North Carolina’s underclassmen decided they wouldn’t put off their goal of playing in the NBA any longer.
The school said Thursday that Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Kendall Marshall will enter the draft, ending a two-year run in which the Tar Heels made deep NCAA Tournament runs only to fall a game short of the Final Four each time.
The school didn’t state whether the three planned to hire an agent in its release announcing the departures, though it appears they’re in the draft to stay.
“It’s a great day for three youngsters who are taking another step toward their ultimate goal of playing professional basketball,” coach Roy Williams said in a statement. “On a very small stage, it’s a sad day for me because I won’t get to coach them again. All Tar Heel fans will miss them greatly, as well.”
Henson was a freshman during Williams’ worst season as a head coach in 2010. Barnes arrived a year later as the nation’s No. 1 recruit, though it wasn’t until Marshall took over at point guard midway through that season that the Tar Heels took off.
UNC lost to Kentucky in a regional final that year, but Barnes, Henson and rising senior Tyler Zeller put off entering the draft for another shot at a championship despite being likely first-round picks.
The Tar Heels (32-6) were the preseason No. 1 and won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship for a second straight year, but they fell in the NCAA regional final again amid a dizzying run of injuries — including wrist injuries to both Henson and Marshall.
“I wish we’d have been able to bring our fans a national championship, but it wasn’t meant to be,” Henson said in a statement. “I am proud of what we accomplished, especially the last two years.”
Both Barnes and Henson said in their statements they planned to continue working to complete their undergraduate degrees.
Barnes, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, averaged about 17 points to lead the team. Henson, a 6-11 junior, averaged about 14 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks, and was a two-time ACC defensive player of the year. Both were All-ACC first-team picks.
Marshall, a 6-4 sophomore, won the Cousy Award presented to the nation’s top college point guard earlier Thursday and set the ACC’s single-season assists record. Throw in the graduating Zeller, a 7-footer who was ACC player of the year, and those four starters accounted for 66 percent of the team’s scoring and 59 percent of its rebounding.
While Barnes and Henson have been considered bigger NBA prospects, Marshall’s departure could be the biggest loss considering how he flawlessly ran Williams’ fast-paced offense. The pass-first point guard also upped his scoring late in the year and reached double-figures in his last six games to improve his draft prospects.