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April 18, 2011

Carving slice of history

Harrison Barnes cemented his status as one of the most popular Carolina basketball players ever on Monday with the announcement that he plans to return for his sophomore season.

"Opportunities, both beneficial and life-changing, can seem to make the next phase of my journey an easy decision," Barnes said. "But I am a student-athlete at the University of North Carolina. I'm here to experience college life, grow as a person, receive a quality education and be part of the greatest basketball family in college sports."

UNC fans have long been conditioned for their stars to leave early for the National Basketball Association when they are assured of being a high draft pick. Dean Smith created this tradition, and Roy Williams has maintained it.

One can be sure Williams insisted Barnes and his family consider all the implications before arriving at this decision.

From the time Williams signed Barnes, however, he told us this young man from Iowa was different. He said Barnes came from a unique family, and on Monday we learned just how unique.

"I am of course excited to have Harrison back on our team next year," Williams said. "It has been a true pleasure to coach him, and I look forward to coaching him again next season. He had a difficult decision to make. He really had no wrong decision to choose, but I believe he is coming back to school because he enjoys college basketball, he enjoys the University of North Carolina and he enjoys his teammates.

"If he had decided to leave for the NBA that would have been OK, too, because he will always be a Tar Heel. But it will certainly be a lot of fun to coach him again."

Only those who hate Carolina will be disappointed with this decision. This is good for college basketball and it will be just plain fun. The pace at which Barnes progressed this past season makes the promise of watching him grow and mature on the court next season especially exciting.

If Barnes is blessed with good health, there is every reason to believe he will have an excellent chance to hang No. 40 along the front row of the honored jerseys next to No. 50, Tyler Hansbrough's retired number.

In addition, the promise of this team will be on the level of the 2009 club that demolished the NCAA Tournament field on its way to the national championship.

With John Henson and Tyler Zeller joining Barnes in the starting lineup, Carolina should have the biggest, most gifted team in the nation.

Williams is also adding a shooter in P.J. Hairston and a powerful presence in James McAdoo. The 6-foot-8 McAdoo will replace Justin Knox, who deserves the thanks of UNC fans for spending his final year of college ball at Carolina after graduating from Alabama early.

McAdoo appears to be one of the two best prospects in the country after his recent performances in the McDonald's All-American game and the Jordan Brand Classic. He took home co-MVP awards from both games and displayed his athleticism and premium skills each time.

If the Tar Heels do not lead the nation in scoring next season, they will not trail the leader by much. With point guard Kendall "Butter" Marshall spreading the ball to the many scorers running the court with him, Carolina is going to be a difficult team to defend.

The high-wire act of Carolina blue jerseys flying through air, dunking the ball and racing the length of the court is going to be as hard to defend as it will be amazing to watch.

Then, just to make life even more miserable for the competition, this could be the best defensive team Williams has had at Carolina.

By returning, Barnes, Henson and Zeller will have an outstanding opportunity to hang another national championship banner in the Smith Center.

Zeller could leave with two rings as he was a freshman on the 2009 team. Barnes also has an opportunity to carve a spot as one of the finest players in a program filled with great performers.

"As a team, we're preparing for a special season," Barnes said. "My off-season plans are to diligently work on honing my basketball skills in all areas with one team-goal in mind -- to bring the 2012 national championship home to UNC."

Barnes could then triumphantly become the No. 1 or 2 pick in the 2012 NBA draft -- a proper exit for someone who has established himself as a genuinely unique individual.


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