James Michael McAdoo

James Michael McAdoo

Returning to school is costly financially, but money isn’t always the motivation

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James Michael McAdoo will find himself in an awkward position during Thursday night’s NBA Draft.

He’ll spend the night waiting for his phone to ring, hoping that he did enough over the course of his three years at North Carolina to convince an NBA team to use a second round pick on him.

That’s no guarantee, however. McAdoo is currently projected as the No. 50 pick in Chad Ford’s most recent mock draft. Draft Express has McAdoo going undrafted.

Two years ago, it would have been inconceivable to think that McAdoo could eventually end up as an undrafted free agent. As a freshman with the Tar Heels, McAdoo spent much of the season buried on the bench before an injury to John Henson late in the year opened up playing time for him. And while he wasn’t overly dominant — he averaged 10.6 points and 4.6 boards in seven postseason games as the Tar Heels were one Kendall Marshall injury away from being a real threat to win the 2012 national title — his athleticism and promising performance was enough to vault him into the lottery consideration.

Two years ago, had McAdoo gone pro, he very well could have spent the 2012 NBA Draft sitting in the Green Room.

That’s a long way to fall.

MORE: Underrated Prospects | Overrated Prospects | Top Ten Players in Five Years | Busts?

“Not at all,” McAdoo told NBCSports.com when asked whether or not he regrets his decision to return to school. “It’s something that people ask me all the time. At the end of the day, I enjoyed my time at UNC.”

A number of factors played a role in that decision: McAdoo wanted a chance to win a national title, and coming so close while having an injury to one player cost them that chance left a bitter taste in his mouth. He also wanted a chance to be a leader at the collegiate level, to play major minutes every night in front of a raucous Dean Dome crowd. He knew that his family wasn’t in dire need of the money that he would make, he knew that he needed to grow as a person and, frankly, he liked being a college kid.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the decision he made has already cost him millions. Let’s say that McAdoo would have ended up being the 14th pick in the 2012 draft. He would have been guaranteed $3.107 million over the first two years of that contract, and if the team that picked him would have exercised their option for years three and four, and he accepted a qualifying option for year five, that contract would have been worth a total of $10.628 million. There are a lot of ‘ifs’ there, I know, but that’s a lot of potential income that vanished.

“I’m not going to be able to change it,” McAdoo said. “Obviously, I could have came out and got picked high, but I know God’s got my back. I’m just going to do whatever it takes.

“I know the circumstances are a lot different than they would have been freshman year.”

McAdoo isn’t the only player that has cost themselves quite a bit of money in recent years by deciding to return to school. The most notable player in that group is probably Marcus Smart, the former Oklahoma State point guard. Smart could have ended up being the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft had he left school as a freshman, but he opted to return to Stillwater for a sophomore season that saw him fail to show an improvement in his jumper, struggle to control his emotions on the court and get suspended for three games for pushing a fan during a game at Texas Tech.

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Most importantly, Smart’s return made Oklahoma State a preseason top ten team and a favorite to win the Big 12. They lost seven straight leagues games and Smart left school without a single NCAA tournament win.

“Everything that happened this season, I wouldn’t change it for a thing,” Smart said in April at the NBA draft combine. “It helped me. It got me ready for the NBA and things that come in the NBA.”

“I never regretted coming back,” he said after the Pokes were eliminated from the NCAA tournament. “It was my decision, and it’s what I really wanted. So I’m very happy with the decision I made.”

Recent years have been littered with players who plummeted in the draft after returning to school. Michigan’s Mitch McGary was projected as a lottery pick as tearing up the 2013 NCAA tournament and leading the Wolverines to a national title game. A back injury ended his sophomore season and a positive test for marijuana forced him to turn pro this year, where he’s a borderline first round pick. Perry Jones III and Jared Sullinger were all projected top five picks in the 2011 NBA Draft and returned to school. Sullinger went 21st in 2012. Jones went 28th.

But does that mean it was the wrong decision?

It depends on what that player values.

Returning to school will provide NBA front office types with more time to refine their scouting reports on a prospect. Instead of harping on potential, embracing the positives of what a player is able to do, they can nitpick at what he can’t do, what he wasn’t able to actually improve on in his extra year on campus. It creates the opportunity for injuries to ruin a season or for an off-the-court incident to tarnish an image, a brand. That extra year can expose a player’s faults, provide proof that he’s not as good as his reputation.

RELATED: Elfrid Payton, the Draft’s biggest sleeper | Balancing potential, running a program

All of that is a risk to the amount of guaranteed money that can be made from a first contract, saying nothing about the fact that it’s one less year that a player will be able to receive a salary beyond a scholarship.

If money is your motivation, returning to school is rarely your best bet.

But not every athlete is simply motivated by the number of zeroes on his paycheck.

Some guys need that extra year in school to mature, to learn how to handle media criticism or manage their money or simply grow out of the mindset of being a college kid and into one of being a professional basketball player.

That’s why Smart returned to school. He wanted another year before basketball became his job. He wanted another year to spend time with his friends on the Oklahoma State team. He even admitted to knowing the financial implications of his decision, saying at the time “I am aware of how much money I am giving up.”

And that’s why McAdoo says he would never counsel a player to go pro simply because of the paycheck that he would stand to cash.

“I think that at the end of the day it just comes down to what your personal goals are,” he said. “There’s a lot of guys kill to get into the spot I’m in right. It’s not stressful for me.

“But it’s tough going up against other guys that are in a similar predicament where they are not guaranteed come June 26th that their name called.”

Rebounding to blame for No. 14 North Carolina’s loss at No. 4 Duke

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In the first meeting this season between No. 4 Duke and No. 14 North Carolina, the Tar Heels were able to win for two important reasons. One was their use of multiple defenses to confuse the Blue Devils in the second half, turning Duke into a tentative offensive team that settled for far too many challenged perimeter looks. The second reason was the fact that North Carolina controlled the boards, out-rebounding Duke by 13 and limiting the Blue Devils to an offensive rebounding percentage of 28.2%.

On Saturday night North Carolina (23-8, 13-5) was unable to duplicate either feat, falling by the final score of 93-81 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Jabari Parker scored a career-high 30 points to go along with nine rebounds, and Rodney Hood added 24 points for Duke (24-7, 13-5), who will be the three-seed in next week’s ACC tournament. The two offensive leaders combined to shoot 18-for-30 on Saturday night, a higher percentage than their 14-for-29 performance in the first meeting.

As a team Duke was better offensively, shooting 50.9% from the field and scoring 1.35 points per possession. The Tar Heels were capable of withstanding those offensive numbers as they shot 59.6% from the field, but that’s where the poor rebounding comes into play.

Duke managed to rebound 53.3% of its missed shots, and those extra opportunities led to 20 second-chance points. Entering Saturday’s game North Carolina ranked fourth in the ACC in defensive rebounding percentage, as they managed to grab 70% of opponents’ misses in conference games. And in their 12-game win streak the Tar Heels’ worst defensive rebounding effort came in their win over Pittsburgh, as Roy Williams’ team managed to grab just 58.5% of the Panthers’ misses. Obviously North Carolina didn’t perform to that level on Saturday night.

MORE: Just what do we make of Duke’s win? Are they ‘back’?

James Michael McAdoo dealt with foul trouble for much of the first half and Kennedy Meeks was under the weather, but North Carolina can’t win games of this magnitude when McAdoo fails to grab a single rebound. North Carolina big men combined to grab ten rebounds, and nine of those belonged to Brice Johnson. Simply put, that won’t cut it if the Tar Heels are to make any kind of noise in the NCAA tournament.

Clearly Marcus Paige is going to lead the way offensively, and his performance will have the greatest impact on the Tar Heels’ fortunes. But the front court will be important as well, and when those players aren’t productive it’s incredibly difficult for North Carolina to win games of this magnitude.

North Carolina wins on the road at Florida State despite scoreless effort from James Michael McAdoo

North Carolina's Marcus Paige (AP Photo)
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North Carolina continues to compile wins in the ACC as the Tar Heels won 81-75 on Monday in a road win at Florida State.

Despite zero points in about 13 minutes from junior James Michael McAdoo, the Tar Heels (18-7, 8-4) still took their first lead with ten minutes left in the game and held off Florida State (15-11, 6-8) for the rest of the game.

Marcus Paige was huge, making a lot of plays from the right wing, as the lefty guard drilled three second-half three-pointers from that spot, while also driving baseline and making passes or scoring as well. The sophomore finished with 20 points and seven assists.

Kennedy Meeks was the most important player of the game for the Tar Heels, however. The freshman big man came off the bench to score 23 points and grab seven rebounds as he finished 11-for-12 from the field.

While also getting scoring from Brice Johnson (14 points) and J.P. Tokoto (10 points), North Carolina was able to hold off Florida State by getting some stops and using turnovers and stops to get out in transition.

North Carolina has been seven straight games heading into its Thursday battle at home with No. 5 Duke. Can the Tar Heels keep picking up wins in the ACC and knock off their rival in the process?

North Carolina picks up big home win over No. 25 Pitt

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North Carolina continued its recent strong play in the ACC on Saturday as the Tar Heels picked up a 75-71 win over No. 25 Pitt at the Dean Dome.

Despite a second-half surge from Pitt that got the Panthers (20-6, 8-5) within a possession with under 25 seconds remaining, North Carolina (17-7, 7-4) made free throws and got a tremendous performance from junior forward James Michael McAdoo.

McAdoo had 24 points and 12 rebounds and when he plays as the main alpha dog for the Tar Heels, they’re a better team. Sophomore guard Marcus Paige also contributed 18 points and when he’s a second option scoring from the perimeter, North Carolina’s offense can be dangerous.

Brice Johnson also added 13 points off the bench, and although he’s a subpar on-the-ball defender, he’s bouncy enough to be a factor as a weakside shot blocker. Johnson had five blocks and if he can be a weakside shot blocker, maybe North Carolina uses some zone to utilize that strength of his sometimes.

This is a big win for the Tar Heels as they continue to shake off the slow start in league play. If J.P. Tokoto or Johnson is a third scoring option and McAdoo stays aggressive, this is a really good North Carolina offense that can beat some elite teams on a good night.

Meanwhile, Pitt will drop out of the top 25 this week and they still have yet to beat an NCAA Tournament-caliber team this season. Lamar Patterson’s great season has slowed down a bit and the Panthers need some wins going into the ACC Tournament.

POSTERIZED: James Michael McAdoo, J.P. Tokoto dunks highlight North Carolina’s win over Notre Dame (VIDEO)

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North Carolina got off to a slow start on Saturday afternoon against Notre Dame. But J.P. Tokoto woke up the Tar Heels with his one-handed slam in transition.

With under 90 seconds to go in the first half, James Michael McAdoo gave the Tar Heels their first lead of the half since 2-0 on the opening possession with this nasty one-handed putback slam.

North Carolina held a 14-point lead in the second half before Notre Dame came storming back to cut it to single digits. The Tar Heels countered with a 6-0 run to pull off a 73-62 victory in South Bend.

McAdoo ended with 18 points and eight rebounds. Tokoto finished with 13 and seven.

Has North Carolina finally figured out their issues?

North Carolina's Marcus Paige (AP Photo)

North Carolina had a brutal start to ACC play.

They lost four of their first five games, and they weren’t good losses, either. At Wake Forest. At home to Miami. Beatdowns at the hands Syracuse and Virginia. This was a team that beat all three of the nation’s preseason top three teams?

Well, the Tar Heels have bounced back.

They’ve now won four straight games after a 75-63 win against Maryland on Tuesday night, which moved the Heels up past .500 in the league standings for the first time this season. That’s good news, because Roy Williams’ club has apparently hit their stride at the perfect time.

Their next four games could end making their season. It starts with a trip to South Bend on Saturday to take on Notre Dame. Duke and Pitt will come to town next week, and UNC will follow that up with a trip to Florida State the week after. It will take a bit of a collapse for the Heels to miss the tournament at this point, but a good way to kick off a long losing streak is to have a bad stretch against good competition.

The key for UNC, at least according to their coach, appears to be as simple as maintaining their confidence.

“I think they are more confident [during this winning streak],” Williams told reporters last night. “I think they’ve bought in to the sense of urgency issue that we’ve been preaching all year long.”

Star guard Marcus Paige agreed.

“We’ve definitely hit our stride, our defensive intensity has increased, and it’s a lot different than it was the first couple of ACC games,” he said last night. “That’s what allowed us to be successful, so if we keep that up I think we’re going to reel off a couple more wins hopefully.”

That defensive intensity, which has actually become the strength of this UNC team, has carried over to the other side of the floor as well. Paige is averaging 18.5 points and 6.0 assists during this recent surge. James Michael McAdoo is averaging 16.8 points and 8.3 boards in these four games. In three of the last four, they’ve jumped out to big, early leads and never looked back.

UNC has their issues — they don’t shoot threes well and they are as bad as any team in the country from the foul line, which is why their offensive efficiency is as low as it is — but there certainly are talented players on the roster.

If they can put it all together, they can beat anyone in the country.

Just ask Michigan State.