NBA draft: UNC’s Lawson, Ellington find timing perfect
By Aaron Beard
CHAPEL HILL ó Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington put off a jump to the NBA last season so they could improve their draft standing and make another run at a national championship.
Now with that title in hand, the juniors figure it’s the perfect time to give pro ball another try.
They announced Thursday that they would enter the draft again, ending their college careers a few weeks after leading the Tar Heels to their fifth NCAA championship.
Both players declared last year so they could work out at the predraft camp and for teams before deciding to return to school, a “testing the waters” option they can use only once.
But considering the way both performed in North Carolina’s dominating NCAA tournament run, their departures seemed almost a certainty.
“Winning a championship definitely had a lot to do with it,” Ellington said. “There’s no better way to go out.”
Coach Roy Williams, who sat between them during the afternoon news conference, said he had spoken with 13 NBA teams to gauge where they might be drafted. He had previously said they returned because they weren’t guaranteed of being first-round picks.
“Every indication is that this is a good time,” Williams said Thursday. “There’s no question that we loved having them. It’s been a great experience for me to watch them mature and grow.”
Lawson was a second-team All-American who unseated Tyler Hansbrough as ACC player of the year. He was second on the team in scoring at nearly 17 points per game, and he had 21 points and a championship game-record eight steals in the 89-72 win against Michigan State at Ford Field in Detroit.
While best known for his baseline-to-baseline speed, Lawson became an all-around threat by shooting 53 percent from the field and 47 percent from 3-point range. He hit a running 3 at the buzzer to beat Florida State in January, was unguardable in the second half of the Tar Heels’ latest win at Duke’s famously hostile Cameron Indoor Stadium, then returned from a toe injury to lead a team that won every NCAA game by at least 12 points.
“It’s hard to leave Carolina because of all the great memories and things you learn in college,” Lawson said. “All the fun I had with my teammates made it a hard decision. It’s just tough leaving here.”
Ellington was third in scoring at about 16 points despite a shooting slump that lasted the first two months of the season. But he ended up as the most outstanding player of the Final Four after scoring a combined 39 points against Villanova in the semifinals and against the Spartans on April 6.
In the NCAAs, Ellington averaged 19 points while shooting 55 percent overall and 53 percent from 3-point range.
Both said they will return to complete coursework for their degrees.
It’s a familiar scenario for North Carolina. After Williams’ first national title in 2005, the Tar Heels lost four underclassmen to the NBA and their top seven scorers overall.
This time, they’re losing their top four scorers, with the graduation of Hansbrough and Danny Green. Still, things should be a little more settled this time even though the Tar Heels will be thin on the perimeter.
Deon Thompson will be back for his senior season after averaging about 11 points per game along with talented big men Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller. North Carolina also expects to have versatile senior Marcus Ginyard, who started every game during the team’s Final Four run in 2008 but played just three games this year before opting to redshirt after a slow recovery from foot surgery.
In addition, the Tar Heels add a recruiting class ranked first nationally by Scout.com, which includes the top-ranked power forward in John Henson.