ACC Basketball: Heels staying, Blue Devil leaving
CHAPEL HILL — — North Carolina’s big men are passing on the NBA for another run at a national championship. The Tar Heels will have to wait a little longer to learn the plans of freshman Harrison Barnes.
The school announced junior 7-footer Tyler Zeller and sophomore John Henson will return to Chapel Hill next season, but said Barnes “is still reviewing information” as he considers whether to enter the draft.
Meanwhile, Duke freshman Kyrie Irving, who missed much of the season ith a toe in jury, said he was going pro.
At North Carolina, Zeller and Henson were second-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference picks as the Tar Heels won the league regular-season championship and reached an NCAA regional final.
UNC coach Roy Williams said he spoke to about 10 NBA teams to investigate where the two players might go in the draft. But he said their decisions were “less about the NBA and more about what they wanted to do right now and the experiences they are enjoying” in college.
Zeller averaged a team-high 15.7 points to go with 7.2 rebounds, but he upped those numbers to nearly 26 points and nine rebounds on 59 percent shooting during the NCAA tournament. He also won this year’s Skip Prosser Award as the ACC’s top scholar-athlete in men’s basketball and was named a first-team Academic All-America by the College Sports Information Directors of America.
“I came to Carolina because it had the balance of academics and basketball I wanted and it was the best place for me to prepare for life and a career in the NBA,” Zeller said in a statement. “That’s exactly what we have here. I want to finish my college career, compete for championships and graduate on time.”
Henson, a lean 6-foot-10 forward, averaged about 12 points and 10 rebounds as the team’s top defender.
“I know at some point I want to play in the NBA, but right now I want to enjoy my college life,” Henson said in a statement. “My teammates and coaches are great and I want to help them reach the big dreams we all share.”
Williams said Barnes, a freshman who finished second to Zeller in scoring by a single point, “is not as far along in his decision-making process.” Williams said he hopes to provide the 6-8 forward with all information from NBA teams by the end of next week.
The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is April 24. They can withdraw their names from the draft by May 8 to preserve their eligibility.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said that Irving plans to hire an agent, ending his college career.
“Our whole program is overjoyed with having Kyrie here for one year and that he has the chance now to pursue a dream of being a high draft pick and a great player in the NBA,” Krzyzewski said. “We are totally supportive of Kyrie, his family and his decision.”
Irving played only 11 games and missed roughly two-thirds of the season with an injured big toe on his right foot. The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 17.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists for top-seeded Duke, which was upset by Arizona in the West regional semifinals.
“It was a great experience playing for Coach K,” Irving said. “He taught me a lot about the game. Even when I was hurt, I learned a lot. Duke offered me an experience I could never have imagined.”
When Irving was healthy, he was electrifying. His 31-point performance against then-No. 6 Michigan State marked just the fourth time in school history that a freshman scored 30 points in a game. He was the MVP of the CBE Classic after averaging 14.5 points and six assists.
But his only season at Duke ultimately might be defined by the 26 games he missed after he jammed his toe during a win over Butler on Dec. 4, and the lingering subplot surrounding the Blue Devils was when — or even if — he would return.
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