One thing is certain about North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams: The man attracts talent.
Williams’ 1996-97 Kansas team featured four players (Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz, Jacque Vaughn and Scot Pollard) who would eventually become first-round NBA draft picks.
The same thing happened with his 2004-05 North Carolina squad. Two months after winning the NCAA title, Marvin Williams, Sean May, Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants were among the first 14 players selected at Madison Square Garden.
Williams’ next team, though, may be his best yet.
At least in terms of talent.
The website www.draftexpress.com lists four of the Tar Heels’ projected starters (Harrison Barnes, James McAdoo, John Henson and Tyler Zeller) as first-round picks in the 2012 draft. The fifth, point guard Kendall Marshall, is slated to go in the second round.
That kind of ammunition is why pundits will likely rank North Carolina as the nation’s No. 1 team heading into the 2011-12 season. At the very least, they should certainly dominate the ACC, which figures to be down for the second straight year after enduring a slew of recent coaching changes.
Other than the Tar Heels, only three ACC players are projected as first-round draft picks next season. Here is a list of the league’s top 10 players heading into the school year.
F Harrison Barnes, North Carolina, sophomore – After a bit of a rough start, Barnes came on strong during the second half of his freshman season and showed glimpses of why he was selected as preseason All-American. The 6-foot-8 Barnes averaged 15.7 points last season and chipped in 5.8 rebounds. He’s expected to be one of the top two or three players selected in next summer’s draft.
F James McAdoo, North Carolina, freshman – The co-MVP of last month’s Jordan Brand Classic will form arguably the nation’s top frontcourt trio along with future first-round draft picks John Henson and Tyler Zeller. The 6-8 McAdoo, the eighth-ranked prospect in the Class of 2011, can score with his back to the basket but also has face-up skills.
G Austin Rivers, Duke, freshman – The son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers is the No. 1-ranked prospect in the Class of 2011 by Rivals.com. Rivers may not be as fast or well-rounded as Kyrie Irving, but he’s an exciting playmaker who can score in bunches. Blue Devils fans will love him.
F John Henson, North Carolina, junior – One of the nation’s premier shot-swatters blocked 3.2 shots per game as a sophomore, when he also averaged 11.7 points and 10.1 rebounds. Don’t be surprised if Henson makes another quantum leap in what will likely be his final college season.
F Tyler Zeller, North Carolina, senior – The 7-foot, 250-pound Zeller touts an exceptional skill set for someone his size. He runs the court extremely well, has a nice touch on his midrange shot and is money from the foul stripe. If Zeller develops a mean streak and becomes more assertive, he’ll be one of the best players in college basketball this coming season.
F Mason Plumlee, Duke, junior – Plumlee was projected as a lottery pick prior to last season, but his stock diminished after averaging just 7.2 points and 8.4 rebounds in 25 minutes. The freakishly-athletic Plumlee should get more offensive touches following the departures of Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler and Kyrie Irving.
G Kendall Marshall, North Carolina, sophomore – Marshall averaged 6.2 assists as a freshman last season, a phenomenal mark for a guy who played just 24 minutes per game. With so much talent around him, it wouldn’t be shocking if Marshall led the nation in assists this season. He truly makes everyone around him better – the mark of an excellent point guard.
G Malcolm Grant, Miami, senior – Grant, who began his career at Villanova, averaged a team-high 14.6 points as a junior last season, but he shot just 41.8 percent from the field. If he and backcourt mate Durand Scott can be productive once again, the Hurricanes should return to the NCAA tournament under new coach Jim Larranaga.
C Reggie Johnson, Miami, junior – The 6-foot-10, 300-pound Johnson thought about turning pro after last season but decided to return to school after the Hurricanes made a coaching change. Johnson averaged 11.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks as a sophomore. He’ll be a key cog for one of the ACC’s most experienced teams.
F C.J. Leslie, North Carolina State, sophomore – The most high-profile Wolfpack signee in recent memory is back after averaging 11 points and 7.2 rebounds as a freshman. Leslie’s sophomore season could be his last in college if he makes significant strides under new coach Mark Gottfried.