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Tony Bradley declares for 2017 NBA Draft after one season with UNC men’s basketball

April 24, 2017

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North Carolina forward Tony Bradley greets fans after the men’s basketball team’s victory in the national championship. Bradley has opted to enter the 2017 NBA Draft after one season in college.

For the first time in 10 years, North Carolina could have a one-and-done.

Tony Bradley — a 6-foot-11, 240-pound forward with a 7-foot-4 wingspan — declared for the 2017 NBA Draft on Sunday after averaging 7.1 points and 5.1 rebounds in his lone season in Chapel Hill, joining juniors Joel Berry and Theo Pinson as the three Tar Heels to test the waters ahead of the NBA Draft Combine. He could still return to UNC by May 24 unless he signs an agent.

As a five-star prospect from Bartow, Fla., Bradley played just 14.6 minutes per game behind senior forwards Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks. But with a fringe first-round grade, he could potentially make the early jump to the pros — becoming the first Tar Heel since Brandan Wright (No. 8 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft) to declare for the draft after one season.

Bradley was noncommittal about his future in the immediate aftermath of the national title win, a game in which he grabbed seven rebounds in 18 minutes but misfired on several scoring opportunities. It was a performance emblematic of his NBA scouting report: uncertain but budding with potential.

With a wide frame, impressive mobility and a developing scoring arsenal, Bradley was a key reserve for North Carolina’s elite frontcourt this past season. He boasted the highest offensive rating on the team, per kenpom.com, and he was the only Tar Heel to grab more offensive rebounds (98) and defensive (97). In fact, his offensive rebounding percentage (18.2) would have qualified for best in the nation had he played more minutes.

But even his lack of playing time — a likely factor for his premature exit — couldn’t hide the traits that might make him an enticing first-round flyer.

He doesn’t project as a lottery pick like former teammate Justin Jackson, a 6-foot-8 wing who fits perfectly in today’s NBA. But Bradley has size that can’t be taught, a smooth jump shot with room for growth and an incredible knack for rebounding — a skill that has traditionally translated well from the college game. It’s an archetype that earned Wright a top-10 selection in 2007 and could elevate Bradley’s stock in June after just 38 games in a UNC jersey.

Without Bradley, head coach Roy Williams would be hard-pressed to find a worthy replacement for his minutes.

Luke Maye, who rose to prominence after his game-winning shot in the Elite Eight, is the only player returning player to the Tar Heel frontcourt. While he saw nearly identical minutes to Bradley last season, he averaged 1.6 fewer points and 1.2 fewer rebounds per game. And after beating the buzzer against Kentucky, he didn’t make a single shot in the final two games — combining for two points in 23 minutes. Which version of the versatile 6-foot-8 forward shows up next season could determine North Carolina’s entire offensive approach.

UNC’s two incoming post players — Brandon Huffman and Sterling Manley — have decent builds but are raw three-star prospects who are best served in complementary roles. With Bradley gone, they would likely both be thrust in the rotation right away. Four-star forward Garrison Brooks committed to the Tar Heels on Friday, but his arrival would still leave Williams with just four bigs on the roster.

And unless Kevin Knox brings his talents to Chapel Hill, Bradley’s departure could leave an irreparable hole for the reigning champions.

@CJacksonCowart

sports@dailytarheel.com

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