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Tar Heels shine on draft night

By Eddy Landreth
Staff Writer

Eddy Landreth

North Carolina enjoyed one more basketball victory after the Tar Heels’ 2011-12 season ended in an otherwise disappointing fashion in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

Four former Tar Heels – Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall, John Henson and Tyler Zeller – were taken within the first 17 picks during the annual NBA draft.

Losing players quickly makes life more difficult for coaches, who must keep their programs at the elite level, but having so many players go in the first round will help with recruiting.

“It is exciting,” said coach Roy Williams, who attended the draft. “It’s exciting for the families. It’s exciting for me and the guys in our program.”

Once the players received their moment on stage, the action behind the scenes began. The Dallas Mavericks, who selected Zeller as the 17th pick, traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Barnes slipped a little lower from where he was predicted to go, but he seemed genuinely pleased when Golden State chose him at seven.

“They have great front-office people,” Barnes said. “I love the general manager, and I love the owner. They are definitely trying to get better.

“I’m just going to try to work as hard as I can and help my team the best I can. I’m just really blessed to be in this position. I’m very grateful that Golden State drafted me. I’m excited to be there.”

Former Duke player and ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said that he believes Barnes will thrive within the NBA style of play.

“He has terrific size and versatility,” Bilas said. “He’s very athletically gifted. He had a 38-inch standing vertical [leap], where you can’t take a step. That is literally off the charts.

“Harrison Barnes is an elite jump-shooter,” Bilas said. “I think he has a chance to be a better pro than he was a college player. He can shoot a step-back, a fade-away. He can shoot a turnaround jumper. He’s very productive.”

The Phoenix Suns selected Marshall as the 13th pick. When Marshall committed to the Tar Heels as a sophomore in high school, Williams likened him to Steve Nash, the Suns’ point guard. Now the two could be playing together.

Marshall has often likened himself to Nash. Both players are known for their gifted passing ability and skill at making their teammates better.

But Nash is a free agent, so Marshall could become the Suns’ starter from the beginning of his career.

“I wish Kendall was here,” Williams said. “He’s probably jumping around with mom and dad. Phoenix is one of those teams that loves to run.

“I’ve never had a better passer than Kendall Marshall. He can push that pace, and if they want to continue playing like that, he’s the right guy.”

The Milwaukee Bucks took the next Tar Heel, selecting Henson as the 14th pick.

Henson was the two-time ACC defensive player of the year.

“I think that is something I can bring to the team,” Henson said. “I’m excited to get to Milwaukee and get to work.”

There were some questions about Henson’s strength because he did not impress the teams with his weight lifting during workouts.

“I’ve held my own for three years at Carolina, and I have to prove it at the next level,” Henson said. “I’m ready to get out there and show them.”

One of Zeller’s new teammates will be former Duke point guard Kyrie Irving, and the match could be ideal, given Zeller’s particular skills.

“He’s a legitimate 7-footer,” Bilas said. “The skill that sets him apart is his ability to run the floor. He changes ends as fast, if not faster, than any big guy in the country and with regularity.

“Every time down the floor, he runs the floor. That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on opposing big guys to run the floor. He can wear them out.”

Speed is a trait of Irving’s as well, and the two could recreate the fast-break combination that Marshall and Zeller performed so well at UNC.

“[Marshall] is an absolutely tremendous passer,” Bilas said. “He has great vision of the floor. He’s at his best in passing in transition situations. Where his speed really comes from is his ability to pass ahead. His big guys run because they know they’re going to get the ball.

“That is a skill,” Bilas said, “to be able to pass ahead. The ball moves faster in the air than you can dribble it.”

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