The only thing that’s really happening in the world of North Carolina basketball right now is the waiting game. There’s the waiting on Kevin Knox, but there’s also the waiting for the final draft decisions of Tony Bradley and Theo Pinson.
At time of writing, neither player has withdrawn from the NBA draft pool. As every fan base would, that leads to Tar Heel fans scouring mock drafts and making judgements on what the player should do based on the projections.
It makes perfect sense for any fan to want all their players to come back. All eligible players returned for UNC last year, and that obviously led to a national championship. Every fan wants their team to be good. For the most part, Carolina fans are all hoping Bradley and Pinson return. With those two and the rest of the pieces UNC will have next season, that could be a team that makes another deep March run.
However, if one of Bradley or Pinson, or both, decide to remain in the draft and end their college careers, it will not be dumb or a mistake. That’s even if their projections or draft position don’t end up being all that high.
The argument that’s always made, about Bradley mostly, is that this upcoming draft is loaded. If he comes back next year, he’ll be featured more and can raise his stock in a lesser draft. That is a perfectly plausible scenario. However, to act is if it’s the only correct option isn’t fair.
The assumption seems to be that if a player doesn’t get drafted, or go in the first round, then they’re doomed to no career in the NBA. That’s really not true.
Of the 30 second round picks in last year’s draft, 19 have already played in the NBA. And of the 11 that didn’t, only four aren’t international players who were already playing professionally overseas.
A perfect example of a second round player having a fine NBA career is Carolina’s own Danny Green. Green went 46th overall, didn’t do much in his rookie season, and then spent time in the D-League. Then things clicked and he’s now a big piece of the Spurs. Obviously, not everyone will turn into Danny Green, but the second round really isn’t the graveyard it’s made out to be. You will probably play in the NBA at some point.
Not being selected in the NBA draft isn’t even the end of a basketball career. Green’s San Antonio teammate Jonathon Simmons wasn’t drafted. He played in the D-League and something called the American Basketball League before catching on with the Spurs. Now he plays 18 minutes a game on a playoff team.
Again, obviously not every player will manage to pull that off. However, it happens. Acting like a non-first round pick is the end of a basketball career is disingenuous. If Bradley or Pinson are good enough to play it in the NBA, they will. Another year at Carolina may improve their draft stock, but their chances at making in the league will not be as different as people like to act.
Also, there is risk in coming back. Injuries are a thing. Career-ending injuries are rarer now, but they still have a higher chance of wrecking a career than falling into the second round does.
Playing overseas or in the D-League is not the flashiest thing in the world. However, you’re still getting paid to play basketball, which you will not be in college. The paying players debate aside, that’s just a fact. Maybe you won’t make as much playing in Spain as you do in the NBA, but playing a season or two in Barcelona or somewhere like that would still be pretty cool.
If Bradley or Pinson decide to remain in the draft, you can be sad that you won’t get to see them play for the Tar Heels next season. It’s understandable. However, the disappointment should be because of that. It shouldn’t be because of some belief that they’re ruining their careers.
Editor’s note: Theo Pinson has announced his decision to return to North Carolina for his senior season. Posts are generally written and scheduled for publish the night before on Tar Heel Blog, and this was no exception. We apologize for the lack of timeliness in light of today’s announcement.