Title was worth it, so Carolina fans shouldn't be blue over NBA exodus

Other voices

April 24, 2005|By Scott Fowler | Scott Fowler,THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - One of the most revealing moments of the "No Player Left Behind" news conference Friday at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill came when Sean May talked with reporters about a couple of conversations he's been having.

May said he had sought out former North Carolina teammates David Noel and Reyshawn Terry, two benchwarmers on the national championship team, and told them: "This is your team now."

Then May said of the 2005-06 Tar Heels: "They're going to scare a lot of people next season."

Including, most of all, their fans.

With the early and apparently irrevocable exits of May, Raymond Felton and Marvin Williams on Friday, the Tar Heels have now lost the top seven players off their 2004-05 title team.

The top seven?!

That's stunning. But if you're a Tar Heels fan, you can't be too unhappy today. It's simply not allowed. You just won the national championship. If that can't carry you through a lean season, you're way, way too greedy.

Where will the Tar Heels finish next season in the Atlantic Coast Conference? If it's in fourth place or higher, Roy Williams should be the ACC Coach of the Year. All he has left is Noel, Terry, the jittery Quentin Thomas, four incoming freshmen and a couple of wild cards.

There will be no national title next season. There might not even be an NCAA tournament berth, although I'm not sure of that.

I am sure there will be no 8-20, though. There won't be a losing record, either. Williams won't let that happen. You could hear the fire in his voice at the news conference Friday when he thought ahead to November and opposing fans licking their lips at all those empty lockers.

"We'll show up," Williams kept saying. Then he got spunky.

"You may beat me," Williams warned. "But you're not going to beat me from hitting me in the back, because I won't be running away from you."

Should all of these Tar Heels have left early, joining junior Rashad McCants? Absolutely. The NBA offers guaranteed, multimillion-dollar rookie contracts to only the 30 first-round picks. None of these players has a better shot at that money than they have right now.

Williams said his research indicated that Felton, Marvin Williams and May should all be "lottery" picks. The Charlotte Bobcats hold two of those top-14 picks, so they'll have a chance at a Tar Heel or two for the NBA draft in late June. They'd love to get their paws on the lanky Marvin Williams, whose long arms and great attitude would make Bobcats coach Bernie Bickerstaff smile every day.

Step back for a second. What if McCants, May, Marvin Williams and Felton had all returned for next season?

"We could have had maybe the best team that ever played here," Roy Williams said.

I was only watching this on TV, but at that point he seemed very wistful to me.

But Williams supported everyone's decision to turn pro. All the players are in the process of hiring agents, so there is "no loophole" to these decisions, the coach said.

"It's about what is best for the individual," Williams said.

The coach might not feel quite so magnanimous when he hands the ball next fall to point guard Thomas, who was unreliable as a freshman last season.

Blue heaven becomes blue earth next season in Chapel Hill. But what a ride all of the players entering the NBA draft gave their fans.

You can't be angry with those players. You just have to wonder about how 2005-06 - destined to be one of the strangest Tar Heels seasons in history - will turn out.

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