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Cole Anthony understands naysayers, but is confident he can play at high level in NBA

Cole Anthony of the North Carolina Tar Heels

Cole Anthony of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after a play against the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Dean Smith Center on Feb. 8 in Chapel Hill, N.C. Credit: Getty Images/Streeter Lecka

A little over a year ago, long before the mock drafts for Wednesday’s NBA Draft were considered, the rankings for Cole Anthony were those like ESPN’s Top 100 recruiting ranking. There he found himself at No. 2, behind only James Wiseman, two spots ahead of Anthony Edwards and 19 places ahead of LaMelo Ball.

But now, while Wiseman, Ball and Edwards are projected as the likely top three picks in some order, Anthony finds himself drifting toward the back side of the first round. With a recognizable name — the son of former NBA player and analyst Greg Anthony — and the hype surrounding his freshman season at the University of North Carolina, it’s hard to imagine how he has dropped.

But in a season with struggles on the court, a surgical procedure on his knee to repair a torn right meniscus and questions about his attitude, Anthony finds himself entering the draft with a lot to prove.

"Just coming off knee surgery, I mean, shoot, did it probably hurt my draft stock? Yeah," Anthony said in a media Zoom call on Friday. "That’s the reality of the situation. But do I regret it? No. I’m glad I got to play with my teammates. I got to play for [UNC coach Roy Williams] and making that decision to go to Carolina I will never regret. I’m really happy I got to come back and play more than the nine games I played prior."

He was just nine games into the season when he was shut down in December. North Carolina began the season 6-1 and he seemed ready to live up to the potential he brought to Chapel Hill. He averaged 19.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists, including 34 points and 11 rebounds in his debut against Notre Dame. But when he returned for the final 11 regular-season games, he shot just 38.9%, turning the ball over 3.3 times per game.

With the teams struggles there came whispers about his role.

"Yeah, I’ve almost gotten a question about that every single interview, but it’s very much false," he said when asked if teams quizzed him about being a bad teammate. "If you base it off my play, I made a lot of bad decisions, yeah, you might think I’m a bad teammate. I respect your opinion, but I have to respectfully say it’s wrong, it’s incorrect. I’m a super-supportive guy, I want to see all my teammates succeed as much as I want to see myself succeed, if not more. I don’t know where that narrative comes from, but shoot, it is what it is."

Anthony said he has worked out for Miami, Orlando and Washington — the latter two being workouts he thought he aced. He said he never was interviewed by the Knicks or Nets. While he’s not in the mix at No. 8, the Knicks also hold the No. 27 pick. The Nets have the No. 19 pick.

If there are doubters, he thinks he’s ready to prove them wrong. He remains confident that he is the player he was at Archbishop Molloy High School and then at Oak Hill Academy, the player he thinks he would have been at UNC if the injury hadn’t interrupted it and COVID hadn’t ended it.

"Shoot, this is the best I’ve felt since pre-surgery," he said. "I feel really, really good. This time has just been a blessing. I got back to full health and really polished my mind, polished my game and I think I’ve made the biggest changes in terms of decision-making. That’s obviously where I struggled the most this year . . . so I think you’ll see a big change at the next level.

"The only real pressure I get is the pressure I put on myself. I do put an immense amount of pressure on myself but it’s something I live with every single day."

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