By J.P. Giglio
Maybe it took a little longer than some North Carolina fans had hoped, or the draft experts had anticipated, but UNC turned the NBA draft blue on Thursday night, at least the spots that Kentucky missed.
Three UNC players, and four from the ACC, went in the lottery the first 14 picks of the first round of the NBA draft and four UNC players went in the first round.
UNC sophomore Harrison Barnes led the ACC charge, going No. 7 overall to the Golden State Warriors. Duke freshman Austin Rivers followed at No. 10 to the New Orleans Hornets, who kicked off the draft by taking Kentucky big man Anthony Davis with the top pick.
The Wildcats, the NCAA champions, produced the top two picks the Charlotte Bobcats took wing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the second overall pick but the Tar Heels had three players go in the lottery.
Point guard Kendall Marshall went 13th to the Phoenix Suns, who might lose veteran All-Star Steve Nash in free agency, and the Milwaukee Bucks took forward John Henson with the 14th pick. ACC Player of the Year Tyler Zeller was the fourth UNC player taken, 17th overall to the Dallas Mavericks.
It's the third time in eight years Williams and UNC have produced at least three first-rounders in the same draft (2005 and 2009) and second time the Heels have had four players taken in the first round ('05).
Williams, who attended Thursday's draft in Newark, N.J., noted the friendly competition between the Tar Heels and Wildcats.
"There's always competition," Williams said on the ESPN broadcast. "I'm happy for Harrison, Kendall, John and Z (Tyler Zeller). I think I can handle (Kentucky coach) John (Calipari) on the golf course, so maybe we'll handle him in the draft room, too."
Barnes, who left UNC after his sophomore season, led the Tar Heels in scoring in each of his two college seasons. He didn't quite live up to the massive hype from his prep credentials the No. 1-rated prospect in the class and the first freshman to be named preseason All-American by the Associated Press but he helped UNC reach the Final Eight in each of his two seasons.
An All-ACC selection for the Tar Heels, who won the ACC's regular-season title, Barnes led UNC with 17.1 points per game and added 5.2 rebounds per game.
Barnes' college career ended under intense scrutiny after a loss to Kansas with a trip to the Final Four on the line. Barnes had 12 points, in an overtime win over Ohio in the regional semifinals, and 13 against the Jayhawks. He shot just 8-of-30 in the regional, which potentially hurt his draft stock.
ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas predicted Barnes, who's one of the best shooters in the draft, will be better as a pro than he was in college.
"He needs to be more assertive, no one is saying he's a perfect player," Bilas said during the broadcast.
Bilas had high praise for Rivers, an All-ACC guard who led Duke in scoring (15.5 points per game) in his only college season.
"He is as good with the ball as anyone is in this draft," Bilas said.
Bilas said Rivers had to improve as a defender but he did not need to work on his attitude.
"He's got the ego of a good player," Bilas said. "You'd rather have a guy that expects to be good, than hopes to be good."
Former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy, ESPN's NBA analyst, said Rivers' attitude, which he had been criticized for in the run-up to the draft, is an asset.
"I love his demeanor," Van Gundy said. "I love that he believes that he can be great."
Marshall left UNC after a record-setting sophomore season. He led the ACC with 9.8 assists per game, and set the ACC single-season record for assists. He missed UNC's two regional games in St. Louis with a wrist injury, which potentially derailed the Heels' national title hopes.
As a junior, Henson led the ACC in rebounding (9.9) and blocked shots (2.9). He also added 13.7 points per game.
Zeller averaged 16.3 points per game and 9.6 rebounds and emerged as the leader, and go-to player of the star-studded UNC lineup in his senior season.
The Mavericks promptly traded Zeller to the Cleveland Cavaliers for three draft picks.
The Indiana Pacers drafted Dukes Miles Plumlee with the 26th pick, completing the Triangles top talent in the draft.