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April 11, 2007Tuesday night might as well have been Christmas for Tar Heel fans everywhere as two-time All-America center Tyler Hansbrough and freshman point guard Tywon Lawson announced they would return for another season of basketball at Carolina.
Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year Brandan Wright still has not made his decision on what he will do, but locking Hansbrough and Lawson in for another season means Coach Roy Williams landed the best recruiting class in America, even though he did not sign a single player for this fall.
"The effectiveness of those two players, the ability of those two players, their talent, I'm very fortunate because they are the kind of players who make me a better coach," Williams said.
In another development, freshman big man Alex Stepheson pooh-poohed rumors that he plans to transfer.
"Not true at all," Stepheson said, smiling. "I'm happy here. I'm excited. I'm looking forward to having a big season next year. I'm just working on getting better and looking forward to next season."
As for those who spread the rumor that Wright's decision could affect Stepheson in some way, once again, Stpheson said no way.
"His decision will not affect me at all," Stepheson said. "I'll be back."
As for Wright, a 6-foot-9 forward whose wingspan seems to reach the clouds, Williams said that he has been amazed by the nonchalance Wright displays about it all.
"Brandan and I have talked on a couple of occasions," Williams said. "We talked [Monday] night for about an hour. He's like a kid. He's hoping if he ignores it, it will go away.
"I told him it is not going to go away. He really wants to be relaxed and enjoy life a little bit. He's not worried about it. He's not stressing out over it. He's probably thought about it less than anybody that I can ever, ever, ever imagine in that same scenario. I really, honestly believe that."
When Wright returned to his home in Tennessee for Easter, Williams said he advised the youngster to talk with his mom about his decision.
"I had visited with her on the phone," Williams said. "I had visited with Brandan. He goes home, and I said, 'Well, did you guys have a chance to visit?'
"He said, 'Well, we talked about 10 or 15 minutes.' This is a pretty important decision, but it's not something that is bothering him. I did tell him [on Tuesday] when he had to make a decision by, which is April 29."
That is the deadline for underclassmen to announce their intentions to forego their collegiate eligibility and make themselves available for the National Basketball Association's annual draft.
Hansbrough came back for several reasons. One, he wants to continue to develop his game and be better prepared for the pro balls when he gets there. He also wants to win the national championship.
And, finally, the kid enjoys college. He loves UNC.
"There were a lot of people asking me a lot of different things," Hansbrough said. "It got to the point that I got so mad, I was telling people I was leaving. This is too great of a place. For my situation, I felt it was best to come back.
"I'm extremely excited for next year. We have high standards always. We'll work extremely hard over the summer. Hopefully, we'll do the things we want to do."
Hansbrough is not the kind of person to say a lot, but he conceded he will need to be a vocal leader next season. This will be his team.
"That's what came to me at the end of the year," he said. "I started being more vocal. It will be part of my leadership role next year, being vocal and being more of a leader."
Lawson and Hansbrough announced their intentions at the team's annual banquet, and they had spoken with Williams about what they would say when the time came. Hansbrough got up and said he had made a deal with Williams to return if he would fire assistant coach Joe Holladay.
When Holladay went to the podium, he said, "That's cold Tyler."
Once again, everyone laughed.
When Lawson's turn came, he looked at the crowd and said, "My parents and I have talked it over and we've decided the best thing for me to do is go to the NBA."
The crowd of UNC fans fell to a stunned hush.
Then in typical Lawson fashion, he said, "Naw, I'll be back next year."
Hansbrough admitted that Lawson fooled him for a moment.
"Yeah, he got me pretty good," Hansbrough said, smiling. "I had met with him just before the thing and he told me he was coming back. When he said that, I thought, 'What is wrong with this guy?' I was like, 'Wow.'"
Lawson said he wants to improve his game and his status for the draft when he does decide to leave.
"Coach gave us the salaries and said I could have gone anywhere from the end of the lottery to 25 or something like that," Lawson said. "That's a pretty big gap. I can probably get more money by coming back next year."
Lawson said that he would also like to take another run at a title. He enjoyed what the team did this year and would like to build on those accomplishments.
"I want to get better and try to get deeper in the NCAA Tournament," Lawson said. "Live out the memories we had this year, but just a little bit more."
But he also conceded that Hansbrough's decision played a role in his staying.
"He was a big part of my decision," Lawson said. "If Tyler had gone, I probably would have gone with him."