PHOENIX The newly crowned national champion North Carolina basketball team will have a different look next year no matter what, thanks to the graduation of starting big men Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, along with senior reserves Nate Britt and Stilman White.How much more of the roster Roy Williams will have to replace depends on which underclassmen decide to declare for the NBA draft and how many of them stick with their decision and actually leave.Freshman center Tony Bradley has already said he plans to at least test the waters of the draft and hasn’t ruled out the possibility of hiring an agent. Final Four Most Outstanding Player Joel Berry is also a good bet to declare, though he’s almost certain to leave his options open for a possible return.And while ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson has yet to give an indication of his future plans, it’s generally assumed he’ll cash in on his individual and team success this season and begin cashing an NBA paycheck.Of the three Jackson’s decision is clearly the most logical.Not only has the 6-foot-8 junior wing become much more of an aggressive offensive force, averaging a team-leading 18.4 points per game, but his stellar defensive play in the NCAA tournament especially the job he did in shutting down Kentucky star Malik Monk suggests that he can be a solid two-way player in the league.Jackson has also improved his rebounding and, Monday night’s 0 for 9 disaster against Gonzaga notwithstanding, has improved his 3-point shooting touch nearly 10 percentage points from his first two college seasons.NBA Draft Express projects Jackson as the No. 12 pick to the Charlotte Hornets, with other web sites having him ranked anywhere from 17th to 30th.While Jackson is a virtual lock to be taken in the first round, the outlook isn’t nearly as certain for the other two UNC underclassmen with draft potential.No matter what, both Bradley and Berry would be smart to take advantage of the recent rule change that allows players considering the draft more time to work out for teams and attend the NBA’s predraft combine without affecting their eligibility provided they don’t hire an agent.Going through the draft process last summer paid dividends for both Jackson and Meeks, who returned to school and had career years after being told by scouts what areas on which they needed to improve the most.The current knock on Bradley is his lack of upper body strength, a problem that makes it difficult for him to play through contact and has led him to get his shot blocked too many times for a player his size. He could also learn to take better advantage of his long wingspan and become a more effective shot blocker himself.He is clearly a project on the NBA level who could use another year of seasoning to blossom as a dominant inside force.At the same time, though, the talented teenager who averaged 7.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the floor is projected by some mock drafts as a late first round selection. And considering what happened to James Michael McAdoo’s stock after he passed up the draft as a freshmen, Bradley couldn’t be blamed for seriously considering a jump to the next level now.Berry, on the other hand, is a second round prospect at best even after his heroic performance on two bad ankles in Monday’s championship game. The 6-foot-1 junior is small and he’s had issues with injuries throughout his career.Because second round contracts are rarely guaranteed, his best option is to go through the evaluation process and return to become the veteran leader of a younger, more uncertain UNC team, unless he doesn’t mind playing in the D-League like his UNC point guard predecessors Kendall Marshall and Marcus Paige, or perhaps starting his career overseas,The only other Tar Heel underclassman with even a hint of entering the draft process is junior guard Theo Pinson.College players have until 11:59 p.m. on April 23 to declare as early entries into the NBA draft. The league’s Combine will be held May 9-14 in Chicago with the deadline for withdrawing from the draft and returning to school set for 5 p.m. on Monday, June 12.This year’s draft is on June 22 at a location to be determined.
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Justin Jackson and Joel Berry have formed a 1-2 punch that has carried the North Carolina basketball team all season. And yet, even though one or the other has led the Tar […]