The Tar Heels are National Champions again, but now it’s time to look to next year’s team. The first part of considering the 2017-2018 squad is determining who will even be on the roster. We know that Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt, Kanler Coker, and Stilman White are graduating, but who else is leaving?
The first player that comes to mind is junior Justin Jackson. Will he return for his senior year, or should he ride off into the sunset knowing that he’s accomplished everything he could possibly hope to achieve? Last year, Jackson declared for the draft and worked out for teams. He returned to put together one of the best season performances in the country. Averaging 18.3 points per game, 51% field goal percentage, 37% 3-point percentage, and 4.7 rebounds per game earned him the ACC Player of the Year Award. He also led his team to a national title and will certainly see his name hanging from the rafters.
Not only has he done all that he can hope to accomplish, but he’s also considered the 14th best prospect in the 2017 NBA Draft by CBS. Several mock drafts have him going in the first round. Heavy.com and Draft Express have him going as high as 12th overall. Over at CBS, Howard Megdal has him getting drafted 14th, while Garry Parrish says 18th. Not everyone has him going so high, though. Tankathon and NBADraft.com only have him going 29th in the draft, while Land of 10 says 24th. Still, it seems that Jackson’s draft value will never get any higher. It will be difficult for him to pass up this opportunity.
While most outlets know where Jackson will end up, there are some who believe other players on the Tar Heels will be up for grabs as well. Land of 10 believes that Tony Bradley, the 39th-best draft prospect, will actually be drafted 29th overall this year, while NBADraft.com says 36th. Bradley didn’t exact light up the scoreboard in his first year on the team, but he wasn’t expected to. His play showed he has a lot of promise and should improve with more playing time going forward.
Land of 10 has Hicks as the 46th overall pick and NBADraft.com is saying 50th. Meeks, meanwhile, wasn’t taken in any mock I saw, but as the 66th overall prospect, there should be a team willing to give him a chance somewhere. That leaves us with Joel Berry. Even after a season where he put up 14.7 points per game, a 42% field goal percentage, a 38% 3-point percentage, 3.1 rebounds per game, and 3.6 assists per game, most outlets don’t mention him in their mocks. CBS has him as the 50th overall draft prospect, so there will certainly be interest in him, but will it be enough?
Given the loss of talent already guaranteed, UNC won’t be able to handle the loss of Jackson and Berry. My money is on Joel Berry sticking around. Though he had an excellent season filled with accolades, another strong year with the Tar Heels should push him to the first round of next year’s draft. It will also keep the team in the national conversation.