When Cole Anthony touched down in Chapel Hill, N.C. to play for the Tar Heels this season, he was expected to be one of the nation's top point guards that could vault himself into the conversation of top pick in this year's NBA Draft.
But it wasn't a season Anthony or North Carolina believed was going to happen, as the Tar Heels struggled mightily before the NCAA canceled the rest of the season due to coronavirus.
Anthony still averaged double-digit points (18.5 per game) to be the nation's second-leading freshman scorer (Georgia's Anthony Edwards, an expected Top 5 pick, scored 19.1 per game). However, with only four assists per game, there are some who believe Anthony simply wasn't the playmaker they expected to see as he came out of Oak Hill Academy last year.
His trainer, Chris Brickley, is here to say otherwise.
"He figured out a way against defenses that were geared toward him," Brickley told The New York Post's Marc Berman. "He was the only best option on the team. It wasn't an easy situation for him."
It's unheard of for UNC to drop out of the Top 25, but that's exactly what happened. And with Anthony missing time due to a meniscus tear for six weeks, they were really anemic up and down the floor during his hiatus.
That knee tear is also a concern for teams heading into this year's draft. The NBA Draft Lottery and Combine were both postponed, so that doesn't help Anthony, who is looking to show teams he's perfectly fine. Some players expected to go high in the draft coast and make sure they're good to go even if their team struggles the way Anthony's did.
Brickley knows that not the mindset of the kid he's been training since 16.
"Ninety percent of projected lottery picks, with the team not doing well, they're not going to come back," Brickley said about Anthony, who returned after six weeks of rehab on his knee. "That spoke volumes. He came back the first few games, took charges and sacrificed his body. It was a testament to his toughness and how much he cares."
But that time will come where Anthony can show NBA scouts, coaches and executives that he is worth that Top 10 slate where mock drafts have projected him. In the meantime, Brickley says Anthony has taken initiative to do something Tar Heels fans would rather not: watch all of last season.
"We watched the whole UNC season over again," Brickley said. "That was pretty cool. That wasn't even my idea -- to be honest. I approach players a lot about 'Let's do this with mini projects.' But he came to me. It showed he's a student of the game."
There is an obvious connection with Anthony and the Knicks.
The first is that the Knicks are looking for a scoring point guard, someone who can handle being the leader of the offense whether that means drive to the rack or taking that outside three as well as dishing it off to teammates like RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson. Then, there's Greg Anthony, a former first-rounder by the Knicks in 1991 who is Cole's father. And finally, Cole Anthony grew up in Manhattan, so he knows what it would be like to play in the Big Apple.
Brickley also believes Anthony's mentality and the way he goes about working on his craft reflects the type of player needed to play at Madison Square Garden every night.
"I've asked him about it," Brickley said about Anthony becoming a Knick. "He doesn't want to be drafted by a team that puts him to the side and doesn't make it a priority to develop him. He wants to be put in a situation where he can be with a good coaching staff willing to keep improving his game. He'd love to play in New York for sure."
New team president Leon Rose is focused on bringing the Knicks back to glory, and it starts with getting the right, young talent in the building to set the foundation for years to come. The Knicks believe they have that in Barrett, Robinson and others.
But they are missing that floor general, and depending where they fall in the draft lottery, they could have their eyes set on the kid that grew up watching him right here in New York.