Will Graves watches Kyle Singler stroke one during last years 82-50 loss to Duke.

This isn’t why UNC fans are looking forward to basketball season.

With Butch Davis’ football team laboring under the cloud of NCAA and internal investigations, Tar Heel fans could be forgiven for starting to think about basketball.

But this afternoon, word arrived that fifth-year senior Will Graves has been booted off the team for unspecified rules violations. In a statement released to the media, head coach Roy Williams characterized it as a “huge blow.”

Indeed, Graves, who averaged 9.8 points a game last year, was to be a key player for UNC’s trip back to respectability after a dismal 2009-10 campaign that saw them become the first defending NCAA champion to fail to return to the tournament the following season. Only a late surge in the NIT tournament enabled the Tar Heels to finish above .500 with 20 victories.

Here’s the full statement from UNC’s athletic department:

Fifth-year senior forward Will Graves has been dismissed from the University of North Carolina men’s basketball team for failure to comply with team rules, head coach Roy Williams announced today.

Graves red-shirted in 2006-07 then played in 92 games over the past three seasons. He scored 513 points at UNC, including 353 last year, when he averaged 9.8 points per game and was the Tar Heels’ third-leading scorer.

The Greensboro, N.C., native made seven three-pointers and scored a career-high 25 points in the 2010 NIT championship game against Dayton.

“This is 100 percent not related to any NCAA matters on campus,” says head coach Roy Williams. “I hate this for Will. He worked extremely hard this summer to get himself physically in the best shape he’s been in years, but he did not do everything he needed to do to be a part of our basketball program. This is a huge blow to our team, but an even bigger blow for Will. Playing for the Tar Heels meant so much to him.”