Tyler Hansbrough, the national player of the year, has made his decision — he’s coming back for his senior season at North Carolina.
He may or may not have his point guard back with him, or the team’s deadliest outside threat. Both Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington have declared for the NBA draft, but neither will hire an agent. They have until June 16 to decide whether to go on or come back to Chapel Hill.
Whether those two return or not, the Tar Heels will again be among the favorites to reach the Final Four with Hansbrough back in the fold. Would they be a prohibitive favorite to win it all should Lawson and Ellington return? Sure. But Hansbrough might be enough.
But is it the right decision? Should Hansbrough have entered the draft as well?
He’s the first player of the year to return to school since Shaquille O’Neal did it in 1992 — a very different time in college and NBA basketball. Early entries into the draft just weren’t nearly as common — or as expected.
But can Hansbrough hurt his future draft stock? Of course he can, and there are certainly those who will say that he can’t necessarily help his stock by coming back for another year, either. A knee injury would likely plummet him into the second round instead of the 15-to-25 range that he is probably in right now, but that’s a risk Hansbrough is willing to take. He may turn out to be Matt Leinart, who left the No. 1 pick on the table after winning the Heisman trophy his junior to return to Southern Cal for another shot at a national title.
But something else is at work here, one has to think. While the jury will be out on Hansbrough’s effectiveness at the next level for some time — is he a quality role player on a good team, a glorified version of Mark Madsen or could he develop into a starter? — we know what he can do in the college game.
And that’s dominate.
He might not win another player of the year award, but with Hansbrough, that’s not what he’s after. He wants to win a national title, and if he does, something else will happen along the way. Just 122 points behind Phil Ford on the UNC all-time scoring list and only 601 away from the ACC scoring mark set by Duke’s J.J. Redick, Hansbrough has a chance to be the most decorated Tar Heels’ player — statistically-wise — in the history of the program. If he can collect a title as well, then Hansbrough, already a cult figure among sportscasters and Heels’ faithful, will be in the pantheon of UNC basketball, right up there with Jordan, Rosenbluth and Ford. Put him on Mt. Heelsmore.
Wouldn’t that be enough for most of us, no matter how the NBA career panned out?
As for Lawson and Ellington, we will see. Lawson may or may not have been hampered by a troublesome ankle against Kansas in the national semifinal, but he wasn’t even one of the top 5 players on the court that night. Did he just have a bad game? Maybe. Or was he simply not as good athletically and physically in a game featuring the two deepest teams in the country? One would also have to figure that Lawson, a decent shooter in college, would be woeful from NBA 3-point range.
Ellington is harder to figure. He can certainly stroke it and teams always need shooting. And on a team with as much talent as the Tar Heels, it’s likely that we didn’t see everything that he’s capable of doing.
At the same time, though, is Ellington better than Rashad McCants was in college? That’s a tough call, isn’t it? And 6-foot-4 shooting guards tend to struggle in the NBA.
Whatever happens, Heels fans can rest assured that the team’s centerpiece is coming back, and the team is obviously better for it. Hansbrough will be loved even more now than ever, and fawned over on an even grander scale.
Dick Vitale is probably doing cartwheels.
But so are Heels’ fans.