ACC Basketball: This time, UNC gets offseason win
By Caulton Tudor
Raleigh News & Observer
North Carolina fans have seen the good and bad of offseason basketball over the years. They have seen the lineup card wiped completely clean.
That happened in the spring of 2005, when Tar Heels coach Roy Williams in a single news conference said goodbye to juniors Sean May, Rashad McCants and Raymond Felton, plus freshman Marvin Williams, as they left early for the NBA.
Along with seniors Jawad Williams, Melvin Scott and Jackie Manuel, that group had won a national championship and decided it was time to cash in their winnings.
The situation was exactly opposite in the spring of 2008, not very long after a Final Four loss to Kansas.
Team centerpiece Tyler Hansbrough said early on that heíd be back for his senior season in ë08-09. But it wasnít until sophomore guards Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington and junior wing Danny Green waded in and then out of the NBA Draft pool that the stage was set for another national championship.
With Mondayís announcement by freshman Harrison Barnes that he will rejoin sophomore John Henson and junior Tyler Zeller on the team for 2011-12, the Heels are squarely positioned for another title bid.
ěWith Barnes and the others, theyíre the prohibitive favorite in the ACC and nationally without any question at all,î television analyst Dan Bonner said.
ěBut having said that, weíve all seen enough of how college basketball works to understand there are no locks and never will be. All it takes is just one off game at the wrong time (NCAA tournament) to take out the best team.î
Counting returning guards Dexter Strickland and Kendall Marshall, the Heels will retain the entire starting lineup, plus top subs Leslie McDonald, Reggie Bullock (presumably in top health) and Justin Watts, and a recruit class that includes some of the top-rated prospects in the country.
But all of the talent imaginable doesnít guarantee the sort of chemistry North Carolina couldnít quite blend together last season until Larry Drew II quit the team in midseason.
ěKids donít go to Carolina to sit on the bench,î Bonner said. ěThey go there to play and get ready for the NBA. These new guys will have to brought into the mix and find their roles. But Roy has as much experience with that sort of situation as anyone.î
The other unknown is injuries.
Other than Bullockís knee surgery, the ë10-11 team generally was able to dodge the physical problems that contributed significantly to a 5-11 ACC record (20-17 overall) in ë09-10. Zeller spent much of that season on the disabled list. So did fellow big man Ed Davis.
ěZeller is especially important,î Bonner said. ěLast season was the first year heís really been fortunate enough to play without a lot of pain, and look at the difference that one healthy season for him made on the team.î
The Tar Heels were able to win 29 games, claim the ACC regular-season race and come within a game of getting back to a Final Four.
They lost that last one to Kentucky on March 27. But throughout the month of April, North Carolina has won ëem all.