Thursday’s mass migration of North Carolina players for the NBA draft will not mark the demise of Tar Heels basketball.
The losses of Kendall Marshall, John Henson and Harrison Barnes, coupled with the graduations of Tyler Zeller and Justin Watts, have dimmed the immediate outlook. It will get considerably worse for the Tar Heels if freshman James Michael McAdoo also opts for the pros.
But Roy Williams can still recruit, the program is still among the most magnetic in athletics and North Carolina will win big again.
While the personnel drain is almost identical to what happened after the 2009 NCAA championship run, there’s no reason to think the 2012-13 team will have a season similar to 2009-10 – 20-17 overall, 5-11 ACC, no NCAA bid.
Replacing Marshall at playmaker will be the key to a revival.
Assuming Dexter Strickland makes a full recovery from knee injury and assuming recruit Marcus Paige is a better fit (and better player) than Larry Drew II, the point guard situation shouldn’t be a back-breaker.
If McAdoo leaves, which is certainly possible, Williams will have to make a sweeping adjustment – from having exceptional inside size, experience and talent to having a team with more perimeter material.
Strickland, Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald, who is also returning from knee surgery, have an abundance of experience. Recruit J.P. Tokoto (6-foot-6, 185 pounds) is rated as an exceptional athlete but not yet a extraordinary shooter.
With freshman Stilman White scheduled to be on a religious mission next season, Paige and Strickland will need to stay healthy, and it’s for sure the Tar Heels are due to have some good luck on the injury front.
Other than point guard, the next pressure point is McAdoo. If he returns, the frontcourt has a chance to be above average. He’ll need help from fellow freshman Desmond Hubert. Big recruits Brice Johnson (6-9, 190) and Joel Jones (6-10, 280) will have to learn on the run.
Connecticut big man Alex Oriakhi (6-9, 240) will transfer to a school somewhere and will be immediately eligible. North Carolina is said to be in the mix. He averaged 6.7 points and 4.8 rebounds in 34 games (28 starts) on the Huskies’ 20-14 team. Connecticut has been ruled ineligible for the 2013 NCAA tournament as a result of poor academic performance.
If everyone stays healthy, the Tar Heels should be good enough to finish among the top four or so in the ACC and land an NCAA bid.
Unlike 2005 and ’09, when scores of talent left the program after having won NCAA titles, the current group won’t be remembered so fondly in the fan base.
But Marshall, Henson and Barnes are classy guys who honored the heritage of the program and very easily could have been at this weekend’s Final Four in New Orleans had it not been for Marshall’s wrist injury.
As Williams said after the loss to Kansas on Sunday in St. Louis, early exits are a part of the reality in top-10 programs. The top talents are identified early and sometimes lost just as early to the pros.