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Sweet sounds of the NBA draft

By Eddy Landreth
Staff Writer

The sweetest sound in the NBA draft on Thursday will actually be the silence of unspoken words, at least for Carolina fans.

No Tar Heel will be taken in the first round, because all those who would have been picked decided to return to school.

Duke fans are not so fortunate. Their superstar is leaving while the Tar Heels stay behind to win a national championship.

Sensational point guard Kyrie Irving has been the No. 1 pick in every mock draft I’ve found on the Internet. The former Blue Devil is a fabulous player and will make the Cleveland Cavaliers a better team, particularly if they could get lucky enough to pair him with UNC’s Harrison Barnes, who is the early favorite to be the top pick a year from now.

Carolina could have had a tremendous impact on this draft had Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson all decided to turn pro. Instead, they are staying, which means next year’s team is going to have a chance to dominate the NCAA Tournament in similar fashion to the 2009 team’s roll to the national championship.

The last two tournaments are proof of how watered-down and pitiful college basketball is without a team of quality veterans.

As far as money goes, Barnes, Zeller and Henson should all benefit by going earlier in the draft than they would have this year. Each has so much room for improvement, and that’s almost certain to be borne out this season.

If Barnes continues to make his progress – the kind he made during the final third of this past season (his game-winning shot at Florida State was simply stunning, and then he scored 40 points against Clemson in the ACC Tournament and made it look effortless) – it’s hard to imagine a team passing on him at No. 1 next season.

The kid looks like a reproduction of Kobe Bryant.

One of the best things all three of these kids have going for them next season is point guard Kendall Marshall. Marshall will be better, and he was sensational as a freshman.

He is a scorer’s best friend, and Barnes was born to score, according to no less authority than Roy Williams.

One of the best things about all three kids returning for another year of college ball is that Williams didn’t try to encourage them to stay. He plays the same role his mentor, Dean Smith, did in providing all the information he can so that the player and his family can make an educated decision.

So when the kids do stay, it’s their decision. The best players coming out of high school have to know that’s the kind of environment that will benefit them on the court and at the bank.

The lure for Barnes to turn pro had to be great, but the decision to stay proves he is different from the average adolescent ballplayer. If his work ethic is anything close to what Williams claims, Barnes could have an unbelievable sophomore season.

We know he has the desire to be great. Now he has to polish his skills so that he can be more consistent. He needs to go from being a subpar ball-handler to one who can drive to his right or left without losing his handle.

He needs to use his ability to make three-point shots to take fewer of them and attack the basket more often. Shot selection and taking the proper 3s could improve his percentage while enabling him to ball fake and drive more. That will put him on the free-throw line more, and he is an excellent free-throw shooter.

Zeller needs to continue playing with the strength and aggression he showed in the NCAA Tournament. The young man was excellent. He’s always been able to run the floor better than most big men, but in the tournament this season he started to show the kind of relentless desire to go after loose balls and rebounds that will make a young player of his stature much more valuable.

Henson has to be stronger with the ball and play smarter with a greater consistency. He has improved so much in his first two years it’s amazing. The same leap next year could make him a top five draft pick and a rich young man.

The draft on Thursday isn’t what it could be with the Tar Heels in it, and every Carolina fan should say a little prayer of thanks for that fact.

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