CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina senior Tyler Zeller won’t have his number honored for earning first-team Academic All-America (twice), or Academic All-America of the Year. It’s not one of the criteria for hanging a jersey in the rafters.
At least, not yet.
Steve Kirschner, UNC’s associate athletics director for media relations, said Wednesday night that there have been preliminary discussions about commemorating UNC’s eight first-team Academic All Americas in the Smith Center rafters -- perhaps via a banner, perhaps by adding new criteria to the jersey list.
He said he plans to discuss it with coach Roy Williams after the season.
To currently have a jersey honored, a Tar Heel must be the Most Valuable Player of a national-championship-winning team; an ACC Player of the Year; a first- or second-team All-American; an NCAA tournament Most Outstanding Player; or a member of a gold-medal winning Olympic team.
(To have a jersey retired, a player must be named National Player of the Year by one of six associations.)
Five of the Tar Heels’ previous Academic All-Americas -- Billy Cunningham, Charles Scott, Dennis Wuycik, Tom LaGarde, and Eric Montross -- have had their jerseys honored for other reasons. Steve Previs, Steve Hale and Zeller have not.
Zeller is an ACC Player of the Year favorite, could find himself on an (athletic) All-America team, and would have a shot at national title game MVP, if his sixth-ranked team makes it there.
But when Williams was asked Wednesday night to describe the most special thing about the senior 7-footer, his answer was about more than basketball:
“He is the true epitome of a fantastic student-athlete,’’ Williams said. “I cannot think of a better representative of the University of North Carolina -- early entrance into our business school, already the Academic All-America of the Year. He’s enriched my life and made me a heck of a lot better coach, and more importantly a better person.”
Academic All-Americas have to be starters or key reserves, meaning they hit the books as hard as they hit the boards. Perhaps players like that -- guys whose GPA (3.62 for Zeller) is as important as PPG (16.2) -- should have their jerseys hanging in the rafters, too.
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.