Speculation and rumor became reality Thursday as University of North Carolina junior forward John Henson, sophomore forward Harrison Barnes and sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall all announced that they will enter the 2012 NBA Draft.
The departing trio, along with the graduating Tyler Zeller, accounted for 66 percent of the team’s scoring, 58 percent of the team’s rebounds and nearly 80 percent of the team’s assists. According to numerous national projections, all four players ranked in the top-20 of NBA prospects.
Marshall, who won the Bob Cousy Award earlier in the day, set the ACC’s single-season assist record this year with 351 – the fourth-most in NCAA history – and was named to the All-ACC second-team. His 9.75 assists per game and 17 double-figure assist games were also ACC records.
“I would like to thank my family, coaches, teammates and the Tar Heel Nation for all their support,” Marshall said. “It’s been the greatest two years of my life. I have always put the team before myself and I am extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished. My life long dream has been to play basketball at the highest level possible and I feel now is my greatest opportunity to fulfill this goal.”
Barnes came to Carolina as the top recruit in college basketball two years ago and was a pre-season All-American as a freshman. He earned first-team All-ACC and second-team All-America honors this season after leading Carolina in scoring for the second straight year.
“I’m honored and blessed to have the opportunity to compete in the NBA,” Barnes said. “Chapel Hill is a special place. Over the past two years I’ve enjoyed every single moment of my Tar Heel experience.”
Barnes said he consulted with head coach Roy Williams and his family about the move to the NBA and despite leaving early, he will continue to pursue a degree.
Henson was a two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year and was named to the All-ACC first-team this past season. His 279 blocks are good for second most in school history and his 2.56 blocks per game are a UNC best.
“It’s tough to leave because I love my teammates, coaches and UNC,” Henson said. ” I wish we’d been able to bring our fans a national championship, but it wasn’t meant to be. I am proud of what we accomplished, especially the last two years.”
Henson will also work on finishing up a degree saying, “That’s important to my parents, coach Williams and me.”
Williams offered his best to all three players saying the hardest part will be not coaching them another season.
“On a very small stage, it’s a sad day for me because I won’t get to coach them again,” Williams said. “When I recruit a young man I talk to them about their ultimate goals and each of them are taking that next step toward reaching the goals they spoke to me about. I am extremely pleased for them. They have meant so much to our basketball program and the University of North Carolina. I thank them for everything they have contributed to Carolina Basketball.”
Freshman forward James Michael McAdoo said earlier in the week that he is weighing his NBA options but his father said that he expects his son to return to the Tar Heels.
In addition to the Tar Heels’ five departing seniors and three early-exits, freshman guard Stillman White will not be with the team next year as he heads out on a Mormon mission.
UNC is expected to get guards Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald back next year after missing most of this past season with knee injuries. They will also get in a four-man recruiting class led by McDonald’s All-American Marcus Paige, who is a good candidate to run the point.