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The 2012 UNC season ended as the Tar Heels fell to the KU Jayhawks in the Elite Eight. Even though the Tar Heels posted an enviable 32-5 season record, this season failed to meet the lofty expectations of many University of North Carolina Tar Heel fans and players.
The Heels had a talented, deep roster filled with good kids. And no matter how hard the fans fought against it, it was difficult to refrain from expecting this group to be at least one of the two teams left standing as the National Championship game commenced.
Most of all, the season didn’t go as expected for first, Leslie McDonald; then, Dexter Strickland; next, John Henson; and finally, Kendall Marshall. Three of those guys ended the season in suits watching their teammates try valiantly to edge through to the Final Four as they battled a good Kansas Jayhawks team. The fourth, John Henson, was a shell of himself on the court yesterday, but he was out there bandaged and trying nonetheless.
It was a season of highs and lows — a season that yielded more serious injuries to key UNC Tar Heel players than I can remember to any previous Carolina basketball team. This team persevered and gradually improved — though by fits and spurts. They weathered injury after injury and continued to compete at a high level. They were even peaking at exactly the right time.
Kendall Marshall going down with a broken wrist meant every other starter and key reserve had to bring his best game in order for the team to make it past KU in the Elite Eight. And that simply didn’t happen. The players fought hard overall, but in the end, it wasn’t enough.
Tyler Zeller had a superb senior season. Reggie Bullock lived up to the promise he displayed as a star player in high school. Kendall Marshall was in the process of completing a spectacular season of passing, leadership, and eventual overall outstanding play. John Henson progressed in his development and arguably became a star. James Michael McAdoo’s basketball game started catching up with his phenomenal athleticism. And a relatively unknown point guard from Wilmington — a young man who logged only a few minutes here and there throughout the season — played excellently when he was suddenly thrust into a huge roll at the most critical and most competitive juncture of the season.
I’m proud of this team, and I’m disappointed for them that they were unable to achieve their dream for this season. Unfortunately, the seniors have no opportunity for a do-over.
And now we wait. Tyler Zeller and Justin Watts are graduating and moving on. Zeller will make a fine NBA professional for years to come in my opinion, and Justin is likely to have an opportunity to play overseas if he so desires. The ‘experts’ currently predict high draft picks for underclassmen Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Kendall Marshall, and even reserve James Michael McAdoo. Furthermore, after an outstanding Sweet 16 performance by Reggie Bullock, his name is being floated around as an early-entrant possibility too. Add to the unknown that no one yet can determine at what level Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland will be playing when they are able to return from their injuries. Will they be as quick, explosive, and effective as they were prior to their knee surgeries or not?
This year was supposed to be the Tar Heels’ year. If the expected mass exodus to the NBA occurs, next year will be a rebuilding year for sure. Realistically, the year after will likely be as well.
Good luck, young men. Take a well-deserved break. Make the best decisions for you and your families. And then let’s get down to business and start preparing for next year’s Tar Heel hard court edition.