North Carolina’s Barnes (left), Marshall (center) and Henson are going pro. (Streeter Lecka/GETTY IMAGES)

Now they’re saying goodbye to three talented underclassmen who helped lead them to an ACC title but came up short of their national championship aspirations.

Junior forward John Henson and sophomores Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall all announced their decisions to enter the NBA draft in a statement Thursday.

The announcement came just hours after Marshall was named the Bob Cousy award winner — an honor bestowed upon the nation’s top point guard.

“It’s a great day for three youngsters who are taking another step toward their ultimate goal of playing professional basketball,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.

The trio helped lead the Tar Heels to consecutive ACC regular season championships after a disappointing 2009-10 season that saw them miss the NCAA tournament one year after winning it. Along with senior ACC player of the year Tyler Zeller, they returned to Chapel Hill this season with sky-high expectations and a preseason No. 1 ranking.

Marshall spent his last two games with the Tar Heels as a de facto assistant coach. (John Gress/REUTERS)

He missed the team’s final two NCAA tournament games while recovering from a broken wrist, and his influence on UNC’s fast-paced offense along with his precision passing were sorely missed. The Tar Heels narrowly edged Ohio in overtime in the Sweet 16 and ran out of gas in the second half of Sunday’s quarterfinal loss to Kansas.

Henson also missed time in the postseason with a sprained wrist while Barnes struggled mightily in his final two tournament games, making only 8 of 30 shots from the field including 2 of 14 from three-point range.

The 6-foot-8 Barnes averaged a team-high 17 points per game while Henson (6-11) averaged a double-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. Marshall (6-4) averaged 8 points and 9.8 assists while committing only 2.8 turnovers per game.

Barnes and Henson have long been considered lottery picks while Marshall’s stock sky-rocketed during a year in which he broke the ACC single-season record for assists and displayed more considerably more offensive prowess.

“It’s been the greatest two years of my life,” Marshall said. “I will always be a Tar Heel at heart.”

This is the third time in eight years that North Carolina has seen multiple underclassmen declare for the draft in the same year — both previous instances came after the Tar Heels won national titles.

In 2005, juniors Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, Sean May and freshman Marvin Williams all left early and were all selected in the first 14 picks. After North Carolina’s 2009 championship run, juniors Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington were both first-round draft picks.

Looking forward to chasing my dreams & playing at the next level, but I will forever take pride in representing the TarHeel Nation!

— Kendall Marshall (@KButter5) March 29, 2012


Kansas runs away from North Carolina in second half

‘In Kentucky, basketball is part of the definition of who you are’

Gary Williams says Kentucky could beat the Wizards

Maryland women’s basketball is blown out of NCAA tournament by Notre Dame in Raleigh Region final

NCAA Tournament: Interactive bracket | History