Tar Heel trio to return to school

June 16, 2008 8:17:13 PM PDT
North Carolina's hopes of returning to the Final Four got a big boost Monday.Underclassmen Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green -- who helped the Tar Heels to the winningest season in school history last year -- will withdraw from the NBA draft and instead return to school and play next season in Chapel Hill.

The school's announcement came less than an hour before the deadline for underclassmen who had not hired agents to withdraw from the draft.

All three players had participated in the NBA's predraft camp in Orlando last month before working out for individual teams in recent weeks. Each had said he was likely to stay in the draft if a certain first-round pick, but coach Roy Williams said "the timing was just not exactly right at this point."

"It was a lengthy process, but one that is fair for these youngsters," Williams said in a statement. "Everyone should have the right to be evaluated in terms of possibly reaching his dreams. ... They had my 100 percent support throughout the process, regardless of which decision they might have made."

The announcement means the Tar Heels will return their top six players from a team that won 36 games and reached the Final Four last season. Among the six is Tyler Hansbrough, who announced in April that he would return for his senior season. He is the first returning Associated Press national player of the year since LSU's Shaquille O'Neal in 1991 and can set school and Atlantic Coast Conference career scoring records next year.

North Carolina will also return key reserve Bobby Frasor, who was lost to a midseason knee injury, and add one of the nation's top recruiting classes.

Lawson had been mentioned as a potential first-round pick in several mock drafts, while Ellington had been considered a borderline first-round pick. Green had ranged from a second-rounder to undrafted.

Lawson's return gives the Tar Heels a proven point guard who directs Williams' fast-paced offense with fleet-footed ease. The 5-foot-11 sophomore averaged about 13 points per game, but sprained both ankles during the season -- injuries that sidelined him for seven games and nearly all of two more while leading to questions about his durability.

Earlier this month, Lawson was charged with driving after consuming alcohol, violating the city's noise ordinance and driving with a suspended or revoked license after a traffic stop.

"The process of 'testing the waters' has given me valuable information about my draft status, and I have decided it would be better to return to school," Lawson said in the statement. "I love school, my teammates and coaching staff. I look forward to playing next season and trying to win a national championship."

Ellington, a 6-4 sophomore guard, was the team's No. 2 scorer at nearly 17 points per game and was the Tar Heels' top perimeter threat. Green, a 6-6 junior, brought versatility and 11.5 points off the bench, but he battled injuries during his draft workouts.

Both players called it an "easy decision" to return to school.

With the trio's return, North Carolina loses only reserves Quentin Thomas (senior) and Alex Stepheson (transfer) from last year's rotation. The Tar Heels signed three McDonald's All-Americans in big men Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller, and point guard Larry Drew. They also brought in Durham guard Justin Watts as insurance on the perimeter.

On Sunday, rival North Carolina State learned that freshman J.J. Hickson planned to hire an agent and would not return to school.

The 6-foot-9 forward led the Wolfpack in scoring (14.8 points), rebounding (8.5) and blocked shots (1.5) while shooting an ACC-best 59 percent.

During a teleconference Monday afternoon, Hickson said he didn't know exactly where he would be drafted.

"Basically they just told me I had good potential and I'm very coachable," Hickson said of NBA teams. "Me personally, I felt like I was having good workouts and that I'm good enough to keep my name in."


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