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UNC's Barnes forgoes NBA Draft, and I like it


I know lots of people with college degrees who can't find jobs, but I don't know anybody with a guaranteed contract worth more than $10 million who can't buy a nice home and secure a luxurious future provided they've got even half of a brain. So when a prospect is projected to be a top pick in the NBA Draft, my advice almost always comes with a push and a nudge. There's too much at stake, too much to risk. Just go, young man, just go.

But Harrison Barnes' situation is unique.

Harrison Barnes averaged 15.7 PPG his first year at UNC. (Getty Images)  
Harrison Barnes averaged 15.7 PPG his first year at UNC. (Getty Images)  
That's why Monday's decision to remain at North Carolina is neither surprising nor irresponsible despite the fact that it goes against my core belief that a player who can play for millions of dollars probably shouldn't play for a scholarship. If you still need to develop your game, develop your game in the NBA while building a portfolio, because the truth is that college basketball isn't crucial to development or even a necessary stepping stone to greatness. That the five players who made All-NBA First Team last year spent a combined total of three seasons playing NCAA basketball makes it hard to argue otherwise.

But I digress.

So, anyway, I would not have questioned Barnes for entering the draft after one season for all the reasons previously stated. Some franchise would've taken him in the top five, and he would've been a candidate -- along with Duke's Kyrie Irving and Arizona's Derrick Williams -- to be selected first overall, which means leaving early would've made sense. But staying at North Carolina makes sense, too, because now Barnes has a chance to achieve lots of things money can't buy, and he's so solid on and off the court that he's the opposite of an at-risk prospect. Barnes doesn't have size, athleticism or maturity problems, and he's not a bad kid with bad habits that might be discovered the longer he remains in school. He works hard, comes from a good family and will almost certainly improve in all areas with time. Again, Barnes didn't have to remain in school to improve with time because -- as Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and countless others have shown -- it's possible to improve with time while in the NBA. My point is only that Barnes is unlikely to damage his stock by returning to UNC, and suffering some sort of career-ending injury is never a realistic fear. Can it happen in basketball? Sure. But it almost never does, and it should never be a determining factor unless there's a history of injuries.

Barnes has no such history.

So he'll return to North Carolina and collect preseason All-American honors based on production more than potential -- meaning the certain accolades won't be met with the same criticism that came last year when Barnes was named the Preseason National Player of the Year before ever playing a college game. That and similar honors brought with them a massive spotlight under which Barnes struggled early. But the 6-foot-8 wing grew more comfortable as the season unfolded (and once Kendall Marshall replaced Larry Drew as the Tar Heels' point guard), and Barnes averaged 21.5 points over the final 10 games to help lead North Carolina to an ACC regular-season title and the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament.

Tyler Zeller and John Henson have since announced they're returning to UNC.

On Monday, Barnes followed suit.

Consequently, the Tar Heels will be the preseason's consensus top-ranked team, and so Barnes has an opportunity to create memories that can never be made at the NBA level no matter how much fame and fortune awaits. Kemba Walker may or may not be a great professional, but he'll always have this past season at Connecticut and the legacy of helping Jim Calhoun win the most improbable of his three national championships. It's hard to put a price on something like that, and Barnes decided he'd rather not right now. Under normal circumstances, I might call him irresponsible. But he's not a normal kid, and his situation isn't typical.

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.

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