College Basketball Nation: John Henson

Summer Shootaround: ACC

July, 16, 2012
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Editor's note: ESPN.com’s Summer Shootaround series catches up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For more on the ACC, click here.

[+] EnlargeNorth Carolina State Wolfpack forward C.J. Leslie
Greg Bartram/US PresswireExpectations are high for C.J. Leslie and the rest of the NC State Wolfpack heading into the season.
1. Expectations at NC State: The last time the ACC media picked the Wolfpack to finish first in the league standings was 1988-89. But after a run to the Sweet 16 last March, forward C.J. Leslie's decision to return for another season, the arrival of a heralded recruiting class and so many departures from the other top conference teams, expect Mark Gottfried's club to top the ballots come fall. Point guard Lorenzo Brown needed knee surgery late last month, but is expected to practice before NCSU leaves for an August trip to Spain.

2. Departures at North Carolina: Losing so many stars to the NBA in one swipe (this time, Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall) is nothing new in Chapel Hill. The question is, how will the Tar Heels respond? In 2005-06, after losing seven of its top eight players, a young UNC team exceeded preseason expectations by making it to the second round of the NCAA tournament. But in 2009-10, after losing four of five starters, the Tar Heels didn't make it to the NCAA tournament at all. Returners such as James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock, Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland still make UNC a top-15 favorite this time around.

3. Decisions at Duke: The Blue Devils' jaw-dropping defeat to 15th-seeded Lehigh in the NCAA tournament was followed by a couple of other spring surprises: the announcement that guard Andre Dawkins will redshirt his senior season, and forward Mason Plumlee will return for another year. The latter is particularly key for Duke, which will boast sizeable frontcourt options in Mason and Marshall Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, Alex Murphy and late signee Amile Jefferson. But without Dawkins, how Seth Curry, Quinn Cook, Tyler Thornton and freshman Rasheed Sulaimon perform on the perimeter could determine how far the Blue Devils go.

4. Personnel changes at Virginia Tech: Seth Greenberg is gone. But so are rising sophomore Dorian Finney-Smith and recruit Montrezl Harrell, who opted for new schools after Greenburg was fired. Former Greenberg assistant James Johnson -- who left Blacksburg, Va., for the same position at Clemson, only to return weeks later after he was hired to replace Greenberg in the head-coaching job -- has some talent to build around. But not all he could have hoped for.

5. Don't forget about Florida State: After losing six players in their rotation (including fan favorite forward Bernard James, who went No. 33 overall in the NBA draft), it would be easy to overlook the chances of the Seminoles, who won their first ACC tournament last season. But don't. The Noles return four of their top five scorers, including guards Michael Snaer and Ian Miller, who both buried game-winners last season. Plus, coach Leonard Hamilton has proven that defense wins.
ESPN.com’s Chad Ford wrote last week that the 2013 NBA draft list might be the weakest in more than a decade Insider (Insider Access required), thanks to a lack of top returning underclassmen and “a marginal freshman class.”

North Carolina won’t have four players go in the top 17, a la Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall, John Henson and Tyler Zeller last week. But one Tar Heel is already projected as a top-5 pick, and a couple of others dot his top 100.

Of course, this is an early list, and plenty of players will drop and fall over the next 11 months. But here’s where the Tar Heels currently rank on Ford’s 2013 top 100:
4. James Michael McAdoo, sophomore forward

25. P.J. Hairston, sophomore guard

41. Reggie Bullock, junior guard

UNC redshirt junior Leslie McDonald, who missed last season because of a torn ACL, currently ranks 148 on Ford’s list. And it’s interesting to note that McAdoo is currently the only ACC player projected in the top 20. NC State’s C.J. Leslie comes in at No. 21, followed by Duke’s Mason Plumlee at No. 24. Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel currently holds the top spot.

Thoughts?

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

NBA draft's biggest surprises

June, 29, 2012
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Andre DrummondJerry Lai/US PresswireThe Pistons drafted Andre Drummond with the No. 9 overall pick, mostly based on potential.
For college hoops/NBA nerds like me, the NBA draft is an event.

Chinese food. High-def TV. A comfortable chair. An iPad/laptop to follow Chad Ford’s “Matrix”-like draft coverage. (When I logged off, he was teasing his 2025 mock draft, which will likely feature the children of D-Wade and LeBron.)

I anticipated more trades. And I had no idea David Stern would take on the hostile crowd the way he did. Fascinating stuff.

And there were certainly some surprises with the various selections. Some good. Some bad. Some baffling.

The Good ...

Jared Cunningham to Dallas at No. 24: I think Cunningham is a major sleeper. It’s nice to see a guy get credit for defensive prowess. He’s a versatile guard. His defensive skills (2.5 spg) will make him a valuable player on Day 1. He’s big (6-foot-5), too. This pick may have turned a few heads, but Cunningham is legit. Nice sleeper.

Royce White to Houston at No. 16: I figured some team was hiding its interest in White, a high-level passer and ball handler trapped in a power forward’s body. Some called his anxiety disorder a red flag prior to the draft. But the concern was so over-the-top, I started to think that some NBA squad probably wanted that. Let everyone assume he’s not top-20 and then grab him. The Rockets did that. He has NBA strength right now. And the best part about White’s game is he’ll facilitate an offense and not worry about buckets. Just wants to win.

Austin Rivers to New Orleans at No. 10 : Some booed this pick. Rivers couldn’t escape the haters at Duke. He either did too much or too little. Here’s the thing. He played within an offense that didn’t have a true point guard. He had to run the offense and create shots. Now, he can focus on the latter. Rivers has an NBA game. He’s not going to face the zones and traps that teams needed to lock him up his freshmen season. He’ll have the freedom to roam. This is how he learned the game. The son of Boston Celtics and former NBA standout Doc Rivers will be a different player at the next level. Might not make sense right now. But give it a year.

The Bad ...

[+] EnlargeDion Waiters
Mark Konezny/US PresswireDion Waiters, a guard drafted by Cleveland, averaged 12.6 points per game at Syracuse last season.
Dion Waiters to Cleveland at No. 4: So NFL officials aren’t the only ones who fall for athletes after one or two workouts. Based on reports, Waiters had a few amazing auditions in Vegas and the Cavs fell in love with him. The former Syracuse star is a great athlete who attacks the rim. He’ll push the pace and get buckets in transition. But Harrison Barnes is more polished. Thomas Robinson, too. Big risk for the Cavs here. And Barnes and Robinson could have better careers.

Andre Drummond to Detroit at No. 9, Meyers Leonard to Portland at No. 11: Plenty of potential with both players. Drummond has the gift to form a potent frontcourt with Greg Monroe. In stretches, Leonard was a stud. One of his biggest challenges at Illinois was the limited touches he received. They didn’t feed him enough.

But I can’t justify taking these two over North Carolina’s duo of Tyler Zeller and John Henson. Henson blocked 2.9 shots per game last season with few fouls (1.6). So many knocks against his limited strength. How about the fact he’s a pure shot-blocker who plays the ball and not the body? Few possess that skill. Milwaukee should be happy with that pick. Zeller, who was traded to the Cavs, was the ACC’s player of the year. He averaged 16.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg and 1.5 bpg. He’s 7 feet tall. Both Drummond and Leonard have had some motor issues. Can’t say that about Zeller and Henson. Drummond and Leonard were drafted on potential. Zeller and Henson produced. I just don’t get it.

Miles Plumlee to Indiana at No. 26: Over Draymond Green? Over Arnett Moultrie? Over Perry Jones III? At this point, you’re not necessarily drafting according to need. You just want a good player. Plumlee is big (7-foot), but he averaged just 6.6 ppg and 7.1 rpg as a senior at Duke. I just think Indiana had a chance to pick multiple players with more talent and higher ceilings.

More surprises ...

• Barnes fell to No. 7, but he might average 15.0 ppg for the next decade. Might not be a star, but he could have the most consistent career in the entire draft.

• I don’t know about Jared Sullinger’s back. But if he’s healthy, he’ll be one of the best players in this draft. He faced bigger, more athletic players in college. High school, too. Yet he keeps winning. That should count for something, too.

• Perry Jones III slipped all the way to 28th? Just ... wow. Read more of my take on this here.

• Not sure why so many teams passed on Draymond Green, who fell all the way to No. 35. He played point guard in the NCAA tournament. He’s a strong rebounder. Knows how to be a leader. Not the most athletic forward in the draft, but he’ll surprise people next season. The Warriors made the right move when they took him in the second round.

• Maurice Harkless is very athletic. Not to mention he was one of the best athletes in the draft. I’m just not sure what else he has to offer Philly right now. He might develop into a stud (15.3 ppg for St. John’s). But there’s a lot of work to do.

• I think the Grizzlies made a great pick at No. 25 when they grabbed Tony Wroten (16.0 ppg last season). The confines of college basketball were not suited for this guard’s strengths. He’s a free spirit on the floor. And the NBA’s flow will really enhance his game. He’ll be a different (better) player at the next level.

• This isn’t surprising, but it’s ironic. The Minnesota Timberwolves picked Purdue’s Robbie Hummel at No. 58. Two years ago, Hummel tore his ACL for the first time during a matchup against the Gophers in Minneapolis. That was the beginning of a tough road for Hummel, who tore his ACL again about eight months later. I wouldn’t count him out. He could stick with the Wolves and earn a spot in next year’s rotation.

3-point shot: Coaches Newark-bound

June, 28, 2012
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1. Baylor coach Scott Drew said he is coming to Newark to witness history: three Baylor players taken in the NBA draft. All three -- Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy -- have a legitimate chance to be in the first round. Miller is on the bubble; Acy could yet climb into the back end of the first round. Acy is the best back-to-the-basket player among the three. What makes Drew’s appearance interesting is that none of the Baylor players were invited by the NBA. But Drew said late Wednesday that all three are going to go to Newark, sit in the stands and walk across the stage when their names are called.

2. New Kansas State and former Illinois coach Bruce Weber said he will also be in Newark, at the invitation of Meyers Leonard. This is a great gesture by Leonard, who stuck with Weber through a tough season in Champaign. Leonard had an enigmatic career at Illinois, but Weber was in his corner. Leonard has been complimentary of Weber and his time at Illinois during multiple interviews in Chicago and again Wednesday in New York.

3. St. John’s coach Steve Lavin is planning on being in Newark to witness Moe Harkless get selected somewhere in the first round. North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Kentucky’s John Calipari will also be in the green room -- Williams has three players invited (Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson), Calipari two (Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist). Washington coach Lorenzo Romar is in Newark as well to support late add Terrence Ross, who isn't expected to get past No. 15 Thursday night. Two coaches who have had a history of not coming to the draft and allowing their players to have the moment to themselves are Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and UConn’s Jim Calhoun. Neither will be in Newark on Thursday.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – As he looked around the locker room after North Carolina’s loss to Kansas in the NCAA Regional finals last March, forward Desmond Hubert couldn’t help but grow a little anxious about all the talent the Tar Heels would lose to the NBA.

But after playing additional offseason pickup games with his teammates, putting on a few more pounds, and gaining confidence in his still-developing hook shot, “I’m a lot more excited now than nervous.”

Which, the Tar Heels hope, is a good sign. Hubert, who averaged 4.9 minutes in 25 games as a freshman, will likely need to play a much bigger role on UNC’s front line next season, considering the losses of ACC Player of the Year Tyler Zeller and ACC Defensive Player of the Year John Henson to the NBA draft. (Both are expected to be first-round picks next week, along with fellow starters Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall.)

[+] EnlargeDesmond Hubert
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesDesmond Hubert says he learned plenty during a freshman year of watching Carolina's stars at work.
Sophomore James Michael McAdoo, who came on strong late in the season, will start at one forward slot. Hubert, incoming freshmen Joel James and Brice Johnson, and also-sparingly used sophomore Jackson Simmons will be competing for the other starting spot -- as well as reserve minutes at both positions.

“I think some people are going to be surprised,’’ said Hubert, whose thin 6-foot-9 frame, expansive 7-3 wingspan, and Gumby-like defensive-mindedness have drawn plenty of comparisons to Henson.

“I know we’re going to be young, but we have a lot of talent. The freshmen coming in are really good. As soon as we start learning from each other, learning how to play together, to get rid of those early jitters and stuff like that, I think we’re going to be really good."

Hubert said he learned plenty of lessons from Zeller and Henson last season: timing, preparation, work ethic. But having to sit and watch wasn’t always easy, especially after averaging 16 points and 9 rebounds as a senior at New Egypt (N.J.) High.

“I remember playing a couple good minutes in one game [last season] … then not playing for two or three games in a row,’’ he said. “It was kind of hard. I guess that kind of hurt my confidence a little bit. But I had some great guys ahead of me, so at the end of the day … I couldn’t be mad or anything like that, because the guys ahead of me were just terrific guys.”

Plus, he said, he got to learn from those guys each day -- watching how Zeller sprinted down the court; emulating how Henson used his timing and reach to block and out-rebound bigger, broader opponents.

“When I first started practicing against them, it was really a one-sided match,’’ Hubert said. “And as the season started to go on, I feel like sometimes -- it didn’t happen many times -- but I could say there were a few times when I won out over Z or John. It didn’t happen very often, but it happened sometimes.”

Enough to take pride in, and build upon.

With Zeller and Henson gone, Hubert smiles and shakes his head at the fact that he’s now one of the “veterans” of the front line. But he’s working hard to set a good example.

By hitting the weight room often and eating up to six meals a day, he now weighs in at 220 pounds -- up from 193 when he first arrived in Chapel Hill last summer. A defensive specialist (he recorded 17 points and 37 rebounds, total, last season), he’s also been developing a go-to move: a right- and left-handed hook shot. Former Tar Heel forwards Rasheed Wallace, Marvin Williams and Deon Thompson have also taken him under their collective wing, offering tips and tricks and even more competition.

Now, Hubert is anxious about next season in a good way.

“When I first got here, I had no idea what I was in for, I had no idea what to expect at all,’’ he said. “… Now I feel like I’m in a position where I have to teach the freshmen that are coming in some of the things that John and Z taught me. I’ve got to be a major part of the team this year. It’s kind of different, but it’s a challenge I’m willing to accept. I’m kind of excited for it.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
Nonconference scheduling is becoming more of a puzzle, what with the increase in league games and some foes pushing for neutral sites.

But one piece North Carolina coach Roy Williams is determined not to give up: hometown games for the Tar Heel basketball players who want them.

[+] EnlargeRoy Williams
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesRoy Williams says he still tries to make hometown games a priority when scheduling nonconference matchups.
“It’s something we look forward to doing,’’ Williams said earlier this week. “Different kids, it means more to. Sean May was really looking forward to going back to Indiana … but he was very disappointed in the reception he got there. And then you’ve got Tyler Hansbrough, we took him up to St. Louis, and he was really excited about it. And the reception he got was just off the charts.

“... People they grew up with, people in their families, friends, you can’t always get tickets for everybody that you want, not even for home games. So I think playing it on the road and taking it into their area, there are people that are close to them from when they were younger that have a much better chance of getting to the game. It’s always been important to me.”

The UNC tradition of taking players back home began with coach Dean Smith, and Williams, an assistant on Smith's staff, continued it when he became head coach at Kansas.

Another complication in scheduling such games, however, has been the rise in players leaving early for the pros.

“I remember [when I was at Kansas] scheduling and playing in Oakland against Oregon," Williams said. "Looking around, that game was for Drew Gooden to take him back home, and all of a sudden, you couldn’t find Gooden, because he was already in the NBA. So that’s a little bit of the problem, too.”

To try to get around that, Williams and UNC senior associate athletic director Larry Gallo have tried to schedule more “go home” games earlier in Tar Heels’ careers. (The St. Louis trip took place during Hansbrough’s sophomore season in 2006-07, for example; and the Tar Heels played at Evansville when Tyler Zeller was a junior in 2010-11.)

Players who grew up near ACC schools don’t have special games scheduled because they’re competing near home during conference play anyway. (Forward John Henson fit into this category, Williams said, since he moved to Tampa in high school, and the Tar Heels played at two Florida schools, Miami and Florida State, in league competition.)

And for some players, like Iowa native Harrison Barnes, a road trip back home isn’t a priority. So hometown games aren’t scheduled.

“There was no one that Harrison -- because we talked about it a few times -- there was no one that jumped out at him that he wanted to play,’’ Williams said of Barnes, who left after his sophomore season and is expected to be one of four UNC first-round draft picks in June.

Added Gallo: “Coach Williams always talks to the individual player, asks what he wants, because he doesn’t want to put undue pressure on him. He makes sure it's something the player wants to do.”

Currently, there are no hometown games scheduled for next season. Williams said he has talked to redshirt junior Leslie McDonald about taking him back home to Memphis, and Williams has had some discussions with the Tigers, “but nothing is set in concrete.”

Other possible future destinations, judging by the incoming freshman class, include Iowa (Marcus Paige) and Wisconsin (J.P. Tokoto). But keep in mind: balancing the difficulty of the schedule also factors into which teams UNC might try to play in those areas, and when.

“It is harder with more conference games and more national rivalries,’’ Williams said. “... So you have less freedom than you’ve ever had on your schedule, and less flexibility than you’ve ever had. So it is getting harder, but I still do want to do it, there’s no question.

"During the course of the recruiting process, we talk to our youngsters and see if that’s something they would be interested in. ... And we will continue to do that. It’s something I like to do.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

UNC's John Henson chooses agent

April, 17, 2012
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North Carolina forward John Henson, the two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year who is leaving school early for the NBA draft, will be represented by Jim Tanner of Washington, D.C.-based Williams & Connolly LLP, the firm announced Tuesday.

Tanner also represents former UNC forwards Marvin Williams and Brandan Wright, among others.

"When looking for representation, I wanted to find a group that fit with my goals and personality," Henson, a junior, said in a prepared statement. "Jim and the team at W&C had a very specific and unique plan for me, and that was important. Overall, I just felt comfortable with them, and that they truly cared about my career."

This month, sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall chose Octagon to represent him in the draft, while senior forward Tyler Zeller hired Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports Management.

Sophomore forward Harrison Barnes, meanwhile, will be represented by agent Jeff Wechsler, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

All four starters -- who led the Tar Heels to the Midwest Regional Final in the NCAA tournament -- are projected as first-round draft picks.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
After Tyler Zeller walked off the Edward Jones Dome court last Sunday, still stunned by his team’s 80-67 loss to Kansas in the NCAA Midwest Region final, it was hard to put into perspective what this North Carolina team’s legacy might be.

“We did win 30-plus games,” the senior 7-footer said. “I mean, hopefully it’s a good [legacy]. We had a lot of great players, we just came up a little short.”

UNC didn’t meet its goals of reaching the Final Four, of winning the NCAA championship. And with the loss of Zeller (who is graduating), plus fellow starters John Henson, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall (who announced Thursday they are entering the NBA draft early), this team leaves on a bittersweet note.

For some, it will always be the season of ‘What if?’ -- as in: What if Leslie McDonald, Dexter Strickland and Marshall had not been injured and in street clothes for that final game? What if Barnes had been able to make a few more shots? What if the Tar Heels hadn’t panicked in those final four minutes against the Jayhawks?

For others, it will be a season of unfulfilled promise -- a team chock full of NBA first-rounders that just couldn’t get it done.

And for still others, it will be remembered as a season of perseverance -- a group of players that came back from big losses and tough injuries, until they just couldn’t anymore.

For all, there will be memories -- some the players, coaching staff and fans will want to hold on to, some they might want to forget.

[+] EnlargeMichigan State vs North Carolina
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillUNC opened the season in memorable fashion, playing Michigan State on the USS Carl Vinson.
In that vein, here are 10 standout moments/happenings that shaped the season (in chronological order):

THE CARRIER CLASSIC: The final score (67-55 over Michigan State by the way) wasn’t what really mattered in the opening game.

Staged on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson, under the San Diego sunset, the game was about honoring the nation’s servicemen on Veteran’s Day, saying thank-you in the form of shots and dunks and camo-colored jerseys. All in front of President Barack Obama on 11-11-11.

After the final buzzer, the players stripped off those jerseys -- which also featured “USA” instead of their individual names -- and gave them to the Wounded Warriors sitting courtside.

"Hopefully I'll be coaching another 10 or 15 years,” coach Roy Williams said afterward, “but I think it's going to be hard to top this."

PANIC AND FREEZE: In 2010-11, UNC had been a team that thrived in late-game-situations. So when they panicked against UNLV in the second half on Nov. 26 -- allowing the Rebels a 14-0 run from which the Tar Heels never recovered -- then froze in the final five seconds at Kentucky about a week later -- inexplicably failing to call timeout after Henson’s shot was blocked with five seconds left -- it was a perplexing reminder that this team had some growing to do.

The UNLV loss pushed the Tar Heels out of No. 1 in the rankings, a spot to which they never re-climbed. The loss to Kentucky gave the Wildcats the bragging rights … and a bunch of folks hoped there would be a re-match in the Final Four. That will become another one of those ‘what-ifs,’ especially if UK wins the national title.

NINE-GAME HOME WINNING STREAK: Yawn.

Williams wanted to play Texas on the road instead of at the Smith Center, wanted some sort of test between Dec. 6 and Jan. 10. Instead, the Tar Heels got a nine-game home winning streak against the likes of Evansville, Nicholls and even ACC freshman-laden foe Boston College. It padded their record, but also their egos -- and set up the embarrassment that came next.

33 POINTS: UNC’s 90-57 loss at Florida State was so lopsided, so humiliating, that Williams ended up taking his team off the court early -- leaving three walk-ons and two freshmen to play it out and deal with the rushing crowd (the coach later said he didn’t mean to abandon the quintet).

Many analysts, and some fans, wrote the Tar Heels off during that Jan. 14 game, questioning their heart, their desire, their toughness. Until the end of the season (maybe even now), UNC kept the number '33' written on a board in the locker room, a reminder (and motivator) of what happens when you think it’s going to be easy, when you don’t play with focus and drive.

“That was the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done in my life, because it was to the point where I never thought I’d leave a game early because we’d lost by that much, and they were going to storm the floor,’’ Zeller said in the days after loss. “And it was just something I hope to never experience again.”

LOSING DEX: What’s worse than playing in the most lopsided loss of the Roy Williams era? Losing a starter just three days later. It happened in the second half at Virginia Tech, when Strickland was driving toward the bucket and ended up on the baseline, screaming in pain.

UNC’s starting shooting guard/backup point guard/best perimeter defender was diagnosed with a torn ligament in his knee, and he became the second perimeter player sidelined, joining McDonald (out since the beginning of the season) on the bench in street clothes.

Sophomore Reggie Bullock filled in admirably at shooting guard, increasing his defensive focus while also burying shots. But from the beginning, Williams predicted that backup ball handler would be where Strickland was missed the most. And in the end, he was.

ZELLER BOUNCES BACK: Scribbled on the sidewalk outside the Smith Center prior to the Feb. 11 win against Virginia was a simple message: “Believe in Zeller.” Perhaps more importantly that game, the big guy believed in himself.

Just three days after a nightmarish loss to Duke -- during which Zeller missed two free throws, accidentally tipped in a Blue Devils shot, and was the defender on freshman Austin Rivers’ game-winning 3-pointer in the closing minutes -- the senior came back to record 25 points and nine rebounds against the Cavaliers. When he left the game for good, it was to a standing ovation.

“Z’s fine,’’ Henson said after the game. And Zeller was more than fine. That performance was the beginning of Zeller’s push to ACC Player of the Year honors.

REVENGE AT DUKE: This was the UNC team everyone had expected to see from the beginning of the season. Angered by the video board replay of Rivers’ game-winning shot at the Smith Center, the Tar Heels rushed to a 22-5 lead in the opening eight minutes of the March 3 re-match at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and ended up winning, easily, by 18.

This time, there was no hope for any comeback -- except for the Tar Heels, in the minds of those who had written them off.

“One thing that we talked about is people are going to put you on a pedestal to knock you down,’’ Marshall said after the game. “That’s what happens. We weren’t going to be perfect unless we went out and won every game by 30. That’s not what happened … we learned from our mistakes, we continued to get better. And now it’s all starting to come together.”

MARSHALL VS. NCSU: One dimensional? Bah.

The point guard proved he could do more than pass when he posted a career-high 22 points with 13 assists at NC State in late February. In the ACC tournament semifinals he took it another step: scoring when it mattered the most.

With 10.2 seconds left, on March 10, Marshall buried a bank shot -- making contact with Wolfpack guard Alex Johnson, who wanted a charge called. Senior Justin Watts sealed the win for his team (which was playing without the injured Henson) with a steal.

[+] EnlargeUNC's Kendall Marshall and Stilman White
Robert Willett/Getty ImagesWith Kendall Marshall injured, Stilman White got the start against Ohio in the Sweet 16.
But the NBA scouts had to be impressed with Marshall's points, especially since had already set the ACC record for assists in a season during his first conference tournament game. Later, when pondering his NBA choice, Marshall had to know it, too.

STILMAN WHO? He should have been more scared. Later, he even admitted it. Instead, starting his first-ever college game -- and in the NCAA Sweet 16, to boot -- freshman point guard Stilman White was calm. Even a little confident.

With Marshall sitting on the bench in street clothes, his fractured right wrist in a brace, White recorded six assists and zero turnovers in the Tar Heels’ overtime win against Ohio. It was the stuff those of cheesy made-for-TV movies. Only it was true. And it resonated.

“It was one of the great stories in North Carolina basketball,’’ Williams said of White, who finished with 13 assists and zero turnovers in two NCAA starts.

THE PAINFUL DECISION: Williams admits he got his hopes up the day after the Ohio win, when Marshall was able to practice a bit to see if he could possibly play in the Midwest Regional final against Kansas. “We got him to run up the court, pass and catch and dribble. Being a one-armed player, he was still pretty good,’’ Williams said.

The coach thought his starting ball handler might just be able to contribute in his specially-fitted brace … until Marshall walked into a meeting room Sunday morning, and it was too painful to pass, dribble and shoot.

Without him -- and with Bullock playing in a knee sleeve, Henson competing on a newly sprained ankle, and Barnes struggling to hit shots -- the Tar Heels panicked, then collapsed in the closing minutes to the Jayhawks, falling short of their Final Four goals.

In the locker room, there were tears and ice bags and laments for the moments that were. And the ones that might have been.

“You can talk about talent, talent, talent … but it was off the charts, what this team had to face,” Williams said. “And I’m really proud of our team.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
1. It’s really a shame that Kendall Marshall's last game was against Creighton in the third round and not Kansas in the Elite Eight. We never really saw the full potential of this Carolina team. Had Marshall been able to avoid injury then the Tar Heels would likely be in New Orleans competing for the title. But that’s the beauty as well as the cruelty of sports. Now Marshall is declaring for the NBA draft with John Henson and Harrison Barnes, too. Roy Williams has had three sets of elite teams in his brief time at North Carolina. Two of the three won titles in 2005 and 2009. This one was destined to win one, too. But it will always be remembered for what could have happened, instead of what they did -- finish a game short of the Final Four.

2. A decision on Butler going to the A-10 isn’t final yet, but all indications are that it’s still pointing in that direction. Butler was once in a league with Xavier and Dayton and with Saint Louis nearby it’s a slam dunk for basketball and the overall athletic department. The hurdle for the department would be to ensure that it’s not too much of an added cost for the non-revenue sports. A-10 sources and Colonial Athletic Association sources all said there was no truth to George Mason and VCU moving to the A-10, too. They’ve gone public with that, as well. The A-10 shouldn’t go to 16 anyway at this juncture. All it needs to do for now is replace Temple for Butler. If Charlotte were to leave for the CUSA-MWC merger then the A-10 can deal with that loss later.

3. Pat Kelsey took over the job at Winthrop in a surprising move since Kelsey had resigned from his Xavier assistant position to spend more time with his family last year. I spoke with Kelsey a few times and he legitimately feared that he was not spending enough time at home and that he was going to miss his children’s lives. Kelsey was deeply troubled by the death of his mentor, former coach Skip Prosser. But the year off did wonders for him. The hope is that he has his priorities set and can allow himself at a smaller, less intense school like Winthrop to stay grounded and keep the balance necessary in his life.

After winning the 2005 national title, North Carolina lost its top seven scorers -- but saw the youth-laden 2006 squad exceed expectations and advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

After winning the 2009 title, the Tar Heels lost their top four players -- and saw the 2010 team fail to even make the NCAA tournament.

Which way will next season's UNC team (which lost in the NCAA regional finals last Sunday) go, after absorbing the early departures of power forward John Henson, wing Harrison Barnes and point guard Kendall Marshall -- plus the graduation of ACC Player of the Year Tyler Zeller and reserve Justin Watts? Much will depend on cohesion, leadership and injuries, three things that didn’t go the Tar Heels’ way in ’10.

A few other very early questions to ponder:

1. Will James Michael McAdoo return?

The freshman’s father, Ronnie, said Wednesday that his son plans to travel home this weekend to discuss the situation (some mock drafts list him as a top-10 pick), but that right now, he expects the forward to be back in a Tar Heels uniform next season. McAdoo’s (6.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg) return would be key, because with starters Henson and Zeller gone, he’ll have the most experience (and be to the go-to guy) in the post.

Defensive-minded forward Desmond Hubert should also get plenty of minutes, and should be helped by an offseason to put on weight and work on his offensive moves. UNC also adds two big guys in freshmen Joel James and Brice Johnson. And UConn transfer Alex Oriakhi is still looking for a new home; might he end up in Chapel Hill?

2. Will the ballhandlers adjust quickly?

Point guard, UNC coach Roy Williams has often said, is the most difficult position for a freshman to grasp, especially in the Tar Heels’ fast-paced system. But the onus will fall on McDonald’s All-American Marcus Paige -- a 6-foot-1 Iowa product who Williams called “a great floor general” -- to do so.

With limited options, he’s the favorite to start next season. But just as important will be his back-ups. UNC doesn’t just lose Marshall, but Stilman White, the former third-string freshman who had to start two NCAA tournament games after Marshall broke his wrist, and because Dexter Strickland suffered a season-ending knee injury in January. White will leave for a two-year Mormon mission after this semester. Strickland, meanwhile, is still rehabilitating after surgery, but said last week he hopes to be able to play again in about two months.

UNC will also have another ballhandler available in sophomore Luke Davis. After transferring from Gardner-Webb, he sat out last season as per NCAA rules, but has had a year to learn the system.

3. How are the knees?

While Strickland is still recovering, the good news is that shooting guard Leslie McDonald, who redshirted in 2011-12 because of reconstructive knee surgery last summer, was able to practice with the team in the final months of the season, and should be eager to get back to his sharpshooting ways come the fall.

With so many wings on the team -- McDonald, Strickland, Reggie Bullock (who took over as starting shooting guard once Strickland was injured), P.J. Hairston and incoming freshman J.P. Tokoto -- it will be interesting to see how the minutes are divvied out. But the shooting guard and small forward positions should be a strength, because of the experience and depth that returns there.

For North Carolina, the injury-plagued 2011-12 season can be summed up with the phrase "What if?"

But its offseason begins with "What now?"

Sophomore wing Harrison Barnes, junior power forward John Henson and sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall all are entering the NBA draft, the school announced Thursday. Include 7-footer Tyler Zeller, who is graduating, and the Tar Heels lose four-fifths of the starting lineup that led them to the NCAA regional finals.

Another player, reserve forward James Michael McAdoo, is pondering his decision this weekend, though his father said Wednesday he expects the freshman forward to be back in a UNC uniform next season.

"It's a great day for three youngsters who are taking another step toward their ultimate goal of playing professional basketball," coach Roy Williams said in a statement. "On a very small stage, it's a sad day for me because I won't get to coach them again. All Tar Heel fans will miss them greatly, as well."

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Barnes, Henson, Marshall Icon SMINorth Carolina's Harrison Barnes, left, John Henson, center, and Kendall Marshall all have a decision to make about their college future.
ST. LOUIS -- North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Kendall Marshall all said over the past week they weren’t thinking about the NBA, that all their concentration was focused on reaching the Final Four.

But now that they are done with the NCAA tournament, having lost in the Midwest Region final to Kansas on Sunday, they won’t have much time to ponder.

For the past two seasons, underclassmen have had until May 8 to decide whether to leave early for the NBA or return to school. But the NCAA has moved up that deadline until April 10, one week after the Final Four ends and a day before the spring signing period begins.

Henson, for one, doesn’t like it.

“I don’t know the specifics -- I think what, April 9, April 10 is the day you have to decide?” the junior, considered a first-round pick if he leaves early, said recently. “Which is ridiculous, because especially if you’re coming off a championship, your team wins a championship, you can’t even enjoy it. You have to sit down and think about your future, which stinks.

“... I was joking that in about 10 years it will probably be moved up to midseason. It’s a tough rule, but you’ve got to abide by those rules.”

One of the toughest things about the earlier date, as ESPN.com’s Andy Katz reported last week, is that it won’t allow underclassmen to work out for NBA teams before they make their decisions.

The NBA still uses April 29 (instead of the NCAA's April 10) as its early-entry deadline, and won’t release its list of underclassmen for prospective teams until around May 2.

Stu Jackson, the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations, told Katz that underclassmen cannot workout for teams until they are notified about who is eligible, via that May 2 list.
"Based on our conversations with various NCAA schools regarding requests for evaluation of our undergraduate committee, we're getting the sense that many schools, players and families are not aware of the new [NCAA] date or its implication," Jackson told Katz. "They think they can work out for NBA teams."

Instead, players can still apply to get feedback from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee, a group of executives representing NBA teams. (The application deadline is the day after the national title game, and the committee responds by April 6.) And a player’s coach can still gather information from NBA GMs, as Roy Williams has done for the Tar Heels in postseasons past.

But that’s about it.

The reason for the change, according to the NCAA, is “to help keep student-athletes focused on academics in the spring term and to give coaches a better idea of their roster for the coming year before the recruiting period is closed.”

But with the conflicting NCAA and NBA dates, it should be noted that nothing (except his relationship with his coach and teammates) keeps a player from saying he will return to school on April 10, only to change his mind in the following 19 days.

ESPN’s Chad Ford currently ranks four UNC underclassmen as first-round draft picks, should they leave early: Barnes at No. 6, reserve freshman forward James Michael McAdoo at No. 8, Henson at No. 15 and Marshall at No. 17. (Senior Tyler Zeller is ranked No. 11.)

Asked about the new declaration date Saturday and whether it is enough time to make an informed decision, Marshall said, “I don’t know. When I start thinking about the NBA, I’ll be able to answer that question further.” Asked if his fractured wrist would have an effect on his decision whether to turn pro, the point guard responded: “The only decision my wrist has an impact [on] is this game [Sunday].” (Marshall missed UNC’s NCAA games against Ohio and Kansas.)

McAdoo, meanwhile, said after Sunday’s loss that he has no timetable to make a decision: "I’m not really thinking about that."

But he’ll have to, and soon.

Williams said he’ll try to get through the process with the underclassmen “pretty quickly. It's what it is. It's our culture. It's not as much fun as getting a guy and coaching him for four years, but it's what it is. We have to handle that.

“I would think that before the end of the week, I would have at least the initial conversations with all of our guys.”

And it will be interesting to see if UNC’s failure to reach the Final Four has any impact on any of their choices.

Barnes -- who reiterated Sunday that he hadn’t been thinking about the draft while playing in the NCAA tournament -- told Fox Sports Florida in February that if his team won the NCAA title, he would not stay in school past his sophomore season. If the Tar Heels didn't win it, he added, his choice was "up in the air."
"The goal is to win a national championship, so, if you do that, it’s a no-brainer," Barnes told Chris Tomasson. "Our goal is just to win the national championship. I feel like this team, if we continue to mature, we have a great shot. And if that happens, then that’s all she wrote."

Henson said Saturday that how far UNC advanced, in his opinion, would have “a great impact on everyone’s decision. Whatever decision I make for the future is hopefully going to be the right one. But the Final Four would make it a lot easier, to say the least.”

Sunday’s loss, then, could make it more difficult.

Especially with such a quick choice to make.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
ST. LOUIS -- If North Carolina had managed to pull out a win Sunday, point guard Kendall Marshall said, maybe he would have been able to return for the Final Four.

But he sat out his second straight game with a fractured right wrist, he said, “because if I did play I wouldn’t have been effective.”

“If I’m just standing off to the side, catching and passing, it was a struggle,’’ he added. “Maybe with three or four more days, maybe I could have helped the team. But I can’t really catch a pass right now.”

[+] EnlargeStilman White
Jeff Curry/US PresswireStilman White had 13 assists and no turnovers in his two NCAA tournament starts.
Coach Roy Williams said he had some hope after Saturday’s practice that the sophomore point guard -- who fractured his wrist last Sunday, had surgery Monday and had the cast removed Wednesday -- might be able to contribute in the NCAA Regional Final game against Kansas.

“We let him run up and down the court and catch and pass a little bit; and I really got a little excited at that point,’’ Williams said after Sunday’s 80-67 loss to the Jayhawks. “ But I think that it got even sorer last night after just that little activity. We weren't even on the court probably 25 minutes doing anything. At that point during practice I thought he had a chance to go. But last night, I got less confident, and then this morning it just didn't feel right for him.

“You hate that for that kid. You hate it for our program, hate it for our team. But Kendall Marshall is all about winning and is all about team. And if you've ever watched him play, you realize that he's one of those point guards that cares about his team maybe more than anybody I've ever seen. So you hate it for him.”

SWITCHING IT UP: The Tar Heels said they had not seen a triangle-and-two defense all year, so Kansas coach Bill Self’s decision to switch to it in the second half made a big impact.

“I don’t know what they were playing, but they sagged the big man into the lane,’’ forward John Henson said. “And I think that really disoriented our defense. Me and [Tyler Zeller] couldn’t figure it out, and that’s why we’re here right now.”

Small forward Harrison Barnes said that what makes the triangle-and-two so difficult is that there is always “help” defense present. On one play, the sophomore said, he got Jayhawk Travis Releford to bite on a pump fake. But after he had taken one dribble, there was another defender there.

Barnes said the triangle-and-two was not on UNC’s scouting report.

Self said the Jayhawks played that defense the last eight or nine minutes of the game. During the final eight minutes, UNC scored only three points.

WHITE DELIVERS: Freshman point guard Stilman White, who made his second straight start in place of Marshall, was red-eyed after the game, disappointed in the outcome and wondering what more he could have done.

But Williams said he was proud of his former third-string ballhandler who finished with four points, seven assists and zero turnovers.

In two NCAA tournament starts -- the only starts in his career -- White had 13 assists without a turnover.

“My gosh, the little rascal sitting beside of me, Stilman, just competed his rear end off,’’ Williams said after the game. “It wasn't smooth for him because it's hard all of a sudden to be thrust into this role, three practices before this regional. But, boy, he did some really good things, and I just admire him and admire what he did and admire how he competed. And you look down there and he played 28 minutes today and 32 yesterday, that's 60 minutes. And the little rascal had zero turnovers and hadn't been in this position all year.”

BRIEFLY: Williams said he expects he’ll have initial discussions with his players about the NBA draft by the end of the week. … Henson used a pain-relieving shot, and numbing cream, on his still-healing left wrist before the game. He also sprained his right ankle early the game, and never looked quite comfortable playing on it.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
ST. LOUIS -- It was an eerily familiar scene Sunday: a moist-eyed Harrison Barnes emerging from a long lament under a locker-room towel; talking about what went wrong, the sudden-ness of losing, the disappointment of falling one game short of the Final Four.

A season ago at Newark's Prudential Center, UNC’s loss in the NCAA regional final felt like it could be a beginning – a learning process for a young team that wasn’t supposed to make it that far.

This time, though, the 80-67 crumble to Kansas at the Edward Jones Dome felt like the end – a goodbye from a squad that expected to go so much farther.

“This year, going into this season, we had a lot of weapons,’’ Barnes said. “We just didn’t have them all at the end. That was the most devastating thing. We didn’t have Kendall [Marshall], we didn’t have Dex [Strickland], we didn’t have Leslie [McDonald]. That’s no excuse. We had an opportunity to win it, we just didn’t.”

Even with McDonald and Strickland (shooting guards relegated to the sidelines since last summer and January, respectively, with knee injuries) sitting in the stands -- and Marshall (the starting point guard who missed his second consecutive game with a fractured wrist) on the bench in street clothes -- the Tar Heels looked as if they could do again what they’ve been doing so often the past two seasons: overcome.

[+] EnlargeHarrison Barnes
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson"We had an opportunity to win it," said sophomore Harrison Barnes, here in the locker room after Sunday's loss to Kansas, "we just didn't."
With freshman Stilman White playing fearlessly in his second straight start, UNC pushed back from multiple Jayhawks surges. When Kansas made a 7-0 run in the first half to take a 40-33 lead, UNC countered with an 8-0 rally.

When the Jayhawks opened the second half with another 7-0 run, the Tar Heels came back again, this time 6-0.

That’s why, when Barnes went to the free throw line to try to knot the score with 3:58 left, teammate James Michael McAdoo (15 points) wasn’t worried. “I was like, ‘All right, we’re good,’” the freshman forward said.

Except, they weren’t.

Barnes made one of two free throws to cut the Jayhawks’ lead to 68-67 lead. But then a turnover by Tar Heels sophomore Reggie Bullock turned into a 3-pointer by Kansas’ Elijah Johnson. Barnes, then forward John Henson (who played most of the game on a twisted ankle) missed jumpers. And White – who finished with 13 assists and zero turnovers in his two starts in place of Marshall – fouled Tyshawn Taylor for a 3-point play to give the Jayhawks a 74-67 advantage.

That’s when, as coach Roy Williams said, “we panicked a little bit out there.”

Utilizing a triangle-and-two defense – something the Tar Heels hadn’t faced in a game before this season – Kansas finished the game on a 12-0 run.

UNC, meanwhile, misfired on its final seven shots after the Barnes free throw and finished with its worst field goal percentage in a half in NCAA tournament history (7-31, 22.6 percent). The Tar Heels also recorded their worst 3-point percentage in an NCAA tournament game (2-17, 11.8 percent).

Yes, they missed Marshall, a Cousy Award finalist who had been key to calming, and creating for, his teammates.

But the Tar Heels also missed the rebounding advantage they had prided themselves on all season (Kansas beat them on the boards 41-35). And they missed the accuracy of Barnes, their leading scorer who finished 5-for-14 Sunday and 20-for-61 in four NCAA tournament games.

“I missed a lot of shots I usually make and big-time players come through in big-time games,” the sophomore said. “And it just wasn’t there tonight.”

Now the question is, will it ever be again (at least in a UNC uniform)?

Barnes, Henson, Marshall and McAdoo (who are all considered first round NBA draft choices) shrugged off questions about their futures, saying they weren’t thinking about their next steps during the NCAA tournament. So it’s still unknown who or how many will leave along with scholarship seniors Tyler Zeller and Justin Watts; White (who is leaving for a two-year Mormon mission after this semester); and walk-ons David Dupont, Patrick Crouch and Stewart Cooper.

A year ago, after crying under towels in the locker room, Barnes, Henson and Zeller ultimately returned, saying the goal was to win a national title. There was a sense, even before their official decisions were announced, of what could be.

Sunday, there was more disappointment about what might have been.

“We got to this point last year, and we couldn’t get over the hill,’’ said Henson, who playing with a pain shot and numbing cream on his still-healing left wrist. “And this year, the same way. It hurts. But that’s just how basketball is.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

ST. LOUIS -- Quick thoughts from Kansas' 80-67 victory over North Carolina in the Elite Eight on Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.

Overview: Tyshawn Taylor scored 22 points and Thomas Robinson added 18 to lead Kansas to a 13-point victory over North Carolina and a berth in the Final Four. The Jayhawks, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region, will take on Ohio State on Saturday night in New Orleans.

This marks the second time in four years that KU has advanced to college basketball's final weekend. The Jayhawks won the NCAA title in 2008. This will also be the second Final Four appearance in Bill Self's career. The Kansas coach was 1-5 in the Elite Eight before Sunday.

Sunday's win came against a North Carolina squad that was playing without All-America point guard Kendall Marshall, who ranks second in the nation in assists with 9.8 per game. Marshall injured his wrist in the round-of-32 victory over Creighton on March 18 and didn't play at all this weekend in St. Louis.

Still, top-seeded North Carolina gave KU all it could handle until the game's final few minutes, when a 3-pointer by Elijah Johnson stretched the Jayhawks' lead to 71-67 and ignited a 12-0, game-ending run.

The score was tied 47-47 after a first half that saw UNC make 63 percent of its shots from the field, with KU hitting 56 percent.

James Michael McAdoo had a team-high 15 points for North Carolina, which ends its season 32-6.

Turning point: Johnson's 3-pointer was the spark in KU's finishing kick, but the shot was hardly the only heroic moment of the march. A few possessions later, Taylor came up with a steal and raced down the court on a fast-break. He was fouled hard while attempting a layup but somehow hung in the air, double-clutched and scored. He converted the 3-point play to make it 74-67 with 1:59 remaining. North Carolina never threatened again.

Key player: Taylor's 22 points came on 10-of-19 shooting. He also had 5 assists and 5 steals. Robinson made just 6 of his 16 shots, but he grabbed 9 boards and helped KU out-rebound a UNC squad that features three future lottery picks down low in McAdoo, Tyler Zeller and John Henson. Jeff Withey's three blocks and overall presence was also a big factor for Kansas.

Key stat: North Carolina was just 2-of-17 from 3-point range. The Tar Heels shot just 22.6 percent overall in the second half.

Up next: Kansas' game against Ohio State on Saturday will mark the second time the Jayhawks and Buckeyes have played this season. KU won the first meeting 78-67 in Lawrence, but standout Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger didn't play because of back spasms.

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