NEWARK, N.J. Harrison Barnes shook hands with David Stern, the NBA commissioner, and then walked off the stage, down a set up steps. Barnes reached the bottom, took a long breath and exhaled.
At long last, his dream of becoming an NBA player had been realized. Barnes was the first of four North Carolina players - and six with local ties - selected in the first round here on Thursday night in the NBA draft at the Prudential Center, but he had to wait perhaps longer than he expected before the Golden State Warriors chose him with the seventh overall pick.
Barnes had been projected as high as the No. 2 selection, but the Charlotte Bobcats instead chose Kentucky’s Michael-Kidd Gilchrist with that pick. Then Barnes watched as other players names were called, and he watched those players walk across the stage.
There was Florida’s Bradley Beal with the third pick, to Washington, followed by Syracuse’s Dion Waiters (to Cleveland), Kansas’ Thomas Robinson (Sacramento) and Weber State’s Damian Lillard (Portland). Then came Barnes’ turn.
“That will always be motivation,” he said of having to wait and watch other players go before him. “Just the fact that, you know, someone says they are better than you and they are drafted high then you, so that’s always going to be motivation.”
For the second time in school history, four North Carolina players went in the first round. After Barnes, the Phoenix Suns selected Kendall Marshall, the Tar Heels’ former point guard, with the 13th overall pick. His teammate, forward John Henson, went next to Milwaukee at the 14th overall pick.
Tyler Zeller, the Heels’ senior forward who was the ACC Player of the Year a season ago, went at No. 17 overall to the Dallas Mavericks, who then traded Zeller to Cleveland for three draft picks. Marshall was the only member of the Tar Heels’ foursome who didn’t attend the draft after the NBA didn’t invite him.
Between the selection of Barnes and Marshall, Duke’s Austin Rivers, who earned ACC freshman of the year honors last season, went 10th overall to the New Orleans Hornets. Rivers’ father, Doc Rivers, the coach of the Boston Celtics, proudly watched his son’s selection in person.
“My dad, he was more relaxed [than me],” Austin Rivers said. “He just told me to relax, enjoy it, you’re going to get picked somewhere. He told me when I play [against the Celtics], I’m not going to score.”
The Indiana Pacers later selected Rivers’ teammate at Duke, Miles Plumlee, with the 26th pick.
Thursday night represented the sixth time that North Carolina, Duke and N.C. State, which didn’t have a player drafted, combined to produce at least four first-round draft picks.
It was also the second time that UNC had four players selected in the first round, following the 2005 draft in which Raymond Felton, Sean May, Rashad McCants and Marvin Williams were all chosen among the first 14 overall selections.
UNC had two of the first five draft picks that year, while the this year’s Tar Heels had to a while longer. Still, Henson said, “It’s a dream come true.”
He said he was confident that if he hadn’t yet been selected, the Bucks would take him with the 14th pick.
“I was on the road for 20 days, [with] two bags and had to do laundry a couple of times,” he said. “And the journey was rewarded. Now I’m here and it’s time for a bigger journey, and hopefully I will be prepared.”