Duke, UNC score NBA draft first-round KO

acarter@newsobserver.comJune 29, 2012 

— One-fifth of the players selected Thursday night in the first round of the NBA draft played at schools separated by 10 miles and different shades of blue. The Triangle ACC schools – Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State – had combined before to produce five first-round picks, but never six.

At least not until Thursday night. North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes was the first of four Tar Heels selected in the first round, along with Duke’s Austin Rivers and Miles Plumlee. Duke and North Carolina had produced plenty of higher draft picks before, but they’d never combined to deliver the depth they did Thursday night.

Barnes was the first of the local players to be selected, by the Golden State Warriors with the seventh pick. He had been projected to go as high as No. 2, to the Charlotte Bobcats. But they instead chose Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Barnes had to wait a while and watch other players walk across the stage.

Finally, NBA Commissioner David Stern called Barnes’ name. Barnes shook Stern’s hand, walked off the stage and down a set of stairs, and then took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. His wait was over, his dream had been realized.

“That will always be motivation,” he said of having to wait and watch other players go before him. “Just the fact that, you know, someone says they are better than you and they are drafted higher than you, so that’s always going to be motivation.”

Rivers, the ACC’s freshman of the year last season, was next to go among local players. The New Orleans Hornets selected him with the 10th pick, and did so while his father, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, watched in person.

The two shared a moment, father and son, before Austin Rivers walked on stage, wearing a sharp red tie.

“He just said, ‘I’m so proud of you,’ ” Rivers said of his father. “He just said, ‘I love you,’ and, ‘You are ready.’ ”

Doc Rivers told his son something else, too: That he wouldn’t score when he played against the Celtics.

The remaining three of North Carolina’s quartet of prospects had to wait a bit to join Barnes. Kendall Marshall, the point guard who was the only one of the Tar Heels’ four prospects not to be invited to attend the draft, went at No. 13 to the Phoenix Suns, and forward John Henson went with the next pick to the Milwaukee Bucks. Henson said later he knew the Bucks would draft.

Tyler Zeller, the ACC Player of the Year last season and the only senior among North Carolina four draftees, went at No. 17 to the Dallas Mavericks, who then traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers for a trio of draft picks.

North Carolina had four first-round selections for the second time in school history, matching the 2005 draft class of Raymond Felton, Sean May, Rashad McCants and Marvin Williams.

Plumlee, the Duke senior, became the record sixth local player to be drafted in the first round when the Indiana Pacers picked him at No. 26.

Henson described the night as “a dream come true.”

“I was on the road for 20 days, (with) two bags and had to do laundry a couple of times,” he said. “And the journey was rewarded. Now I’m here and it’s time for a bigger journey, and hopefully I will be prepared.”

After his draft news conference ended, Barnes walked down a hall with an NBA employee. The man handed Barnes a piece of paper with the available numbers he could wear with the Warriors. Barnes scanned the list.

“Number 40’s wide open,” he said, and the man with the league office asked if that’s what he wanted to wear.

“That’s my number,” Barnes said with a smile.

Carter: 919-829-8944

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