It's an old story in the sense that one party's despair can be another's delight.
For North Carolina basketball fans on Monday, the delightful idea of a national championship chase was brought squarely into focus when Tar Heels veterans Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green had to postpone for at least one season their hopes of landing berths on NBA rosters.
The three perimeter performers — junior guards Lawson and Ellington, and senior wingman Green — all said they would return to school for the 2008-09 season, thereby making North Carolina the favorite to unseat Kansas as the next national champion.
The trio waited until the final minutes before making their notions known, and then not in person, but through the school's sports information department.
Underclassmen had until 5 p.m. to either withdraw from the NBA draft pool or lose their college eligibility. North Carolina's guys didn't make it official until about 4:50 p.m.
At that point, North Carolina coach Roy Williams called it “a long and exhaustive process of gathering information” and said that he was “pleased” the players went through the offseason workouts. Williams also said that all eventually would be NBA players.
Don't bet heavily on that observation, though.
All three had little choice except to seek safe campus harbor during a perfect storm of available talent to the pro teams. In other words, they weren't NBA standard.
Only Lawson, a much-injured point guard, was ever remotely seen as an NBA first-round candidate. Ellington, an undersized wing, was generally touted as a contender for the second round in the June 26 draft.
Green, a sixth man, was sized up from the start as a marginal free-agent hopeful who likely would have to spend a good deal of time in the minor leagues, and/or Europe, before getting legitimate consideration for an NBA roster.
But while there's not a Chris Paul or Kobe Bryant in the Tar Heels' lot, there's every chance all three will improve their status for the 2009 NBA draft.
Whether they upgrade their pro stock or not, it leaves North Carolina with talent aplenty to make a strong go at the '09 college title, which will be decided April 6 in Detroit.
Before that, the Heels should be good enough to open the NCAA event in Greensboro on March 19 and 21 in first- and second-round games. The regional championships will be staged in Boston (East), Memphis (South), Indianapolis (Midwest) and Phoenix (West).
Other than Connecticut, and perhaps Purdue, it's difficult to pinpoint strong challengers to North Carolina's likely supremacy.
The three returnees from Monday, plus senior frontcourt players Tyler Hansbrough, Deon Thompson and Marcus Ginyard, will give Williams' team a huge national edge in talent and experience. It is basically the same group that keyed North Carolina to a 36-3 record, the ACC championship and a Final Four appearance in '07-08.
On paper, North Carolina hasn't had such a glaring edge over the rest of the field since 1984. That team, however, came up short, losing to Indiana in its second game of the NCAA tournament.
The college game has changed beyond recognition since 1984. That Tar Heels team had Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Kenny Smith and Brad Daugherty. The '09 Heels will not have that many future pro stars. There might not be even one evolving NBA standout, but no team in the nation will begin with anywhere near the same collegiate punch.
They might not win it all. But they should.
Caulton Tudor is a sports columnist for the (Raleigh) News & Observer.
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