Tuesday night was Senior Night at the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill, NC. The Tarheels played and beat Florida State, but not without a good hard fight. As is customary for all senior nights, every senior starts the game. I’m not really sure what happens if there are 6 or more seniors. I’m kind of sure that’s never happened before. But regardless of whether you have been a starter or a bench warmer all year, you get to start your last home game as a senior. Then you get to give a speech after the game to the entire crowd. Some senior nights are more emotional for me than others, like last year when Wes Miller graduated, but this year I wasn’t expecting to get that emotional. I thought wrong. The two seniors on the team this year are Quentin Thomas and Surry Wood. One is from the other end of the country and the other is from just down the road in Raleigh. One has spent 4 years on scholarship with the varsity and the other made the team through the jayvee squad. But Tuesday night, it didn’t matter how they got there, but simply that they had. Let’s start with Surry.
Surry Wood could probably be a starter on any Mid-Major or Division II team in the country, but he chose to set his sights on North Carolina. Growing up 30 miles away, he pretty much knew the place he wanted to be. North Carolina has one of the last remaining jayvee squads in NCAA Division I basketball. The team doesn’t play nearly as many games as the varsity, but they do get to play their games in the Dean Dome. Every year, there are open try outs for the team, and just about every year one or two players from the team make the varsity, not as scholarship players, mind you, but they make the team nonetheless. Surry is one of those players. He tried out, showed enough to the coaches for them to offer him the varsity spot, and the rest is history. Surry is one of the players on the far end of the bench who goes into games when the Tarheels are up by 20 or more points. But, whenever he would get into a game, he played like we were down by 20 points and it was up to him to bring us back. Going into Tuesday night’s game, he had a total of 18 career points and the most points he’d scored in any particular game was 2. But before 5 minutes had elapsed in the first half of Tuesday night’s game, he had scored 4 points. That was where his scoring ended for the night, but his memories of his time as a Carolina Basketball player did not. One day many years down the road, his grandchildren will ask him about his college days and he’ll get to tell them all about how hard he worked to make the varsity basketball team at Carolina and then he’ll get to tell them about Senior Night and the standing ovation that 21,750 people gave him on his last trip to the bench. I don’t know what the future holds for this economics major, but as a Tarheel fan who basks in the glow of tradition, Surry Wood exemplified everything we love about our basketball team.
Quentin Thomas grew up in Oakland, CA. He was Roy Williams’s first Carolina recruit. He was supposed to go to Kansas, but when Roy took the UNC job, Quentin took it with him. I can’t even begin to describe the friendship that those two have. They believed in each other from day one, and Roy always promised him that his time would come and he needed to be ready when it did. Quentin was a freshman on the 2005 National Championship Team and he actually played in every game that year. He scored only 28 points that year as a freshman point guard behind Raymond Felton, but he still started his career with a National Championship ring. His sophomore year he thought perhaps with Raymond jumping to the NBA, he’d have a starting position. But Bobby Frasor came along and won the starting position for the team. His junior year, Bobby was moved to #2 on the depth chart in favor of Ty Lawson, and Quentin was bumped to #3. His senior year, the depth chart stayed the same until Bobby Frasor tore his ACL in December. That bumped Quentin to #2. About a month and a half later with Bobby sitting on the bench in a suit, Ty Lawson sprained his ankle in the first game against FSU, and Quentin was bumped to #1. Roy Williams kept his promise, so now it was time for Quentin to keep his. Do I think that Bobby and Ty going down with injuries was so that Quentin could be the starter…NOPE. But life has a “funny” way of doing things. You should know that throughout his four years on the team, he has had multiple injuries and surgeries, and in fact, there are some injuries he played through and surgeries he didn’t have so he could stay with his team. Through it all, he practiced what Roy Williams preached…”the name on the front of the jersey is always, always, always more important than the one on the back.”
He never begrudged his teammates the playing time that they got nor did he fail to help in every way he could on and off the court. This was never more apparent than the 2 overtime victory over Clemson on February 10th. Clemson pretty much had us right where they wanted us the entire game. But Quentin wouldn’t give up and he sure as heck wouldn’t let his teammates give up. Roy Williams kept telling the team during time outs that if they just did everything that the coaches told them to do, that they would pull this out. Quentin echoed that on the court. He told his teammates to believe and to focus and to do everything they were told to do. And after 50 minutes of basketball, North Carolina came away with the victory. That poise, that leadership…that’s what you get when you spend 4 years learning and believing in Roy Williams’s system. That’s what I love about Quentin. He may very well be the most loved player on the team. Yes…even more than Tyler. Quentin is humble, unselfish, hardworking, never quits, and hates to lose. He waited his turn and the reward was a 7-1 run with Quentin as our starting point guard. I’m gonna miss that kid more than I thought because he taught us to believe, again…to believe that even if you’re down 18 points to a team where one player has scored 46 points against you, we’re gonna be alright…and we’re gonna be there at the end.
In reading about the game the other night, I was reminded that Quentin was a freshman with Marvin Williams, but Marvin jumped to the NBA after the championship. I don’t know that Marvin would ever have stayed all 4 years, but the idea of Marvin being there to give his speech the other night sent chills up my spine. I couldn’t tell you one thing about what Marvin has done in the NBA, but I can tell you that every time Quentin steps on or off the court, scores, or has a big defensive stop, 21,750 people jump to their feet and yell “Quuuuuuue.” He found his place in our hearts by simply being there when we needed him. And now we need his senior leadership more than ever as we embark on the chance to win the national championship because he’s the only player that’s been there before. Bookends come in pairs, and for Quentin, maybe championships do, too.
IN OTHER NEWS:
1. Brett Favre retired Tuesday. His press conference is today. To all those fans who are angry or shocked, please come back to reality. He said he’s been thinking about retirement the last few years, so to be shocked that he’s actually doing it, is stupid. And to begrudge him the chance to actually retire when he sees fit even though it doesn’t fit with your timeline, is selfish beyond reason. Sure, we’d love to see some more Brett on the field, but the guy’s gotta do what the guy’s gotta do. I commend him for not letting the emotion of the game get to him. He could have said that he wasn’t going to let his last pass be an interception, but he didn’t. And out of 8,759 pass attempts in his career, that is the least one I will remember. In fact, from that game, the one I will remember is the 90 yard pass to Donald Driver. Furthermore, to suggest that he would have stayed if the Packers had signed one player (Randy Moss or not) is an insult to the kind of player Brett was. Brett played every game with what he was given, which some years wasn’t much to write home about, but he did it and did it without complaining. (And yes you can remind me of these words when I’m upset about Peyton’s retirement whenever that may be.)
2. Also on Tuesday, Warren Sapp retired. Congrats to one of the biggest teddy bears to ever play the game. Sapp has a barreling laugh that can only make you laugh, too. He left everything on the field and had fun doing it. It’s only fitting that on the same day that Brett Favre retires, one of his best sparring partners leaves the game, too.