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They're Back. Now What?

So after all that, after all the confident assertions of being ready for the "next level," turns out that none of UNC's candidates for the NBA draft are ready after all.

Not Danny Green, whose father assured anyone who cared to listen that he was in it and ready. Not Wayne Ellington, not Ty Lawson, who according to some was a first round pick, but who, like Green, was dealing with injuries and a self-inflicted problem of an alcohol-related arrest.

All of them have some fence-mending to do, starting with their coach, who, correctly, told them that they weren't ready. They'll also have to win over a fair number of fans who felt, also correctly, that the players made it clear that Chapel Hill and UNC basketball were simply a means to an end, and that they'd take the first money train out of town they possibly could.

Is it true that they don't owe their fans anything? Of course it is. These are the same fans Brendan Haywood derided for abandoning them in a mediocre season which ended in a surprising Final Four trip. There has always been an attitude of entitlement among UNC fans, summed up neatly in the bumper sticker mentality that God is a Tar Heel because the sky is "Carolina" blue (the retort to this from Durham is it's the sky because God didn't want anyone to step in it). And moreover, like anyone else, they're entitled to make a living when they have an opportunity.

But having said that, if the players don't owe the fans anything, the fans don't owe the players anything, either. There might be a brief bit of disgruntlement, but they'll be accepted back by the faithful. The cheers, though, will be louder for others - Tyler Hansbrough, Bobby Frasor, the promising class of freshmen.

It's not that people will begrudge them their shot at the league. UNC, more than any other ACC team, has gotten used to the logic of early entry. Dean Smith made a habit of telling players who were likely to be high picks that they should go, and guys like James Worthy, Michael Jordan, and others are still remembered with reverence by UNC partisans, who fully accepted Smith's logic.

What they've never liked, and what we suspect many object to now, is the sense of UNC as a way station, a rest stop on the road to The Show.

It's not like they're going to get booed. But they'll never get the level of commitment from UNC fans that guys like Hansbrough, or Marcus Ginyard will get.

And speaking of UNC, everyone is automatically assigning them the title, though it's only June and though many things still aren't clear about this team, much less the national season.

Are they loaded? Unquestionably. Is that a good thing? Well, maybe, maybe not. They've been loaded the last several years, and despite overwhelming talent, facts, as Casey Stengel might have said, is facts, and the fact is that UNC has bombed and bombed disastrously in the last three NCAA Tournaments despite hugely talented rosters.

This spring, of course, they were humiliated by Kansas. Last spring, it was Georgetown pulling off a remarkable comeback - or the first of two collapses, if you prefer. The year before that, they were humbled by George Mason. The year before that, they won the title, but primarily because Sean May was pulling 20/20 double-doubles on a regular basis.

This is not, in other words, a program which has shown great character in the clutch lately, and the responsibility for those three ugly losses fall at the feet of Roy Williams, who now has an unexpectedly complicated situation.

His team will be really deep, but in some respects it might be too deep. Hansbrough will be the dominant player, as he has been since he showed up, and his position is locked up. Beyond that, who do you sit? Deon Thompson, who has really come on, but who might not be as promising as rookies Tyler Zeller or Ed Davis? How do you balance out your point guards, with the talented Lawson, who admittedly doesn't like practice and doesn't defend very well, Bobby Frasor, who is recovering from a knee injury, and freshman Larry Drew? We suspect if you caught Roy Williams late at night at a bar (a highly unlikely scenario, by the way) after knocking several back, he might confess that Lawson is his least favorite point guard on the team, that Frasor, who works really hard on defense, or Drew, who is highly competent but not spectacular, garner more respect than Lawson.

You saw a bit of this in Lawson's freshman year in Durham, when Duke made a move near the end of the game. In comes Frasor for Lawson, and almost immediately, the ship was righted.

There's a bit of the same problem at forward. You'd expect Thompson to start, at least initially, but Zeller is a better fit for a running team, and Davis will likely prove to be a better rebounder and power player by the end of his career. It's not a bad dilemma, but still, it's a dilemma.

And at the other spot, you probably have to choose between Danny Green and Marcus Ginyard. Ginyard has become the backbone of the program in many ways, and with so many offensive prima donnas, to borrow from Mark Cuban, somebody has to get the doughnuts.

They will be favorites, and they should be, but given the recent track record, we wouldn't bet the farm on them, and certainly not in June.