UNC Beat: Gio to Go

Giovani Bernard is taking his electric talents to the NFL.

Giovani Bernard has entered the NFL Draft, foregoing the remainder of his collegiate career at North Carolina.  While many fans celebrate Bernard’s achievements this season and will keep close tabs on his Sunday adventures in 2013 and beyond, others will lament what might have been for the Tar Heels with Bernard in Carolina Blue.

It is possible that another season could have improved Bernard’s stock, though it’s hard to imagine, for a player who rushed for more than 1,200 yards and reached the end zone 19 times between rushing, receiving, and returning punts.  However, he only played ten games (missing Wake Forest and Louisville) and went largely unnoticed on the national scale, playing for a team without postseason aspirations.

However, it is also possible (maybe even probable) that Bernard’s NFL draft stock would suffer from another year in Chapel Hill.  Yes, a healthy season would encourage NFL executives to trust him more for a 16-game NFL slate, but what if Bernard gets hurt again, or worse?  Even in games when Bernard played, he was sometimes on and off the field with various knocks and pains.

Of course, that is the danger with any athletic career. Even the stoutest of players could have a career derailed at a moment’s notice.  This is why, some would argue, Bernard needs to go to the NFL while he can.  There is no guarantee of any game beyond the next one, and other players in the college landscape will have their own stocks rise and fall.  According to several draft experts, Bernard is the best running back available in this year’s class.  That may be in part to the devastating leg injury to South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore.  This is the old “Go get paid, young fella” argument.

Personally, my least favorite part of the going pro dialectic is the decrying of greed amongst players who make the jump to the pros.  According to some (almost always the fans of a given player’s college team), a player who leaves early for the professional ranks is selfishly abandoning his teammates in the name of the almighty dollar and eschewing the value of a college education.  For one, teams at every level change personnel regularly. In high school and college, players graduate, transfer, etc. on an annual basis, not to mention the constant flux of coaches (and now conferences).

But more importantly, I would like to ask each of the people who argue this a simple question: If I offered you a job that paid $500,000 annually, on the caveat that you had to leave college, would you say no? Most people wouldn’t see that as much of a downside.  After all, if the job dries up, you can use that money to … go back to college, as many athletes do during their offseason or after their professional careers are over.

Nonetheless, if North Carolina puts together a strong season next fall, there will always be the question of how the team would have done if Gio were in Chapel Hill.  It may not be a fair question, but it’s one that often comes up when discussing Tar Heel basketball teams, such as this year’s squad without Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall, and John Henson.  It’ll just be strange to hear it during football season for a change.

BREAKING DOWN THE BREAK: Hopefully, dear reader, you managed to find meaning in life last week, as the UNC Beat took a leave of absence along with many of the nation’s college basketball programs during finals.

In the revolving door of big men, Joel James started against East Tennessee State, but was again less than impressive.  So, against East Carolina, Brice Johnson got the nod … but only played twelve minutes and scored six points.  It appears to be that the Heels will rely on a small lineup as conference play begins, perhaps relying on a “hot hand” to anchor the post at any given time.

Speaking of hot hands, East Carolina got alarmingly hot in the second half of their game against the Tar Heels, scoring 61 points.  This was thanks in part to a 19-of-23 showing on free throws in the period (and they say UNC gets all the calls … ), but it also had a lot to do with the play of Akeem Richmond.  Richmond is a Sanford native who is the second-highest scoring player in North Carolina high school history, leading the state in scoring during his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons at Southern Lee High School.  Richmond was scoreless in the first period, but scored 17 points in the second half, including five three-pointers, the last of which brought the Pirates within four points of the lead with 27 seconds remaining.

This performance by Richmond stands in sharp contrast to his first meeting against the Tar Heels.  Richmond transferred to East Carolina from Rhode Island, which met North Carolina in the NIT Semifinals during the 2009-10 season, Richmond’s freshman season. In that game, Richmond was 0-for-6 from the field, as the Heels held on in overtime to defeat the Rams 68-67 and earn a berth in the NIT Championship (which they lost to Dayton).

This leaves three games over the holiday break for North Carolina before beginning Atlantic Coast Conference play.  They will first travel to Austin, Texas to face the Texas Longhorns.  After that, they host McNeese State and UNLV.  The UNLV game marks, in all likelihood, the most competitive home non-conference game on the North Carolina slate.  The Runnin’ Rebels are 9-1 this season, but are remembered by Tar Heel fans for their 90-80 victory last season over then-top ranked North Carolina in the Las Vegas Invitational.


Zach Evans is brilliantZach Evans is a 2012 graduate of the University of North Carolina and a lifelong fan of the Tar Heels and follower of the ACC. Outside of the ACC, Zach is also a fan of the Atlanta Braves, the Carolina Hurricanes, the Carolina Panthers, and bad puns. He includes nailing the Final Four in his 2009 NCAA Tournament group and batting .000 during the 2011 intramural softball season among his crowning achievements. For more commentary, follow Zach on Twitter at @ztevans.

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