For months, his stock has fallen like a steady rain. He’s slid down draft boards. Heard criticism of his ability, told that his hometown team — the franchise his father played for — didn’t want him.
For some prospects, that would take a toll. For Cole Anthony, it has only emboldened him. Added even more motivation for someone who didn’t need any further ammunition.
“I just got to come into this with a chip on my shoulder,” he said over Zoom, in advance of Wednesday’s NBA draft. “I’m not in an ideal position, but all my dreams, all my goals are still ahead of me.”
The 6-foot-3 Anthony — the son of former NBA point guard Greg Anthony — entered his freshman season at North Carolina considered a top-five draft pick. He was ranked fourth in his class by 247Sports. The Upper West Side native set a Tar Heels record for most points scored by a freshman in his debut (34).
From then on, almost everything went wrong. He hurt his knee, tried to play through it, only to need surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus — the first operation of his life — and missed 11 games.
There was some thought the 20-year-old Anthony could shut it down, prepare for the draft. But that wasn’t in his DNA. North Carolina was struggling, and he wanted to be there for his teammates. He returned and wasn’t at his best, for the most part, finishing his freshman year averaging 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.3 steals as the Tar Heels finished under .500, at 14-19, for the first time in 18 years.
Greg Anthony described his son’s season as “horrible.” Cole said he was “just a shell of myself.” He’s studied film of every game, breaking down his mistakes with trainer and former Knicks player development coordinator Chris Brickley.
“It frustrates me every single day, every single day since the season ended,” said Anthony, who has worked out for the Magic, Heat and Wizards.
His at-times questionable shot selection and low shooting percentages were picked apart by scouts and analysts. Word filtered out that he wasn’t the best teammate — every team asked him about that in interviews, Anthony said — rumors that haven’t been substantiated anywhere by any of his previous teammates or coaches. He’s gone from a high lottery pick to potentially getting drafted somewhere in the 20s, by some mock drafts.
Still, despite the sharp decline of his draft stock, scouts and analysts The Post spoke to mostly believe Anthony will be a productive NBA player. One NBA scout thought his struggles had as much to do with the lack of talent around him at North Carolina, and his injury, as Anthony himself. He had to take a little too much on his shoulders. The year before, he averaged a triple-double for powerhouse prep school Oak Hill Academy. Matt Babcock, a former NBA agent and current draft analyst, sees Anthony’s best role as a Lou Williams-type at the next level, a third guard on a good team capable of scoring in bunches off the bench.
“I do think there is a lot of talent there,” the scout said. “He didn’t just get to this point for no reason.”
Another scout thinks if Anthony does fall into the late teens, or the early 20s, whoever lands him will be getting a steal. By coming back after surgery, Anthony showed his desire for the game. While coach Roy Williams bemoaned the lack of talent on the roster, Anthony never publicly pouted or complained as the losses piled up.
“If he’s there [mid-to-late in the first round], I’m raising my hand and shaking it, saying, ‘Go get him,’ ” the second scout said. “He competes, he’s not scared. He’ll figure it out, and I think guys like playing with him because of all those things.”
He’s been under the microscope since he became the first guard at Archbishop Molloy in Queens to start as a freshman. Anthony embraced the hype as the next great New York City guard. He set expectations high for himself. He was determined to reach the NBA. It was not if, but when.
“My goal,” Anthony told The Post in January of 2016, “is to make it to the NBA and be remembered as one of the all-time greats.”
The plan has taken somewhat of a detour over the last year. His draft stock fell. An avalanche of criticism came his way.
But by Wednesday night, it won’t matter. Anthony will be in the NBA. His chance to prove himself — and show all the detractors the past season was an anomaly — will have arrived.
He’s still brimming with confidence. Anthony was asked about where he expects to be when his rookie contract is up, and his answer was telling.
“By that time, I can be earning a max contract,” he said.