Commentary

With UNC trio back, make way for the Tar Heels

Originally Published: June 16, 2008
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

The whirlwind of decisions came fast and furious throughout Monday. And when the withdrawal deadline for the early entrants in the NBA draft finally came and went, North Carolina stood atop college basketball -- yet again.

Easily the biggest story line after the withdrawal deadline for the June 26 draft were the decisions by North Carolina underclassmen Ty Lawson, Danny Green and Wayne Ellington to return to Chapel Hill.

Coming And Going

Here's a breakdown of decisions made in the 24 hours leading up to Monday's deadline to withdraw from the NBA draft. The league will release its official list Tuesday.

Staying In Draft
Player School
Joe Alexander, Jr. WVU
Ryan Anderson, So. Cal
Mario Chalmers, Jr. Kansas
Jamont Gordon, Jr. Mississippi St.
Richard Hendrix, Jr. Alabama
J.J. Hickson, Fr. NC State
George Hill, Jr. IUPUI
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Jr. UCLA
Marreese Speights, So. Florida
Bill Walker, RS Fr. Kansas St.
Returning To School
Player School
A.J. Abrams, Jr. Texas
Josh Akognon, Jr. Cal St.-Fullerton
Chase Budinger, So. Arizona
Lee Cummard, Jr. BYU
Robert Dozier, Jr. Memphis
Wayne Ellington, So. UNC
Danny Green, Jr. UNC
Lester Hudson, Jr. Tennessee-Martin
Ty Lawson, So. UNC
Jeremy Pargo, Jr. Gonzaga
Ronald Steele, RS Sr. Alabama
Robert Vaden, Jr. UAB

The Tar Heels are now the prohibitive favorites to win the 2009 national title. North Carolina will carry an immense target as large as Florida's two years ago when the '04s -- Taurean Green, Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer -- all decided to give it another go after winning the national title in 2006. They were the preseason No. 1. And they answered the challenge with a second title in April 2007.

As much as Lawson, Green and Ellington wanted to stay in the NBA draft, the reality is that none could get a guaranteed deal, either in the first round for Lawson or in the second round for Ellington or Green. Put these three back in the lineup with national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough, and then add either Marcus Ginyard or Deon Thompson, and the Tar Heels have the deepest and most experienced returning rotation in the country.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams was cool and collected last month while watching this trio work out at the pre-draft camp in Orlando. He never looked nervous, even though it was his first time going through this part of the early-entry process for underclassmen. (In the past, all of his previous players declared for the draft with no intention of returning to school.)

So, despite enduring the angst of a Tar Heels nation the past two months, the process worked for these three players. They tested the process to weigh their draft status, and they found out that it wasn't high enough for their liking. Of course, Lawson's legal trouble (he was arrested and charged earlier this month for driving after consuming alcohol) and ankle injuries (he missed one workout and couldn't complete another) and Green's injured left wrist and hips at Orlando didn't help either player's case. But the bottom line is that all three were never comfortable enough with what they were being told.

The rest of the fallout from Monday's decisions:

Arizona will now be a Top 25 team: That's how much Chase Budinger's surprising decision means to Lute Olson and the Cats. He gives the Wildcats a star (sorry, but I'm not ready to brand incoming freshman Brandon Jennings a star just yet since he hasn't played a minute at Arizona) and a chance to compete for a top-three finish in the Pac-10. Budinger was considered a first-round pick, but he never could get a good enough lock on the range to stay in the draft.

Memphis will still have an experienced starting lineup: Robert Dozier's return gives the Tigers three potential starters -- along with Antonio Anderson and Shawn Taggart -- who played major roles in helping Memphis get to the national title game.

Gonzaga is a legitimate Final Four candidate: Point guard Jeremy Pargo is the Zags' motor. Take him out of the lineup, and as talented as Austin Daye, Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray can be on the perimeter, the Zags are not as flashy, strong or electrifying on the break.

Texas could be a top-10 team: A.J. Abrams must have listened to the right people. He might not have been drafted, and so he returns to a Texas team in which he'll be one of three go-to scorers, along with Justin Mason and Damion James.

Ford: Draft Watch

Chad Ford takes a look at who stayed and left the NBA draft at Monday's pullout deadline. Story Insider

Alabama has a chance to make the NCAA tournament: Losing both Ronald Steele and Richard Hendrix would have been a tough setback. Hendrix stayed in the draft, but getting Steele back to join Alonzo Gee and incoming freshman JaMychal Green gives the Tide a shot to win the SEC West.

UAB could be an NCAA team as well as a threat to Memphis: That's how much getting back Robert Vaden means to UAB. He may be the toughest scorer to defend in the South.

Cal may not make the NCAAs again next season: New coach Mike Montgomery had a shot to lead a top-three team in the Pac-10 if Ryan Anderson had returned. With Anderson staying in the draft, the Bears will need to cultivate a go-to scorer.

Florida may be one big body short in the middle: The Gators were a likely NCAA tourney team with Marreese Speights in the post. Without him, they may need significant seasons from their incoming freshman post players to make the tournament.

UCLA will miss Luc Richard Mbah a Moute's rebounding, but he may miss college more: The Bruins did a solid job of recruiting in the spring, notably picking up one-time LSU signee J'Mison Morgan. Losing Mbah a Moute's experience will hurt, but Mbah a Moute could go undrafted, and that will sting him more.

West Virginia loses its shot at a national title: That's how confidant Joe Alexander was about the Mountaineers' chances had he returned. Without Alexander, West Virginia is still Top 25 good, but won't challenge for a championship.

Mississippi State won't have a go-to scorer on the perimeter: The Bulldogs will lack a go-to perimeter scorer, at least one they can count on from the beginning of the season. Not having Jamont Gordon means the Bulldogs will start out in a pack of teams in the SEC West and hope to distinguish themselves by January.

Kansas State won't be an NCAA team: That may be a tough prediction to make now, but not having Bill Walker means the rebuilding process is in full swing with Michael Beasley gone as well.

NC State may have better chemistry: That might not be fair, but it will be interesting to see if the Wolfpack -- especially Ben McCauley and Brandon Costner -- go back to playing more balanced basketball now that J.J. Hickson is gone after one season.

Big-shot Mario's departure leaves a hole on Kansas' team: It does, but Chalmers isn't the only Jayhawk leaving, so Bill Self was well aware that he would have to find new stars with Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur and a contributing senior class also gone.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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