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The Fan's Dilemma

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Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Cope With the NBA Draft Process.

Being the fan of one of the elite basketball programs in the country generally means that every April you must endure the uncertainty of the NBA Draft process.  As little as two years ago you waited around five weeks at most before knowing what next season's team would look like.  Now that players have the option to enter the draft and still return to school 10 days before the draft, the wait could be as long as 12 weeks from the end of the season to the final decision date.  That is a great deal of uncertainity for the players themselves, their college teammates, coaches and of course the fans.

When underclassmen at any school declare for the draft it sets off mixed reactions in every fan base.  From what I have seen most fans tends to view it favorably while others only care about the team, want the players in question to return and even go as far as to rip the individual in question.  At least that has been the experience for Ty Lawson since he has declared for the draft.  According an inteview with Gary Parrish in Orlando, most of the fans Lawson has heard from are bringing nothing but negative comments to the table.

"I don't think more than five people have said 'I hope you do well' or things like that," Lawson said Tuesday night after his initial workout here at the NBA Pre-Draft Camp. "Most of the people are saying 'You'll only be like the 25th pick' or something like that, which makes me (wonder) 'Why should I go back?'"

Fans can turn on you quickly.

It's a shame Ty Lawson had to learn this via Facebook.

But that's exactly what has happened over the past few weeks, or, more specifically, ever since Lawson decided he was going to enter the NBA Draft and possibly forgo his junior and senior seasons. When he announced, everything changed. Best he can tell, all the well-wishers who made Lawson's first two years at North Carolina wonderful disappeared. They were replaced by people telling him he isn't tall enough or consistent enough or good enough for the NBA, and his Facebook account has been flooded with angry messages featuring the name Joe Forte.

Case you didn't know, that's code for North Carolina Bust.

If you know anything about college fan bases and I fancy myself as an expert of sorts on them, you understand that every large group has their moderate and lunatic fringes.  For some reason the majority of the lunatic fringe makes gratuitous use of their internet connection to express themselves which in turn drowns out the more moderate voices.  The resulting flood of rampant stupidity from these folks somehow ends up representing the fan base, mainly because people pay more attention to car wrecks than they do clean drivers.  This case is no different and what you end up with are people who would openly attack a player in the anonymous and cowardly internet sort of way because all they care about is seeing their team do well.

In my mind this abjectly stupid.  It has long been my position that these players should be supported regardless of the decision they make.  They does not mean we cannot offer criticisms.  On this blog I have openly criticized Danny Green and his father for diarrhea of the mouth as it pertains to the junior Green's draft situation as well as the apparent breakdown between Roy and his prized sixth man.  In my case I offer the counterpoints to Green's situation more so in hopes he will honestly make the best decision for himself. His return as it relates to UNC next season is a secondary issue in my mind.  There is also an element of feeling like a player is crossing the line with certain things he might say or do which again has nothing to do with their decision to enter the draft but everything to do with criticizing something I believe to be wrong.

The main issue you get with the fans who have gone out of their way to hurl feces at Lawson and the others is they are ignorant of the bigger picture.  Not to get all Lion King on my readers, but there is very much a "circle of life" framework in place here.  The success of UNC players in the NBA helps recruiting.  The five star recruit could very well have preparation for the NBA near the top of his list and if UNC consistently demonstrates that players coming into the program are ultimately successful in the NBA it could tip the scales.  It is in the best interest of UNC to make the draft process as player friendly as possible and that goes as much for the fans as it does the coaches.  Otherwise you end up with a situation similar to Duke where a hostile environment for early draft entrants most certainly has to be a factor in the decision of a handful of NBA prospects that have considered Duke and ultimately gone elsewhere.

Of course on a simpler level, it is just the decent thing to do.  Fans who treat these players like gods and the turn on them because they decide to pursue an NBA career better support their families are nothing more than hypocritical morons.  It is the epitome short sighted thinking to love a player as long as that player abides by your desires.  And while thinking most players are more focused on the next level while at this one tends to be a tad cynical it is also an acknowledgment of reality.  The dream, the money and all the other pulls upward are simply more powerful than staying in college for loyalties' sake or to win a national title.  The hypocrisy found among some of these fans lies in the fact that if pressed into the same situation most people will make the same decisions these kids have made.

In the final analysis we must remember that these players are Tar Heels whether it be for one season or four.  Danny Green, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington all put on the North Carolina uniform and won games while representing the university.  Ellington beat Clemson in OT, Green posterized Greg Paulus and Lawson was simply amazing on a variety of levels.  These are but a few of the moments they gave us as fans in raising ACC banners to the Dean Dome rafters over the course of 2-3 years.  And even if that was not the case, these guys sacrificed and gave UNC all they had night in and night out.  That level of effort demands respect regardless of when they decide to head to the NBA.  On one hand I think expressing doubts that a player is ready to make the jump or concerning his comportment during the process are perfectly legitimate as long as it is done with some consensus of the experts and because it is flat wrong.  The trouble you get into is when you call a player a potential bust because you want them back on the team or are irrationally angry for leaving in the first place.  The former types of criticisms are based on thoughful consideration whereas the latter haterade is emotionally based.

The bottom line is we should love these kids because they are and always will be Tar Heels.  Their success is UNC's success.  Yes, winning a national titles is nice. However treating players who have represented our team on and off the court the right way transcends even that and is far more relevant to how we live our lives as human beings than another banner in the Smith Center.

In others words, it is only a sport, these players are still kids and some people need to grow up.