North Carolina can handle a talent drain like the one it sustained Thursday in the NBA draft.
Of this, Bobby Frasor is sure. It has happened before, and six years ago, Frasor helped the Tar Heels recover from a draft hangover.
The Tar Heels will have to do it again after they lost four first-round picks Thursday, and so will Duke, to a lesser extent, after it lost two first-rounders. The six combined first-round picks were the most in Triangle history.
The Heels and Blue Devils, in that order, finished one-two atop the ACC standings last season. The climb back up, with new stars and supporting casts, is a familiar task for both programs and their Hall of Fame coaches.
Both have top-rated freshmen coming in and proven veterans returning. In a way, Frasor said, it will be an easier transition for this UNC team than it was after losing Marvin Williams, Sean May, Ray Felton and Rashad McCants in the 2005 draft.
They have more experience than we did, said Frasor, the freshman point guard on UNCs 2005-06 team, which won 23 games and went 12-4 in the ACC.
Theyre going to be strong on the perimeter, too, which is huge for them.
UNC coach Roy Williams wont be able to rebuild around Tyler Hansbrough, a once-in-a-generation star, like he did in 2006, but he does have senior guards Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald, rising star James Michael McAdoo anchoring the middle and improving junior wing Reggie Bullock.
With four hats piled on a table in front of him, Williams smiled brightly for the ESPN cameras and held up four fingers to symbolize the number of UNC players taken in the first round, tied with NCAA champion Kentucky for the most from one school.
Williams cheered for Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Kendall Marshall as their NBA careers began, but he understands the task ahead.
As successful as UNC was in reloading after the 2005 draft, the season after losing three first-rounders and a second-rounder in 2009 was as equally disappointing.
The Heels struggled to 5-11 in the ACC and Williams missed the 2010 NCAA tournament, a first in 20 seasons for the coach.
Williams said earlier this month that the Heels, 32-6 last year, have changed drastically since bowing out to Kansas in the regional final in March.
It makes the four freshmen a lot more important, Williams said during a recent news conference. Theyre going to have to be able to play quicker.
ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep ranks UNCs four-man freshman class No. 8 in the country and tops in the ACC. The Heels add two big men, forwards Brice Johnson and Joel James, with wing J.P. Tokoto and point guard Marcus Paige. All four are in Teleps top 70, but none is in the top 20, or considered the caliber of Hansbrough or Barnes coming out of high school.
With Marshall, and his ACC-record 351 assists en route to the Phoenix Suns, and Strickland still recovering from a serious knee injury, Paige will have an important role at the point.
Williams said Paige, the highest-rated point guard (No. 22) in ESPNs top 100, has the potential to be really good, but Paige still has to recover from a foot injury he suffered at the McDonalds All-American Game in March.
Before the draft, Marshall gave Paige a vote of confidence on Twitter this week.
Trust me when I tell you the programs in good hands, Marshall tweeted.
Duke will have to replace its leading scorer, guard Austin Rivers, who went 10th in Thursdays draft, and forward Miles Plumlee, who was the 26th pick.
The Blue Devils added two dynamic, McDonalds All-Americans in guard Rasheed Sulaimon and forward Amile Jefferson. Marshall Plumlee, a 7-footer, and 6-8 wing Alex Murphy are also new after redshirting last season.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was encouraged his team would be more versatile, and be better on defense, with the new parts and returning seniors Ryan Kelly, Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry, from last years team that went 13-3 in the ACC.
While UNC and Duke figure to be nationally ranked in the preseason, theres a chance both could be looking up, in terms of expectations in the ACC, at N.C. State or Florida State, last years league tournament champion.
Frasor said motivation and the rare ability to embrace the underdog role fueled the 2006 Tar Heels.
It was supposed to be a rebuilding year, said Frasor, an assistant video coordinator for UNC last season before joining Jerod Haases staff at Alabama-Birmingham in April. We were able to surprise everybody.
It wouldnt be a surprise this time, Frasor admits, but the same challenge to exceed expectations is there.