Cole Anthony declares for NBA Draft 2020 with plenty of question marks

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.’

Anthony had a feeling this was the direction he was headed in for weeks, and while others have made decisions about going pro or returning to school, he opted to wait. With the coronavirus pandemic terrorizing New York City, he has tried to help in his own way. On Tuesday, Anthony helped to organize and deliver 100 meals to Harlem Hospital workers. He plans to deliver more meals to workers at Brooklyn Hospital Center soon and recently hosted an Instagram Live chat with Dr. Pardeep Thandi, Dr. Avinash Ram and Dr. Nyema Woart of Brooklyn Hospital Center to spread awareness of the virus to his nearly 600,000 followers. He picked those facilities because they are community hospitals that could use help.

“I wanted to give back and help any way I can,” Anthony said. “They depend on people like us to support them.”

There is, meanwhile, no telling when the draft will be held. There have been reports it could be pushed back until late August with the NBA hoping to hold its postseason when it’s safe enough to be held. But at some point this summer, Anthony will be a pro and hear his name called, capping a long journey and following in his famous father’s footsteps.

“It was a dream. He was obsessed with basketball and just incredibly passionate about it,” McCrary-McGuire said. “There were so many NBA players that were heroes to him that he looked up to. It was an aspiration for him at a very young age, that he wanted to one day play in the NBA. He’s been singularly focused on constantly trying to work harder and get better.”

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