NBA Draft 2011: Harrison Barnes Decides to Stay at UNC, Make Tar Heels Title Run

Cliff PotterCorrespondent IApril 18, 2011

Marshall, Zeller, Henson and Barnes will all return to play for UNC next year.
Marshall, Zeller, Henson and Barnes will all return to play for UNC next year.Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Harrison Barnes decided today to stay with the UNC Tar Heels and not enter the 2011 NBA draft. According to Barnes, in an announcement released by North Carolina:

"Opportunities, both beneficial and life-changing, can seem to make the next phase of my journey [to the NBA] an easy decision. 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. The experiences I've enjoyed on and off the court will be invaluable. These experiences will help fuel my journey in the NBA and beyond.

"I look forward to meeting the challenging journey in the NBA, but my decision on November 13, 2009, still holds true. I'm focused on being a student-athlete. And my decision is to continue this part of my journey at the University of North Carolina.”

Delaying his decision has made Barnes all the more valuable. He is a master at media exposure. Witness the media event and use of Internet technologies in connection with his announcements to go to UNC and now to stay put. He is a very savvy user of Internet media and will continue to get better.

Barnes was perhaps the most mature player available in the draft. He has a level of maturity rarely demonstrated by other college players. His demeanor, presence and approach when facing the media makes Barnes a spokesman and great ambassador for any team.

Carolina therefore gets not only someone who was almost certainly a No. 1 draft choice, but also an outstanding spokesman and recruiter for the school.

Given the content and tenor of the announcement, he may play at UNC until he graduates.

For his decision, as with his college decision, Barnes had excellent people behind him. If anything, Roy Williams' stock has soared during this time. He may be the best of all college basketball coaches in advising players about the pros.

Some of the dynamics of this year in the NBA, such as the upcoming NBA player negotiations, could also have affected Barnes' decision.

Is it possible that the NBA will go to a scale that would favor upperclassmen? For example, could the NBA decide it is not worth the money to raid colleges, and that another year or two would help season the picks?

Or could the new bargaining agreement end up with a different salary for those who come out as freshmen, sophomores and juniors? Will the current contracts remain effective after the upcoming NBA player negotiations?

Another reason could be that some early draft choices like John Wall were chronologically upperclassmen, which Barnes is not.

Barnes is still 18. Wall entered college after a year's delay. These examples show that the more maturity the greater the likelihood of starting on an NBA team, something that is at times essential to break through to the highest levels of the NBA.

The pull to stay in college and enjoy his experience there may be great. But history is something Barnes appears very interested in achieving.

With him staying, UNC becomes the kind of basketball powerhouse that could become the successor to UCLA in the 1960s and 1970s. A one-of-a-kind team with great talent, playing with other great players, and learning from Roy Williams, one of the best coaches in basketball.

If Barnes remains in college, and his skills continue to improve, Barnes' impact on college basketball and UNC after four years could be enormous. Only Lew Alcindor, who changed his name to Abdul Jabbar, has won three straight NCAA championships. Barnes could do the same.

If Barnes' stardom includes both college and the NBA, none at Carolina would compare. No player from UNC has ever won three NCAA titles.

In fact, winning three in a row is a historic achievement for any college player at any school. One that may never be matched anywhere in the future.

So cherish every year Barnes is back, beginning with the first game ever played on an aircraft carrier. There may never be any other player other than Jabbar who will be remembered more in college basketball by the time he leaves.