AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. This hasn’t been a bad week for Roy Williams. A trip to the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island for ACC meetings on Monday. Then to New York City on Tuesday for a national coach of the year award. Then to Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday and Friday for a couple days of golf.
Williams, the North Carolina coach, is living a charmed life these days – perhaps even more so than usual, about six weeks removed from the Tar Heels’ national championship. And yet there’s still some stress these days, too. Williams’ job next season will become considerably more difficult, or easier, depending on the decision of a 19-year-old who just finished his freshman year of college.
Tony Bradley, the 6-10 forward who plays with polish and offensive fundamentals beyond his years, has until May 24 to decide whether to remain in the NBA draft or return to UNC for his sophomore season. If he does decide to come back, he’d provide the Tar Heels with a proven presence on the inside, and he’d immediately become the centerpiece of UNC’s low-post offense.
If Bradley stays in the draft, though, his departure would leave the Tar Heels in as dire a situation on the inside as they’ve ever been in under Williams, whose best teams have been built around dependable big men. Without Bradley, UNC would be forced to start a freshman center. The Tar Heels, who will lack interior depth even if Bradley returns, would be especially thin without him.
On the court next season, UNC would be considerably worse off without Bradley than with him. In other ways, though, his departure – which might be more likely than not – would benefit UNC and Williams, who bristled earlier this week at the perception that he holds back players and keeps them from pursuing their NBA aspirations.
Asked earlier this week at the spring meetings if it could be a good thing if Bradley left, given the perception surrounding his program, Williams wasted no time with his answer: “Yeah, no question.”
“You think about it,” he said. “Why would I not want a guy to go? I mean, it’s just stupid. But yet, people have used that against us.”
Williams sounded enthused at the idea of Bradley leaving and becoming a first-round NBA draft pick. But therein is the caveat, because Bradley, despite his potential, has not been projected as a consensus first-round pick. The most recent projection at draftexpress.com, considered the leading NBA draft site, has Bradley going in the second round, at the 42nd overall pick.
The difference between first- and second-round picks is a large one, at least financially. Those selected in the first round are guaranteed to receive a contract. There are no guarantees, meanwhile, for second-round picks, and if Williams would have reservations about Bradley’s decision to remain in the draft – if he does stay in it – it’d likely be because Bradley isn’t seen as a sure-thing first-rounder.
At least not for now, anyway. Bradley could return to school and improve his draft stock.
“I do say you need to be in the first round,” Williams said. “You shouldn’t just go. John Henson’s dad said it best, said it’s not how quickly you get there, it’s how ready you are when you get there. Because after two years, you could be out of the league.
“But it’s been used against us greatly, and I’ve always said I’d like to have one or two of those guys every year, but I’d like to have the rest of my guys that were planning on staying around.”
During Williams’ 14 years at UNC, two of his players have left after their freshman season to enter the NBA draft: Marvin Williams in 2005 and Brandan Wright in 2007. Since then, Kentucky and Duke and other schools have routinely sent players into the draft after one season, leading to the perception that the programs at those schools – and not the UNC – are built to send players quickly on to the next level.
Williams, meanwhile, is quick to point out that during his tenure at UNC, no other school has had more players leave early for the NBA draft. They’ve just rarely left after their freshmen season, which is why Bradley remaining in the draft might not be the worst thing – especially if he defies expectations and winds up being picked in the first round.
“Everybody tries to say that I put handcuffs on them and keep them there,” Williams said.
He raised that perception to argue against it. As much as Bradley’s return would help UNC, his departure could do even more to change a perception that Williams finds inaccurate and ill-informed.