ST. LOUIS -- North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Kendall Marshall all said over the past week they weren’t thinking about the NBA, that all their concentration was focused on reaching the Final Four.
But now that they are done with the NCAA tournament, having lost in the Midwest Region final to Kansas on Sunday, they won’t have much time to ponder.
For the past two seasons, underclassmen have had until May 8 to decide whether to leave early for the NBA or return to school. But the NCAA has moved up that deadline until April 10, one week after the Final Four ends and a day before the spring signing period begins.
Henson, for one, doesn’t like it.
“I don’t know the specifics -- I think what, April 9, April 10 is the day you have to decide?” the junior, considered a first-round pick if he leaves early, said recently. “Which is ridiculous, because especially if you’re coming off a championship, your team wins a championship, you can’t even enjoy it. You have to sit down and think about your future, which stinks.
“... I was joking that in about 10 years it will probably be moved up to midseason. It’s a tough rule, but you’ve got to abide by those rules.”
One of the toughest things about the earlier date, as ESPN.com’s Andy Katz reported last week, is that it won’t allow underclassmen to work out for NBA teams before they make their decisions.
The NBA still uses April 29 (instead of the NCAA's April 10) as its early-entry deadline, and won’t release its list of underclassmen for prospective teams until around May 2.
Stu Jackson, the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations, told Katz that underclassmen cannot workout for teams until they are notified about who is eligible, via that May 2 list.
"Based on our conversations with various NCAA schools regarding requests for evaluation of our undergraduate committee, we're getting the sense that many schools, players and families are not aware of the new [NCAA] date or its implication," Jackson told Katz. "They think they can work out for NBA teams."
Instead, players can still apply to get feedback from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee, a group of executives representing NBA teams. (The application deadline is the day after the national title game, and the committee responds by April 6.) And a player’s coach can still gather information from NBA GMs, as Roy Williams has done for the Tar Heels in postseasons past.
But that’s about it.
The reason for the change, according to the NCAA, is “to help keep student-athletes focused on academics in the spring term and to give coaches a better idea of their roster for the coming year before the recruiting period is closed.”
But with the conflicting NCAA and NBA dates, it should be noted that nothing (except his relationship with his coach and teammates) keeps a player from saying he will return to school on April 10, only to change his mind in the following 19 days.
ESPN’s Chad Ford currently ranks four UNC underclassmen as first-round draft picks, should they leave early: Barnes at No. 6, reserve freshman forward James Michael McAdoo at No. 8, Henson at No. 15 and Marshall at No. 17. (Senior Tyler Zeller is ranked No. 11.)
Asked about the new declaration date Saturday and whether it is enough time to make an informed decision, Marshall said, “I don’t know. When I start thinking about the NBA, I’ll be able to answer that question further.” Asked if his fractured wrist would have an effect on his decision whether to turn pro, the point guard responded: “The only decision my wrist has an impact [on] is this game [Sunday].” (Marshall missed UNC’s NCAA games against Ohio and Kansas.)
McAdoo, meanwhile, said after Sunday’s loss that he has no timetable to make a decision: "I’m not really thinking about that."
But he’ll have to, and soon.
Williams said he’ll try to get through the process with the underclassmen “pretty quickly. It's what it is. It's our culture. It's not as much fun as getting a guy and coaching him for four years, but it's what it is. We have to handle that.
“I would think that before the end of the week, I would have at least the initial conversations with all of our guys.”
And it will be interesting to see if UNC’s failure to reach the Final Four has any impact on any of their choices.
Barnes -- who reiterated Sunday that he hadn’t been thinking about the draft while playing in the NCAA tournament -- told Fox Sports Florida in February that if his team won the NCAA title, he would not stay in school past his sophomore season. If the Tar Heels didn't win it, he added, his choice was "up in the air."
"The goal is to win a national championship, so, if you do that, it’s a no-brainer," Barnes told Chris Tomasson. "Our goal is just to win the national championship. I feel like this team, if we continue to mature, we have a great shot. And if that happens, then that’s all she wrote."
Henson said Saturday that how far UNC advanced, in his opinion, would have “a great impact on everyone’s decision. Whatever decision I make for the future is hopefully going to be the right one. But the Final Four would make it a lot easier, to say the least.”
Sunday’s loss, then, could make it more difficult.
Especially with such a quick choice to make.
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.