This entry is probably going to be a bit bipolar in nature because that’s pretty much how my thoughts are running through my head right now. I’ve taken away the option of commenting on this entry because, quite frankly, while I need to get my thoughts out somehow, I don’t need to hear how great Kansas is or how the Tar Heels suck. I just need to vent and hopefully talk myself off that ledge, and this is the only way I can think to do it. So, if you really feel the need to beat me down some more, you can email me about how great Kansas is or how the Tar Heels suck. Just keep in mind that if you do, it will probably make me have about as much respect for you as I have for Bill Self. That said…onto the venting…
I doubt I have very many new readers to my blog. In fact, I think I can count on one hand the number of people who actually read my blog. In any case, if you don’t know, I’m relentlessly obsessive about the sports teams I follow. They become like children to me. When they hurt, I hurt. When they’re happy, I’m happy. Their victories are my victories, and their failures are my failures. It’s just who I am, and I’m sorry if that makes you judge me in a way that puts me in a bad light. But I’m not here to tell you who you should be, so please don’t tell me who I should be.
I feel like I’m stuck in a really bad nightmare, and I can’t wake up no matter how hard I try. It started around 9pm on Saturday night, and I haven’t woken up, yet. I can’t figure it out. I don’t know what happened any more than the players and coaches know. I was as stunned as the rest of them. Frustrated, angry, trapped, unbelieving, miserable, helpless, embarrassed. These were all feelings I had and still have. I wish there was something I could point to. I wish I could say, “if we’d just done X better, everything would have been ok.” But there wasn’t just one thing. Everything was going right for them and nothing was going right for us. Their basket was 3 feet wide and ours was 3 inches. It’s like the axis of the earth was tilted in such a way that no matter what we did, everything was going to fall into Kansas’s favor. The only thing I can come down to is that no matter what kind of team you are (lousy, good, great), you are going to have a miserable game at some point. Ours just happened to come at the most inopportune time.
I have to give credit to them for not giving up. For finishing the end of the 1st half strong and continuing that into the run in the 2nd half that led us to cutting Kansas’s lead to 4, but that cushion that Kansas and the tilted earth built was just too much. At the beginning of March Madness, I wrote about dreams. I never thought I would actually be able to see a team full of dreams die before my eyes.
I could see the 10 year old boy inside of Tyler, inside of Wayne, inside of Ty, inside of Marcus, inside of Deon, inside of Danny, inside of Alex, inside of Quentin just crumble. I wanted to pick up the pieces and glue them back together for one last valiant push at the end, but I couldn’t. I wanted to hug every one of them and never let go until all of us had stopped crying.
And crying there was. I cried almost the entire way to church on Sunday morning. I even cried during service. Sniffles could be heard throughout the locker room on Saturday night after the game. Tears were evident in Roy Williams’s eyes as well as Wayne Ellington’s and Tyler Hansbrough’s as they sat at a table before the media to try to answer their ridiculous questions. And they looked as I felt, like they were in a nightmare and they would wake up soon and it would be Saturday morning still and not Saturday night.
Roy Williams couldn’t explain it any more than any one else. He said he apologized to them because “some way, some how I didn’t have our team ready to play as well as Bill did.” It’s an apology that he shouldn’t have to make. This Tar Heel team won 36 games this season, more than any other Tar Heel team in its 98 year history. After 36 games, Roy Williams shouldn’t have much to do in the way of preparing his team. And, quite frankly, the majority of them have spent 2 or 3 years with Roy. Even then, I have a hard time blaming the players, either, simply because I can’t put my finger on what changed, what went wrong, what was different from last Saturday night to this Saturday night. There’s one thing I’ve always said about this team that I love the most out of everything and it’s that they never give up. And Saturday, they never gave up. They were down almost 30 points at one time, but they didn’t give up. They just kept plugging, trying to make the earth tilt just a little bit back towards normal. And really, could I have asked for more?
You could probably say, yes, but this team never promised us a national championship. They never promised us 36 wins. Heck, they never even promised us regular season and tournament ACC champs. What they promised was that they would play basketball for the University of North Carolina. All the pressure, all the expectation that comes with wearing the blue and argyle, that’s all history driven. We expect them to play like Phil Ford, Lennie Rosenbluth, Sam Perkins, James Worthy, Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison. I could go on. But you know what, none of the guys on this team is one of those guys. None of the guys is even related to those guys. They had a right to write their own piece of Carolina Basketball history, but we limit them to the history that was already written. We expect Roy Williams to be Dean Smith. Well guess what…he’s not and he’s never gonna be because he’s Roy Williams and Roy Williams has a right to be Roy Williams and that’s it, but because his office door says Head Coach on it, we expect him to be Dean Smith. And these guys refused to let us put them inside that cookie cutter. Instead, they managed to make it fun to watch Carolina Basketball.
Fun…it’s a concept that has been lost on Division I college basketball. I see it more often in Division II and III. Those kids play cause they have nothing to lose. They have no pressure to live up to history and trustees and boosters. They play to live up to their own internal pressures and goals. And that’s what college basketball should be about. Somewhere along the way, the money, the NBA, the boosters, the media, the trustees, the corporate sponsors got in the way of the fun the kids have playing a game they’ve loved all their lives. But this year, those Carolina boys made it fun to watch.
I delighted in watching them run up and down the court. I loved watching Danny Green and Wayne Ellington make three pointers that were so perfect my jaw dropped. I marveled at Ty Lawson going coast to coast in about 3 seconds for a transition layup. I shook my head at Tyler Hansbrough disrespecting his own body to claw for rebounds and second chance points. I smiled when Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson reverted to a classic basketball technique of using the little box on the backboard to get bank shots. How simple, yet so perfect. I laughed with Marcus Ginyard every time his defense would get him a cheap reach in foul. I clapped for every single basket that was made and at every single fast break after a steal. I screamed at fouls that weren’t called and ones that were. These kids made me stand up in my own home and cheer even though I was completely alone and they couldn’t hear me.
Sure they could make my blood pressure spike, but I have never had more fun watching a group of Carolina Basketball players play in my entire life. I could sit here and tell you that Eric Montross and George Lynch were fun to watch or Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison were a blast. Just to see what Shammond Williams could do with a basketball at the free throw line still makes me smile. That boy went something like 13 straight games without missing a free throw. Wes Miller on defense was like watching a basketball clinic video. But there is no complete team in Carolina basketball history that makes me smile and laugh and enjoy myself more than this entire team. Quentin Thomas is the winningest player in Carolina basketball history, which means he’s been on some pretty good teams, and even he says that he has never been a part of a team that was so cohesive and enjoyed being teammates with each other than this team. And that showed on the court. They all have a little bit of crazy in them. They’re all a bunch of goofballs, but they just had fun, and I can really only thank them for taking us all along for the ride. We might not like the way that ride ended, but neither do they.
We’re all hurt. We all want that 40 minutes back. We’re all walking around like zombies. But that’s what the Carolina Family does. We bleed Carolina blue for our boys. We will defend them to the ends of the earth (no matter which way it’s tilted). And that’s why I lost all respect for Kansas coach Bill Self on Saturday night. There were 20 seconds left in the game. Yes, Kansas was going to win. There was no way we could come back from the 18 point deficit we left San Antonio with. And Bill Self cleared his bench. Now I know there’s some kind of understanding in the coaching ranks of when you clear your bench. I don’t care what that is. I’ve always been told it was to keep your players from getting hurt when the game is clearly in your hands. No one was going to get hurt in 20 seconds. What Bill Self was saying with that was “take that number one team in the nation.” “You’re worthless, and we just proved it to everyone.” “What National Player of the Year?” He didn’t have to do that. The score did that for him. He smiled his big grin as he hugged his players all the while delivering a cheap right hook to the entire Carolina Family. And with that I lost every amount of respect I had for him before the game. I respected him for having the guts to leave Illinois just like Roy had the guts to leave Kansas. And for walking into that hostile environment at Kansas after Roy came to North Carolina. He had a hard road just trying to get the kids to buy into his system, but that 20 seconds erased every bit of it.
They say time heals everything, but I’m still waiting. I’m not ready to make nice. I’m not ready to back down. I’m still mad as hell, and I don’t have time to go round and round and round. It’s too late to make it right cause I’m mad as hell. Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I should. (Dixie Chicks)
I don’t know if this Tar Heel team will stay intact (with the exception of Quentin and Surry), but my love for them surely hopes they do if for no other reason but to see some more fun. I can’t blame them if they leave early. All my life, I begrudged any Tar Heel who left for the NBA early. I wanted them to come back and try, again. I wonder how some of them don’t ask every single day of their lives what if they had stayed. But after the hurt I’ve been feeling, which is the most hurt I’ve ever felt after a loss like this, I will no longer begrudge them leaving early. By coming back, they have a chance to win the championship, but they also run the risk of feeling this pain, again. And that’s not something I’d wish on anyone. I love these boys probably more than I should, but they bring me joy. Thanks for one indescribable season of Carolina Basketball.
|No.||Name||Ht.||Wt.||Pos.||Yr.||Hometown (High School)|
|1||Marcus Ginyard||6-5||218||G/F||JR||Alexandria, Va. (Bishop O’Connell)|
|2||Marc Campbell||5-11||165||G||RS SO||Raleigh, N.C. (Ravenscroft)|
|4||Bobby Frasor||6-3||208||G||JR||Blue Island, Ill. (Brother Rice)|
|5||Ty Lawson||5-11||195||G||SO||Clinton, Md. (Oak Hill Academy (Va.))|
|11||Quentin Thomas||6-3||190||G||SR||Oakland, Calif. (Oakland Technical Senior)|
|13||Will Graves||6-6||245||F||RS FR||Greensboro, N.C. (Dudley)|
|14||Danny Green||6-6||210||F/G||JR||North Babylon, N.Y. (St. Mary’s)|
|15||J.B. Tanner||6-0||185||G||JR||Hendersonville, N.C. (West Henderson)|
|21||Deon Thompson||6-8||240||F||SO||Torrance, Calif. (Torrance)|
|22||Wayne Ellington||6-4||200||G||SO||Wynnewood, Pa. (The Episcopal Academy)|
|24||Surry Wood||6-5||210||F||SR||Raleigh, N.C. (Cary Academy)|
|30||Jack Wooten||6-2||190||G||JR||Burlington, N.C. (Williams)|
|32||Alex Stepheson||6-9||235||F||SO||Los Angeles, Calif. (Harvard-Westlake)|
|34||Greg Little||6-4||210||G||FR||Durham, N.C. (Hillside)|
|35||Patrick Moody||6-4||195||F||JR||Asheville, N.C. (T.C. Roberson)|
|40||Mike Copeland||6-7||235||F||JR||Winston-Salem, N.C. (R.J. Reynolds)|
|50||Tyler Hansbrough||6-9||250||F||JR||Poplar Bluff, Mo. (Poplar Bluff)|