NBA

Draft full of Tar Heels, Wildcats

Image: Anthony Davis, John Calipari, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of the Kentucky Wildcats (© Mel Evans/AP Images)
UK coach John Calipari saw Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist go 1-2.
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Sam Gardner

Sam Gardner is a general assignment writer for FOXSports.com. Originally from Orlando, Fla., he previously covered the Orlando Magic for FOX Sports Florida and has also covered the NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Finals and MLB playoffs. Follow him on Twitter.

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NEWARK, N.J.

Eventually, there’s going to come a day — if that day hasn’t come already — when Roy Williams doesn’t even need to make recruiting pitches to prospective North Carolina players. All he’ll need to do is carry around a picture of himself from Thursday night’s NBA Draft.

There the Hall of Fame coach sat, in all his glory, near the stage of the Prudential Center, beaming as he held up four fingers for a TV camera — one of them flashing a shiny national championship ring. In his lap sat four hats: Warriors, Suns, Bucks, Mavericks.

Each of those teams had taken one of Williams’ former players, making four selections from North Carolina’s 2012 Elite Eight squad in the top 17 picks of a loaded draft.

And as each ex-Tar Heel crossed the stage — first Harrison Barnes, followed by Kendall Marshall, then John Henson, then Tyler Zeller — any thought that North Carolina, one of the three winningest programs in NCAA history, had lost any cred as a draft factory was quickly quashed.

All Williams does — other than win championships, which he’s done twice at UNC — is groom NBA talent. After coaching 11 first-round picks in 15 years at Kansas, Williams has guided 16 Tar Heels into the draft in nine years in Chapel Hill, including 13 first-rounders.

This year’s draft marked the 10th time that UNC has had multiple players picked in the first round, as Barnes, Marshall, Henson and Zeller became draft picks Nos. 100, 101, 102 and 103 in UNC history.

And after a two-year drought in which just one lonely Tar Heel was selected in the draft, Carolina has re-established itself.

Barnes was the first Tar Heel to be selected Thursday, the sophomore forward going to the Golden State Warriors at No. 7. Barnes became the highest Tar Heel picked since Marvin Williams and Raymond Felton went second and fifth, respectively, in 2005 — a first round that also had Williams products Sean May (No. 13) and Rashad McCants (No. 14) go in the top 15.

“I’m just truly blessed to be in this position,” Barnes said. “Looking back over my high school years and middle school years and stuff like that, there was a chance I wasn’t going to be this player. So I’m just happy to be here, and … whatever my ceiling is, I’m definitely going to try to reach it.”

Next came the sophomore point guard Marshall and the junior forward Henson, who went back to back as Nos. 13 and 14 to Phoenix and Milwaukee, respectively. Shortly after Henson stepped to the interview podium, a reporter asked if playing for a tough guy like Williams would help prepare him for Bucks coach Scott Skiles, a hard-nosed leader in his own right.

“I think it will,” Henson said. “You know, he wants to win, and whatever a coach has to do to win is necessary, and the way he coaches, I think it’s a good philosophy. (He’s looking for) a hot hand, the person is going to contribute, and hopefully I can be one of those guys.”

Three picks later came the 7-foot Zeller, who slipped further than many expected after averaging 16.3 points and 9.6 rebounds during his senior season. The Mavericks scooped him up as a steal at No. 17, then immediately dealt him to Cleveland for three picks later in the draft.

Williams wasn’t the only coach who boosted his stock even more among drooling prep recruits on Thursday. And if there’s one guy ahead of Williams for the most-likely-to-get-you-drafted superlative, it’s Kentucky coach John Calipari, who has become an absolute master at recruiting, then flushing out top talent at Kentucky in today’s age of one-and-done stars.

Like Williams, Calipari also had four players drafted in the first round Thursday, as the schools combined to make some draft history. So did Kentucky super-freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who became the first pair of teammates to go first and second overall.

Kentucky stars going early is nothing new to Calipari. Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist became the fourth UK duo to be selected in the top 10 in the same year, including each of the past three drafts — which just so happen to be Calipari's first three years in Lexington.

Last year it was big man Enes Kanter — who never actually played for the 'Cats — who went third overall, followed shortly after by guard Brandon Knight, who went eighth. In 2010, point guard John Wall went first overall to the Wizards and DeMarcus Cousins went fifth to Sacramento.

After all the Carolina noise died down, Calipari also heard forward Terrence Jones (No. 18) and point guard Marquis Teague (No. 29) have their names called before Commissioner David Stern handed the reins over to deputy commish Adam Silver.

Then in the second round, Kentucky pushed its total to six draftees, with Doron Lamb going to Milwaukee at No. 42 and Darius Miller joining his Wildcats teammate Davis with the Hornets as the 46th pick.

“Coach Cal is a great coach,” Davis said. “He coached in the pros before, so it helped me, as well, to become pro-ready. He runs his practices in the program as a pro team, and I think me going to Kentucky really helped me become prepared.”

UConn had multiple lottery selections for the third time in school history, with Andre Drummond (No. 9) and Jeremy Lamb (No. 12) each going early. Syracuse also had two players, No. 4 Dion Waiters and No. 22 Fab Melo, picked in the first round for the first time since 1991.

But the night belonged, as it so often does, to UNC and Kentucky, and more specifically to Williams, who is back on top after a brief absence, and Calipari, who has gotten pretty used to being there.

All told, the Tar Heels and Wildcats made up more than a quarter of the first round — and if Thursday’s results have any bearing on future recruiting for the two rivals, it won’t be the last time.

Follow Sam Gardner on Twitter: @sam_gardner

Tagged: Hawks, Wizards, Marvin Williams, John Wall

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