North Carolina freshman point guard Cole Anthony underwent an arthroscopic knee procedure Monday morning, according to the university.
He is expected to miss four to six weeks as he recovers from a partially torn meniscus.
Anthony’s injury was said to have occurred over time and not during one play.
Losing Anthony for an extended period of time puts the Tar Heels’ season and their chances to make the NCAA tournament in jeopardy. Anthony, a 6-3, 190-pound guard, leads the Tar Heels in scoring this season with 19.1 points per game. Prior to missing UNC’s game against Wofford on Sunday, he was responsible for one-third of the Tar Heels’ shots. He also leads the team with 3.6 assists and is third on the team with 6.3 rebounds per game.
The Tar Heels have lost four of their last five games and face No. 2 Gonzaga on the road Wednesday. Anthony did not make the trip.
If Anthony were to return after four to six weeks, that would mean he would return anywhere between Jan. 18 and Feb. 3, prior to its two games with Duke and its home game against Virginia. He could miss at least nine games this season.
UNC (6-4), which was ranked No. 17 last week, fell out of the AP Top 25 poll for the first time since the 2014 season after its most recent loss to Wofford.
The Tar Heels were also ranked No. 95 in the NCAA’s first NET rankings released on Monday. The NET rankings are one of the primary tools the NCAA’s selection committee uses to compare teams when determining who will make the NCAA tournament.
“Obviously not having a player of Cole’s caliber will be a tremendous challenge to our young team, but we have to play,” UNC coach Roy Williams said in a statement. No one player is going to replace the production Cole Anthony gives us, so it’s up to everyone who puts on a North Carolina jersey to raise his game, and help our team play better.”
Anthony, the son of former NBA player Greg Anthony, was one of the most highly sought-after recruits in the country coming out of high school. He was a McDonald’s All-American, was ranked No. 3 in the Class of 2019 and the top-ranked point guard in his class.
He came to UNC with high expectations.
And in his first ever college game, he delivered. He scored 34 points on 12-of-24 shooting, and helped UNC defeat Notre Dame 76-65. He was also 6-for-11 from behind the 3-point line.
“I worked for this,” Anthony said following the game. “I’m happy to see my work pay off.”
He followed up that performance with 20 points in a win against UNC-Wilmington on Nov. 8 and 28 points in a win against Gardner-Webb on Nov. 15.
But as the season and the pressures to carry this team grew, and teams started to focus on him, his numbers and shooting percentages dipped. In the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament over Thanksgiving break, Anthony was knocked to the floor multiple times over the course of three games, and appeared to hurt his foot.
He was spotted in the airport on his way home that tournament wearing a boot.
However, Anthony played in the Tar Heels’ next two games against Ohio State and Virginia — both losses — and struggled immensely. In both games, he finished shooting 4 of 15 from the floor.
Then, one week after the Virginia loss, and before its game against Wofford, UNC announced that Anthony would not play due to a knee injury, and would explore treatment options.
The knee injury was said to have occurred over time and not during one play. UNC coach Roy Williams said he learned Saturday at 10:30 a.m. that Anthony would not be available for the Wofford game.
Without him, the Tar Heels struggled, and shot 36.5 percent from the floor in their 68-64 loss.
The Tar Heels might start junior K.J. Smith for the second consecutive game. Smith, a 6-2, 175-pound guard transferred from Pacific after the 2016-17 season. He is the son of former NBA champion and UNC point guard Kenny Smith.
The younger Smith became a scholarship player at UNC prior to the 2019-20 season.
He has not played much during his time at UNC. In his lone start this year, he scored seven points, had four assists and three rebounds in 26 minutes.
When asked Sunday how he would approach being a starter if Anthony was out for an extended period of time, Smith appeared confident.
“I’ll have to quote my uncle on this one,” Smith said. “’If you stay ready, you never have to get ready. That’s the approach I took.”
Starting wing Leaky Black, who was the primary backup point guard, could also start. He is dealing with a sprained foot that kept him out of the Wofford game.
Black is averaging 4.9 points per game, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game.
“It’s just next man up,” UNC junior guard Andrew Platek said on Sunday. “Cole’s out. That sucks. We’re going to miss him. He’s a very, very good player obviously, but we need people like K.J. to step up, we need people like Jeremiah (Francis) to step up. We need our guards to play better. We need our bigs to play better. Everybody just needs to bring it in together.”
This is a developing story. Check back later for updates.