The dream began over a decade ago. Cole Anthony was just 7 years old, admittedly not very good at basketball. The sport had yet to become his passion, not the way it would be years later, but the NBA was already on his mind.
It was what he wanted to do, the career path he wanted to take. It went from a hobby to a mission, his life’s pursuit. He would become the first point guard to ever start as a freshman at Catholic school Archbishop Molloy, develop into an elite five-star prospect that would average a triple-double at prep powerhouse Oak Hill Academy and play for Roy Williams of North Carolina.
It’s only a matter of time now until it becomes a reality for the son of former NBA guard Greg Anthony. Friday afternoon, the Upper West Side native decided he would not return to North Carolina for his sophomore year, telling The Post he was going pro and signing with Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports Management.
“It’s really one of the best feelings you can have, knowing all your hard work is coming together to live your dream,” Anthony said in an exclusive phone interview. “It’s still a ways away, not knowing when the draft is going to be, but an opportunity to pretty much call myself a pro soon is surreal. It’s really one of the best feelings ever.”
Anthony, 19, will be a much-debated prospect, a gifted athlete and skilled scorer, but someone who NBA scouts and analysts are split on, as The Post documented last Sunday. The 6-foot-3 lead guard posted solid numbers in his one year in Chapel Hill, averaging 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.3 steals in 22 games, but his shooting percentages — 38 percent overall and 34.8 from 3-point range — were criticized.
The Tar Heels finished in last place in the ACC and went 14-19, their worst record since going 8-20 in 2001-02, with injuries to Anthony — he missed seven weeks after arthroscopic surgery in December, the first surgery of his life — and others ruining their season.
“I still could’ve raised my play a lot more. I accept full responsibility for the year I had,” Anthony said, dismissing the narrative his supporting cast was subpar. “It was probably one of my worst years of basketball. I think some of the criticism might be unfair, but that’s life. Life might be unfair.
“I think I’ve always as a chip on my shoulder. It just motivates me more. Makes me wants to work harder.”
Rather than sit out and protect himself, Anthony returned and performed well down the stretch, averaging 17.5 points, 4.5 assists and shooting 41.4 percent from the field and 36 percent from beyond the arc over his final 11 games. Staying sidelined was never a consideration. It wasn’t in his DNA.
“I think that this year was a really great growing experience for Cole, and it was also incredibly humbling,” his mother, Crystal McCrary-McGuire, said.
He entered the season with most experts believing he was a lock top-five pick, but now his projections are very mixed. Some see him dropping into the low teens. The hometown Knicks, the team he grew up rooting for and his father played for, could be in play at No. 6. They are in need of a point guard.
“It’s really something that doesn’t mean much to me, just because I know my worth,” he said of his stock supposedly being down. “I think a lot of teams know my worth.’