CHAPEL HILL — North Carolinas season didnt end with a national championship, or with a spot in the Final Four, as some expected given the talent the Tar Heels returned from a season ago. It ended in a predictable way nonetheless, with their three best underclassman declaring their eligibility for the NBA draft on Thursday.
In a joint statement North Carolina released, Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Kendall Marshall announced their decisions to enter to forgo their eligibility and enter the draft. Barnes, a forward, and Marshall, the Tar Heels point guard, leave after their sophomore seasons. Henson, a forward, had one year of eligibility left.
Though it was unclear whether the three players have signed with agents, a team spokesman said there was no chance Barnes, Henson or Marshall could change their minds and return.
Its a great day for three youngsters who are taking another step toward their ultimate goal of playing professional basketball, coach Roy Williams said in the statement. On a very small stage, its a sad day for me because I wont get to coach them again. All Tar Heel fans will miss them greatly, as well.
The announcement came four days after the Tar Heels ended their season with an 80-67 loss against Kansas in the NCAA tournament Midwest Region final in St. Louis.
North Carolina lost while Marshall sat on the bench, sidelined by the broken right wrist he suffered in a victory against Creighton in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
In addition to senior Tyler Zeller, Barnes, Henson and Marshall were most responsible for the Tar Heels success during the 2011-12 season. North Carolina fell short of its goal of winning a national championship, but the Tar Heels finished 32-6, won the ACC regular-season championship and reached the NCAA Midwest Region final.
Now Williams and the Tar Heels will embark on a challenging rebuilding project. Barnes, Henson, Marshall and Zeller accounted for 66 percent of the Tar Heels scoring this season. They were also responsible for 63.1 percent of the rebounding and 71.9 percent of the assists.
The Tar Heels lose four starters, but also are planning to return three players Reggie Bullock, James Michael McAdoo and Dexter Strickland who started games this season.
Strickland, a shooting guard, started the first half of the season until suffering a torn ACL in a victory at Virginia Tech on Jan. 19. Bullock started in his place the rest of the way.
McAdoo, a freshman forward who emerged late in the season after struggling to find his place early on, is projected by some NBA draft analysts as a lottery pick. He said after North Carolinas defeat against Kansas he had no timetable to make his decision, though his departure would come as a surprise.
Williams will welcome a four-man recruiting class during the summer, led by Ames, Iowa, point guard Marcus Paige, who participated in the McDonalds All-American game Wednesday night.
The Tar Heels are also believed to be in the running for Alex Oriakhi, a Connecticut junior forward who plans to transfer because the Huskies will be ineligible for the 2013 NCAA tournament.
North Carolinas departing players, meanwhile, will leave a mixed legacy. The 2011-12 Tar Heels became the first since the 93-94 team to start the season No. 1 and fall short of reaching the Final Four.
The news that Marshall was leaving school came on the same day he learned hed won the Bob Cousy Award, which is given annually to the nations top collegiate point guard. Marshall set an ACC single-season record with 351 assists.
He leaves North Carolina after averaging 7.65 assists per game during his two seasons the highest per-game assist average in school history. Marshall earned second-team All-ACC honors during his sophomore season, and also was named a third-team All-American by the Associated Press.
I would like to thank my family, coaches, teammates and the Tar Heel Nation for all their support, Marshall said in a statement. Its been the greatest two years of my life. I have always put the team before myself and I am extremely proud of what weve accomplished.
Barnes and Henson earned first-team All-ACC honors during the past season. Henson was named the conferences defensive player of the year in 2011 and 2012, and earned a reputation for his rebounding and fierce shot-blocking ability.
Its tough to leave because I love my teammates, coaches and UNC, Henson said. I wish wed been able to bring our fans a national championship, but it wasnt meant to be. I am proud of what we accomplished, especially the last two years.
Henson averaged 13.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.9 blocked shots during his junior season.
Barnes, who arrived in Chapel Hill from Ames, Iowa, amid considerable fanfare, led the Tar Heels with 17.1 points per game, but he struggled in the Midwest Regional, where he missed 22 of 30 shots from the field.
The love and respect I have for basketball fuel the drive toward my ultimate goal to experience an illustrious career in the NBA, Barnes said. Over the past two years Ive enjoyed every single moment of my Tar Heel experience. The road we took to reach the Elite 8 in 2011 and again in 2012 were great team accomplishments.
As much satisfaction as the Tar Heels took in their consecutive trips to a regional championship game, many players spoke with a sense of dissatisfaction after North Carolina lost to Kansas. The Tar Heels began the season the clear favorite to win the national championship.
But injuries to Marshall and Henson, who played through a sprained ankle and an injured wrist, helped derail North Carolinas national championship hopes. Williams, though, said he was extremely pleased for Barnes, Henson and Marshall.
They have meant so much to our basketball program and the University of North Carolina, Williams said. I thank them for everything they have contributed to Carolina Basketball. I really look forward to watching Harrison, John and Kendall play in the NBA.
I know they will be very successful.