sense to get the necessary feedback and still leave the option to return to college. Bradley would be a full-time starter for UNC next season and a go-to player inside within Carolina’s offense.
Berry is another player who could leave UNC after his junior season. The junior point guard from Florida has shown what he can do as a college player and after winning back-to-back ACC regular-season championships, the national championship and the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, Berry has already achieved a lot in three years at North Carolina.
Bradley and Berry’s decision are critical for next year’s team and will be interesting to follow in the coming weeks.
The NBA’s early entry deadline to declare is April 23, and the withdrawal deadline follows on June 12. The 2017 NBA draft will be held Thursday, June 22 at 7 p.m.
Ross Martin covers North Carolina basketball, football and recruiting for 247Sports.com and CBS Sports. Check out more of his work at northcarolina.247sports.com.