Tar Heels' Harrison Barnes to return

Updated: April 18, 2011, 3:35 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

North Carolina's big three will be coming back as a complete set, with freshman forward Harrison Barnes announcing Monday he would also return.

"As a team, we're preparing for a special season," Barnes said in a news release. "My offseason plans are to diligently work on honing my basketball skills in all areas with one team-goal in mind -- to bring the 2012 national championship home to UNC."

Barnes' commitment comes a week and a half after Tar Heels big men Tyler Zeller, a junior, and sophomore John Henson said they would return in an effort to improve on an NCAA tournament run that ended with a 76-69 loss to Kentucky in the Elite Eight.

The Tar Heels also will have last season's starting guards Dexter Strickland and Kendall Marshall back in the lineup.

"I am of course excited to have Harrison back on our team next year," coach Roy Williams said in a statement. "It has been a true pleasure to coach him and I look forward to coaching him again next season."

The Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year, the 6-foot-8 Barnes co-led North Carolina (29-8, 14-2 ACC) in scoring with Zeller during the regular season, averaging 15.7 points. Barnes also sank a team-high 67 3-pointers, shooting 35 percent.

[+] EnlargeHarrison Barnes
Icon SMIHarrison Barnes' commitment comes after Tar Heels big men Tyler Zeller and John Henson said they would return after falling one win short of the Final Four.

But he was limited to 18 points in the NCAA regional final loss to Kentucky as he shot 2-for-9 from beyond the arc.

"He had a difficult decision to make," Williams said. "He really had no wrong decision to choose, but I believe he is coming back to school because he enjoys college basketball, he enjoys the University of North Carolina and he enjoys his teammates. If he had decided to leave for the NBA, that would have been OK, too, because he will always be a Tar Heel. But it will certainly be a lot of fun to coach him again."

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is Sunday. They can withdraw their names from the draft by May 8 to preserve their eligibility.

The draft will be held June 23.

"As an 18-year-old, I'm in the early stages of my life journey," Barnes said in the statement. "I'm honored and blessed for the chance to play in the NBA. And because of my family, teachers, passion, and work, I have the ultimate dream of one day playing and experiencing a fulfilling career in the NBA."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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