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June 28, 2012
Heels enjoy Draft spotlight
North Carolina shone brightly during the annual National Basketball Association draft on Thursday night in New Jersey.
Four former Tar Heels - Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall, John Henson and Tyler Zeller -- were taken within the first 17 picks.
"It is exciting," said coach Roy Williams, who attended the draft. "It's exciting for the families. It's exciting for me and the guys in our program."
Once the players received their moment on stage, then the action behind the scenes began. ESPN reported that the Dallas Mavericks, who selected Zeller with the 17th pick, had worked a deal to trade him to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Barnes slipped a couple of spots from where he was predicted to go, but he seemed genuinely pleased when Golden State chosen him at seven.
"They have great front office people," Barnes said. "I love the general manager and I love the owner. They are definitely trying to get better.
"I'm just going to try to work as hard as I can and help my team the best I can. I'm just really blessed to be in this position. I'm very grateful that Golden State drafted me. I'm excited to be there."
In an ironic move, the Phoenix Suns selected Marshall with the 13th pick.
The reason for the description of irony is when Marshall committed to the Tar Heels as a sophomore in high school, Williams likened Marshall to Steve Nash, the Suns' point guard.
Marshall often likened himself to Nash as well. Both players are known for their gifted passing ability and skill at making their teammates better.
Nash is a free agent. Toronto is expected to try hard to sign Nash, but so is Phoenix.
Either way, Marshall might just have found the perfect fit.
"I wish Kendall was here (at the Draft)," Williams said. "He's probably jumping around with mom and dad. Phoenix is one of those teams that loves to run."
"I've never had a better passer than Kendall Marshall. He can push that pace, and if they want to continue playing like that he's the right guy."
The Milwaukee Bucks took the next Tar Heel, selecting John Henson with the 14th pick.
Henson was the two-time ACC defensive player of the year, and he's looking to bring his excellent defensive rebounding and shot blocking skills to the Midwest.
"I think that (defense and shot blocking) is something I can bring to the team," Henson said. "I'm excited to get to Milwaukee and get to work."
There were some questions about Henson's strength because he did not impress the teams with his weight lifting during workouts.
"I've held my own for three years at Carolina, and I have to prove it at the next level," Henson said. "I'm ready to get out there and show them."
After being picked by Dallas, the NBA champs in 2011, Zeller will now be playing with Cleveland. One of his teammates will be former Duke point guard Kyrie Irving.
The match could be ideal, given Zeller's particular skills.
"He's a legitimate 7-footer," ESPN commentator Jay Bilas said. "The skill that sets him apart is his ability to run the floor. He changes ends as fast, if not faster, than any big guy in the country and with regularity.
"Every time down the floor, he runs the floor. That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on opposing big guys to run the floor. He can wear them out."
Speed is a trait of Irving as well, and the two could recreate the successful fast break combination that Marshall and Zeller had at UNC.