North Carolina's Harrison Barnes will return for his sophomore season instead of declaring for the NBA draft.

Barnes was the Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year, averaging nearly 16 points. The 6-foot-8 forward was widely regarded as the nation's top freshman entering the season and helped the Tar Heels win 29 games and the ACC regular-season championship before falling a win short of the Final Four.

The Tar Heels will return all five starters and their top seven scorers from last season, making them a favorite to enter the year ranked No. 1.

"As a team, we're preparing for a special season," Barnes said in a statement from the school Monday. "My offseason plans are to diligently work on honing my basketball skills in all areas with one team goal in mind — to bring the 2012 national championship home to UNC."

Barnes' announcement came nearly two weeks after 7-foot junior Tyler Zeller and 6-10 sophomore John Henson also decided to return to school instead of declaring for the draft. North Carolina also adds a pair of McDonald's All-Americans in big man James McAdoo and perimeter shooter P.J. Hairston.

Barnes was projected in several mock drafts as a high first-round pick.

"He had a difficult decision to make," coach Roy Williams said in a statement. "He really had no wrong decision to choose, but I believe he is coming back to school because he enjoys college basketball, he enjoys the University of North Carolina and he enjoys his teammates.

"If he had decided to leave for the NBA, that would have been OK, too, because he will always be a Tar Heel. But it will certainly be a lot of fun to coach him again."

Barnes, out of Ames, Iowa, entered the year as the first freshman named a preseason Associated Press All-American since voting began before the 1986-87 season. He got off to a slower-than-expected start and struggled with his shot early, but he got rolling by mid-January and earned a reputation as a clutch late-game shooter.

That included hitting 3-pointers in the final seconds to win at Miami and Florida State, as well as key baskets late in regular-season wins against Clemson and Virginia Tech. He scored a freshman tournament record 40 points in the overtime victory against Clemson in the ACC semifinals.

Barnes' second-half surge helped North Carolina win 22 of 26 to close the season, ending with a loss to Kentucky in an NCAA regional final.

Barnes says his dream is to play in the NBA, but that he's in "the early stages of my life journey."

"I'm here to experience college life, grow as a person, receive a quality education and be a part of the greatest basketball family in college sports," Barnes said.