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UNC TRIO TO DEPART FOR NBA

CHAPEL HILL — With Roy Williams by their side and Dean Smith lurking in the tunnels of the facility that bears his name, Sean May, Raymond Felton and Marvin Williams all declared for the June 28 NBA draft at a press conference Friday afternoon.

“It’s been a lot of tough times, and it’s been a lot of great times, especially winning the National Championship this year,” junior Felton said. “It was a dream come true. It was a dream coming to this University.”

The announcements, which have been discussed since the Tar Heels defeated Illinois in the National Championship game April 4, come just two weeks after junior guard Rashad McCants made known his intentions to forfeit his final year of eligibility in order to pursue a professional career.

Felton, McCants and May were all recruited by then-head coach Matt Doherty in an attempt to turn around a program that had won just eight games the previous season. After one rocky season under Doherty, Williams was coaxed back to North Carolina to coach the trio and return the program to prominence.

All three players said that winning a national championship this season allowed them to leave without regret. Felton and Williams both cited financial and family concerns as primary reasons for turning pro. May said he had originally intended to be a four-year player but the combination of Felton leaving and dominant performances down the stretch and through the NCAA Tournament caused him to reconsider.

“I don’t think of him as a cow but his stock was pretty doggone high,” Williams said of May’s draft prospects. “I think he opened some people’s eyes to how good he could be.”

Williams said since the season ended he has been in contact with NBA sources to help advise his underclassmen.

“What’s best for each individual player is what I’ve always been concerned about and what I will be concerned about until the day I stopped coaching,” Williams said. “These three youngsters have dreamed of being an NBA player, and they also had dreams of winning a national championship. Now they’re moving on. As a coach you are sad but only because you’re not going to be able to coach them any longer at this University.”

All four North Carolina early entrants figure to be first-round picks. Although only a freshman who did not start all season, Williams is likely to be the highest pick of the bunch near the top of the lottery. May, Felton and McCants could all be picked anywhere from the mid-lottery to the middle of the first round.

If all four are selected in the first round, the Tar Heels will be the second college team ever to have four top-round picks. The 1999 Duke team that had Elton Brand, Corey Maggette and William Avery all leave early, along with senior Trajan Langdon, was the first one.

In addition to the four early departures, the Tar Heels are also losing seniors Jawad Williams, Jackie Manuel and Melvin Scott, leaving the team without its top seven scorers. Rising-senior David Noel, who averaged just 3.9 points per game last season, will be the team’s leading offensive producer to return. The only other contributors from last season’s team coming back are rising-junior Reyshawn Terry and rising-sophomore Quentin Thomas, whose only start was in the North Carolina loss to Santa Clara when Felton was suspended.

“If the program was devastated, I’d be leaving with them,” Williams said. “We’re still going to show up on game night. That’s the attitude I’m going to have. You might beat me, but you’re not going to have to beat me by hitting me in the back. I’m going to come right at you.”

North Carolina will not be the only ACC team dealing with departures. Wake Forest guard Chris Paul has decided to enter the draft, and center Eric Williams has declared but is retaining amateur status by not hiring an agent. John Gilchrist of Maryland said he is in the process of hiring an agent, and Georgia Tech junior guard Jarrett Jack is expected to announce his intentions in the coming days.

The ACC will be inexperienced next season with a rash of underclass departures, and the graduation of four-year standouts such as B.J. Elder and Julius Hodge. Even if Shelden Williams decides to jump to pros, Duke will be one of the only teams returning a significant amount of its contributing roster. Boston College, which was undefeated well into this past season, will join the ACC next fall and should be able to compete immediately with its experienced roster.

Especially in the depleted ACC, the departing UNC players don not fear a return to the pre-Williams era, though.

“Don’t count this team out next year,” Felton said. “This coach over here just won the national championship. He can coach. They will be prepared.”

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