In ACC, nine underclassmen might be taking shots at NBA

Early draft entries could swell today with UNC trio

College Basketball

April 22, 2005|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

If North Carolina juniors Sean May and Raymond Felton and freshman Marvin Williams announce today that they're entering the NBA draft, the Atlantic Coast Conference is expected to be without nine of its best underclassmen from last season.

How that will affect the balance of power in the league depends on the point of view of coaches who have grown accustomed to early departures.

In Chapel Hill, the university has confirmed that coach Roy Williams will join the three players at a news conference today.

In College Park, Maryland is expecting a similar decision sometime soon from junior point guard John Gilchrist.

Earlier, Wake Forest sophomore guard Chris Paul and junior forward Eric Williams declared for the draft, as did North Carolina junior Rashad McCants. (If May, Felton and Williams follow McCants, as expected, North Carolina would lose the top seven scorers from its national championship team.)

Duke's Shelden Williams and Georgia Tech's Jarrett Jack also could test their viability beyond college basketball.

Many of the players will not sign an agent at this point, thus retaining NCAA eligibility if they find their stock low among scouts. But in a worst-case scenario, 11 of the 15 players off the three all-league teams would not return for the 2005-06 season.

"I don't think we've had so many players - not only through graduation, but so many outstanding underclassmen," said Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser. "It's early, but this would be the most dramatic situation."

The league isn't alone during a spring in which 35 players (as of yesterday) had already affirmed their hopes of cutting their college careers short - actually, the Big East's current pace is ahead of the ACC's - but its losses might be the most pronounced. Paul, May, Shelden Williams and Felton made one of the three All-America teams after the 2004-05 season.

North Carolina, which is also losing seniors Melvin Scott, Jawad Williams and Jackie Manuel, appears to be taking the biggest hit. But even in Chapel Hill, there's room for optimism with an incoming class of five freshmen who are all ranked among the top 100 high school seniors.

That explains the lack of distress from schools like North Carolina and Duke, or perhaps from the league as a whole.

"In the best conferences, you're going to have the best players and they're going to have the best opportunities to leave," said Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg. "It's not like they're not being replaced."

In some cases, you don't necessarily need a replacement as much as being able to use the resources available. In 1999, Duke lost four NBA first-round players, three of them underclassmen - William Avery, Elton Brand and Corey Maggette. However, according to assistant coach Chris Collins, the losses gave opportunities to players such as Shane Battier and Chris Carrawell.

Battier was able to expand his function from that of a defensive stopper to being the headliner on a team that won the national championship in 2001.

"Shane, he started some games [earlier], but he was more of a role player," Collins said. "He was able to become a star player" after Avery, Brand and Maggette left.

The key to recuperation in these cases is the expectation of what a player will or will not do. In some years, the Blue Devils could recruit around early entries, as they did in 2002, when they weren't surprised to see Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy and Jay Williams leave after their junior seasons.

Last year, however, the team was left scrambling when rising sophomore Luol Deng and recruit Shaun Livingston opted to play professionally. Fortunately for them, players like Lee Melchionni were able to provide more production than anyone expected.

Over at Wake Forest, it doesn't seem as sunny for Prosser. While a strong program, the Demon Deacons haven't been in a reloading mode like Duke and North Carolina. So losing Paul (who has secured an agent) might have the most impact, especially when they were thinking he might come back.

"In the fall, that wasn't the pervading thought," said Prosser, who thought that guard recruits didn't want to play behind Paul. "So senior guards might hesitate. ... That hurts fall recruiting. We weren't prepared."

When some lose, others might benefit. Miami will have most of its major players returning and should figure to contend for the ACC crown.

At Maryland, the Terps expect their only key loss to be Gilchrist.

North Carolina State, Clemson, and Virginia Tech are in similar positions, losing their top players - Julius Hodge, Sharrod Ford and Carlos Dixon, respectively - but returning most of their rosters.

Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said that any improvement from his team will have little to do with attrition by other teams.

"Some of the teams will rise up," he said, "but we'd like to think that we're going to come up, regardless."

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