04/24/05 — Regroup, reload, rebuild: Felton, May, Williams leaving UNC

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Regroup, reload, rebuild: Felton, May, Williams leaving UNC

By Wire
Published in Sports on April 24, 2005 2:01 AM

CHAPEL HILL -- Sean May, Raymond Felton and Marvin Williams came to North Carolina with hopes of winning the national championship. Once they got the title, they really had no reason to hang around.

"To me, it's the perfect way to end a season and a career," May said.

As expected, all three are joining teammate Rashad McCants in the NBA draft and leaving the Tar Heels without their top seven scorers for next season. The announcement came Friday during a news conference on the court at the Dean Smith Center.

Coach Roy Williams sat at the podium with the players, and when he began speaking about them, he briefly had tears in his eyes.

"I've coached a lot of great players and these three here are at the top of the list," he said. "If you added the numbers all up for these three guys, I probably haven't yelled at these three guys 10 times all year."

North Carolina also lost seniors Jawad Williams, Jackie Manuel and Melvin Scott, and now has only one player on its roster who started a game last season -- point guard Quentin Thomas, who replaced the suspended Felton in the opener.

The Tar Heels have one of the best recruiting classes coming to campus, and Roy Williams might add a couple of more players.

"If the program was devastated, I'd be leaving with them," the coach said. "We're still going to show up on game night. That's the attitude I'm going to have. You might beat me, but you're not going to have to beat me by hitting me in the back. I'm going to come right at you."

Felton, May and McCants were part of a heralded class recruited by former coach Matt Doherty. But the team sputtered during their freshman year and Doherty resigned under pressure.

In their second season under Roy Williams, who left Kansas to coach his alma mater, the Tar Heels won the NCAA crown, beating Illinois 75-70.

"It's been a lot of tough times, and it's been a lot of great times, especially winning the national championship this year," Felton said.

May had said immediately after the season that he would be back, but the burly, 6-foot-9 center backed off in recent days. He was magnificent during the NCAA tournament, averaging 22.3 points and 10.7 rebounds while shooting 67 percent, and won Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four.

While he admitted he doesn't necessarily need the money, he's just ready for another challenge.

"I always thought I was a four-year player," May said. "But if there's a chance that I can be a top-15 pick, it's something that I just can't turn down. The situation was just right."

Felton averaged 13 points and shot 44 percent on 3-pointers, up from 34 percent the previous two years. With Wake Forest's Chris Paul also in the draft -- and Georgia Tech's Jarrett Jack considering also considering leaving early -- the Atlantic Coast Conference could lose three of its top point guards.

Even though he's only 6-1, Felton has an uncanny ability to get the basket to score himself or to find an open teammate. That type of skill always is appreciated in the NBA.

"It was a dream to come to this university," he said. "Playing in the NBA is another dream, so I'm just living another dream."

Marvin Williams averaged 11 points while never starting a game in his only season in Chapel Hill, but the 6-9 forward likely would have been a lottery pick had he entered the NBA right out of high school.

In the victory over Illinois, he scored the go-ahead basket on a tip-in with about 90 seconds left. Williams also had the winning basket when the Tar Heels beat Duke to clinch their first outright regular season ACC title since 1993.

"When I came here, I didn't have a time table," he said. "I was blessed to have a great season, and we won the national championship. I feel like my time is up in college."

As Roy Williams put it, if these three players had returned along with McCants, he might have had the best team in North Carolina history. Unfortunately, what he has left wouldn't be a part of that comparison.

Forward David Noel, mostly a reserve during his career, is the leading returning scorer with an average of 3.9 points. Noel and Thomas are the only players from the regular rotation coming back, with Reyshawn Terry having the most experience of the rest of the players.

Combined, those three scored a combined total of 244 points.

"Don't count this team out next year," Felton said. "This coach over here just won the national championship. He can coach. They will be prepared."

McCants attended his teammates' news conference but left without taking questions. Roy Williams made a point of noting that McCants decided he was going pro a lot earlier than his teammates, so he was the first to make his announcement.