Carolina Trio of Underclassmen Going Pro — UNC Looks ForwardPosted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2012
It’s been assumed for a while now, but the news became official Thursday afternoon. North Carolina’s trio of star underclassmen — John Henson, Harrison Barnes, and Kendall Marshall — will enter this year’s NBA Draft. The press release on the UNC website does not mention any of the group ‘testing the waters’ with a possibility of return, but the quotes therein are highly suggestive that we will not see any of them back in a Tar Heel uniform again.
Barnes has been considered a high lottery pick since high school, and despite a sophomore season where he failed to meet expectations as a preseason All-America candidate, his stock as a smooth-shooting wing has not appeared to drop much, if at all (DraftExpress has him at #7 overall; NBADraft.net at #5). Henson’s junior season may have helped him a little, as he cut down on his turnovers and showed an improved offensive game while remaining a defensive and rebounding force inside the paint (#16/#8). Marshall is perhaps the player with the most to gain by entering the draft this summer — his outputs improved from his freshman to sophomore year, but he should probably strike while the iron is hot while scouts are enamored with his superb passing and floor leadership abilities (and before they pick apart his offensive game too much) (#13/#14). All three should safely be mid- to high-first round selections in June.
The legacy of this group will be interesting. Henson was brought to Chapel Hill in 2009 to help replace the national championship group of Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Danny Green and Wayne Ellington. Barnes and Marshall arrived one year later, with the Ames, Iowa, player considered the top overall prospect in America. There may not have been an expectation of another national title for the Tar Heels with this group, but there was certainly strong hopes for a Final Four appearance in each of the last two seasons. Instead, and partially due to Marshall’s untimely wrist injury two weekends ago, the trio settled for two Elite Eight appearances with losses to Kentucky and Kansas to show for it. It’s very hard to say that a group that won as much as these guys did underachieved, but then again, how often do teams have three potential lottery picks (plus a borderline player in senior Tyler Zeller) for consecutive seasons and not get to a Final Four?
Looking ahead to next year, the cupboard at North Carolina is far from bare, but there are big holes to fill, and much of the projection for this team may ultimately depend on whether freshman James Michael McAdoo decides to return. Assuming he does, the Heels would also return Dexter Strickland, PJ Hairston, Leslie McDonald and Reggie Bullock in a strong backcourt to go along with McAdoo and several good-not-great freshmen up front. Unless Roy Williams finds a way back into the Nerlens Noel sweepstakes (the shot-blocking fiend recently narrowed his choices to Kentucky, Syracuse and Georgetown) or picks up UConn expat Alex Oriakhi, next year’s Tar Heels might be a very fast but inexperienced and skinny team inside, a role reversal from having the tallest team in the country last year. Williams has in the past appeared to have more fun on the sidelines with teams that are more of an underdog than a favorite, but at Carolina, the expectations do not change — Final Fours and national championships are the goal. After this season’s exodus, he’ll need to clean up on the recruiting trail with the Class of 2013 to get UNC back where it typically expects to be.