Kentucky won bragging rights after beating North Carolina in hoops last season. The Wildcats also claimed the national championship. In search for some late redemption before turning pro, former Tar Heels forward John Henson wishes he and his old teammates could get one last crack at the Wildcats before Thursday's NBA draft.
"They won the championship, so rightfully they get all the attention," Henson said. "Something we wanted to do was win a championship, but it didn't roll that way. But their guys in the draft, our guys in the draft, we should drop everything and play 5-on-5, 4-on-4. It would be a good game."
One way North Carolina could get the better of Kentucky is by having a better showing on draft night. The Heels, though, are already an underdog. The Wildcats should have the No. 1 pick overall for the second time in three years as forward-center Anthony Davis is expected to go to the New Orleans Hornets. Kentucky has another prospect expected to go in the top five in small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The Wildcats have four other draft prospects in Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller.
Kentucky made history when they had five players selected in the first round in 2010 and could challenge that record Thursday.
[Yahoo! Sports Radio: The Dagger's Jeff Eisenberg on Anthony Davis' pro potential]
"Not a big fan of them," UNC center Tyler Zeller said of Kentucky. "They're out of college now. But in college, when I played them I hated them. I'm from Indiana so I don't really like them."
Zeller is part of a solid Carolina corps in the draft, with small forward Harrison Barnes leading the way as a potential second overall pick by the Charlotte Bobcats. North Carolina could make a draft night statement if four of its players – Barnes, Henson, Zeller and point guard Kendall Marshall – are taken in the lottery.
"It will be very interesting to see how both the Kentucky and North Carolina players do," Zeller said.
Barnes would've been a candidate for the No. 1 pick if he declined to return to Chapel Hill last season. Henson and Zeller's fortunes could've been better, too. Looking back, they each say they don't regret their decisions.
"Obviously, the goal was to win a national championship," Barnes said. "We didn't get that done. But just the overall experience of playing another year, you can't replace that."
One of those memorable ballgames was Dec. 3, in the Wildcats' backyard. The Tar Heels arrived in Lexington as the fifth-ranked team against the top-ranked and undefeated Wildcats. North Carolina ended up suffering its second defeat of the season, losing 73-72 to Kentucky after Davis blocked Henson's jumper in the final seconds.
The Tar Heels' hopes of winning a national title ended when they lost 80-67 to Kansas in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. Marshall's absence, due to a broken wrist, hurt North Carolina deep in the postseason. Said Zeller: "Kendall went down. We had a chance to beat Kansas, but Kansas was a better team. We wish we could've won. We wish we could've done it. But at the same time you can't go back, live in the past and say, ‘What if? What if?' "
The Wildcats beat Kansas to win the national championship in the city that Davis is expected to begin his pro career. With so much talent on Kentucky's roster and such a strong spotlight on Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist, did Jones, Teague, Lamb and Miller show NBA scouts what they could really do?
"We did exactly what we needed to do to win," Miller said. "I feel like a lot of guys on the team could do more than they actually showed. But that's not what the team needed to win."
Said Lamb: "It's hard to show as much when you got him because [Davis] does so much. And Michael Kidd-Gilchrist playing on our team, it was hard for everyone else to show what they can do."
One edge that North Carolina will have against Kentucky: They'll have a stronger representation in the green room on draft night in Newark, N.J., according to DraftExpress.com. Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist were the only Wildcats to receive one of the 14 invitations. The Tar Heels will be represented by Barnes, Henson and Zeller.
Regardless to how the draft plays out, Kentucky and North Carolina's presence will be known.
"We might have a better night," Henson said. "I don't know the law of averages. Hopefully, we all get selected pretty early in the first round. Hopefully, all of guys will be back stage early and their guys will be backstage, too."
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