Raleigh, N.C. 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-title chase was brought squarely into focus when Tar Heels 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 - announced they would return to school for the 2008-09 season, thereby making Carolina the heaviest possible favorite to unseat Kansas as the next national-championship team.
Carolina's trio waited until the final minutes on Monday - 10 minutes before the deadline - before making their notions known through the school's sports information department.
At that point, 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 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 that good.
Only Lawson, a much-injured point guard, was ever remotely seen as a decent NBA first-round candidate. Ellington, an under-sized wing guard, 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 would likely have to spend a good deal of time in the minor leagues, and/or Europe, before getting legitimate consideration for an NBA roster.
Whether they upgrade their pro stock or not next season, it leaves 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. The four regional championships will be staged in Boston (East), Memphis (South), Indianapolis (Midwest) and Phoenix (West).
Other than UConn, Purdue or maybe even Duke, it's difficult to pinpoint strong challengers to Carolina's likely supremacy. The three returnees from Monday, plus Tyler Hansbrough, Marcus Ginyard and Deon Thompson will give UNC a huge national edge in talent and experience.
On paper, Carolina hasn't had such a glaring edge over the rest of the field since 1984. That team lost to Indiana in its second game of the NCAA Tournament.
The college game has changed beyond recognition since 1984. That Carolina team had Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Kenny Smith and Brad Daugherty. The '09 Heels will not have that many future pro stars. But no team in the nation will begin with anywhere near the same collegiate punch. They may not win it all. But they should.