Nothin’ Could Be Finer
I’m just gonna throw this out there at the beginning and get it over with. If I don’t find a way to move to North Carolina before I retire, then that is where I will retire. I spent a good part of my childhood visiting the state in the summers and sometimes Christmas because my mother was born and raised there. I think it may very well be my favorite state in the country with the exception of Duke University and its surrounding city of Durham. So, whenever the opportunity presents itself for me to go back, I jump at it as was the case this past weekend.
UNC opened a new museum honoring its basketball program that will be 99 years young this coming season. It’s been open since January, and how I’ve been able to hold off visiting until now, I’ll never know. I posted the pictures from the museum in my previous post, so check that out. It was really incredibly well done. The time and energy that must have gone into collecting all this memorabilia was off the charts. There is something in that museum from every single player or coach in the history of Carolina basketball. From the center court slab of the 2005 National Championship game to radio announcer Woody Durham’s headset to Vince Carter’s graduation gown to Lennie Rosenbluth’s jersey. Coach Dean Smith gave every bit of his personal collection so it could be put on display and that includes his championship rings. Coach Roy Williams gave his entire suit from 2005 National Championship game complete with that awful tie he wore. (Nothin’ but love for you, Coach.) But that’s not even half of the collection. They have places on the floor that show from where memorable shots were made. They have shoes and basketballs encased in the floor with glass over top. The entire museum floor is a replica of the Dean Dome court. You can listen to radio announcements and videos of classic plays as well as see video from former players and coaches describing their own Carolina basketball experiences. The March Madness room, which has the lights dimmed to near darkness, holds all the trophies from ACC tournaments to NCAA regionals until you get to the end where the five National Championship trophies are on display in their own cases. Walk up to any of them and a video screen pops on to show you the headlines from the win. All of this is great, but the beginning of the museum is really what grabs you.
There’s a short video about Carolina basketball that literally made me cry. Former players and coaches comment throughout about their experiences on game day, but first you get to follow the team out on the floor. Imagine walking behind Tyler Hansbrough from the locker room to the tunnel where your pace is picked up to a slight jog and once you exit that tunnel and step onto the hardwood just seriously think of what nearly 22,000 people screaming in a dome sounds like and you’ll know what the roar was like. As the video progresses, players will tell you how they feel about running out of the tunnel. The one that stuck with me the most was Antawn Jamison who said that he has never felt the same way in his entire career as he did when he ran out of that tunnel at Carolina. “Incredible” and “phenomenal” are the only two words that remotely do it justice. Plus, the whole dang experience is FREE.
So that was mid-day Thursday, and after we left the museum I wanted to go over to the basketball office to see the current ACC tournament trophy (They keep the most current trophies in there.). We got a treat because Tyler’s Wooden Award was in there, too. As we were exiting the Dean Dome to go back to our cars, on the other end of the sidewalk I saw what appeared to be Tyler Hansbrough himself walking into the Koury Natatorium where the athletic training room is located. I was within earshot, but I was so stunned that it was him I couldn’t actually get myself to yell his name. Following closely behind him were Marc Campbell, Bobby Frasor, Wayne Ellington, S&C coach Jonas Sahratian, Jack Wooten, and Danny Green. By the time Danny Green was bringing up the rear, I was able to snap myself out of my trance long enough to hug him and tell him welcome back. Though I would have supported Danny, Ty, and Wayne in the NBA if they’d really gone, I prefer to see them in Carolina blue for as long as possible. I’ve been to Chapel Hill more times than I can count and NEVER seen a basketball player. This is mainly due to the fact that I usually to go in the summer when they’re not in an accessible location, but I’m still kicking myself that I wasn’t capable of yelling at Tyler enough to get his attention and meet him. My mother did manage to ask Bobby how his knee was doing (He was just cleared to play 5 on 5 after tearing his ACL in December).
After our team sighting, I spent the rest of the day saying, “I saw Tyler Hansbrough” until I drove my parents crazy. I swear I felt like a 12 year old kid who’d attended a basketball camp where he was a counselor. I could hardly believe my luck. In any case, we moved on to Franklin Street where I spent WAY TOO much money on Carolina shirts and stuff, but I have a new stress ball that looks like a miniature basketball with the interlocking NC printed on it. And, I think I now have enough shirts to wear one for the first two weeks of the season without wearing the same one twice. My favorite is probably my Psycho T t-shirt that says Man, Myth, Legend on the front and He’s BAAAAACK on the back.
So, after all that, we headed to China Grove. My mother grew up in Kannapolis, home of Dale Earnhardt, Sr., even though my mother was born there first. China Grove is just down the road a spell from Kannapolis. There we spent the next few days with my mom’s best friend and her family as well as visited with some of mom’s cousins and my uncle. On Friday we went to Charlotte Motor Speedway (it will not and should not ever be called Lowe’s on this website). I’ve been there before, but never took the tour. That was great fun because they take you around the track in 15 passenger vans, and they start off at the highest point on the banking (24 degrees), so that it feels like you’re practically parallel with the track. We topped out at 85mph (probably would have time travelled if we’d gotten to 88), and our tour guide (a recent Carolina graduate) said to add another 100mph to that and we’d have the actual race speed. NO THANK YOU! I thought we were going a bit fast at 85, but I can tell you that’s the fastest I’ve ever gone a mile and a half in my life. We also visited Hendrick Motorsports just about a mile and a half from the speedway where they have two of Jeff Gordon’s Daytona-winning cars on display as well as his inaugural Brickyard-winning car. I got to see all his Winston Cup championship trophies and noted that there was a space next to the last one where another one would fit quite nicely.
Then, Sunday came and I had to snap back to reality and come home, but not without one more stopover in Chapel Hill on my way back up 85 to Virginia. I had a few reasons for going back: (1) I wanted to go to the Student Store, which I discovered was open on Sundays, (2) I wanted to see the Boshamer Stadium (baseball) construction site to see how it was coming along, and (3) I wanted to see if I took a different way back from Chapel Hill would it take more, less, or the same amount of time as it took us to get down there on Thursday morning. Ok…and, yes…secretly I was hoping to see Tyler Hansbrough, again.
I made it to Chapel Hill with about an hour to kill before the store opened, so I just drove around the campus. I saw Boshamer. It looks really great and is coming along nicely. I found the student store, so I’d know where I needed to go when it did open. I drove around the Dean Dome a couple times because I can never get enough of that place. There were a bunch of camps going on, so lots of kids and parents and counselors.
The UNC business school is right by the Dean Dome, so I decided to just drive around there as well since I had the time. I must say, I went to one of the most beautiful campuses in the country, in my opinion, at Alabama. Even the new buildings still feature the antebellum architecture of the old south. It’s quite picturesque. That said, I have never been jealous of someone’s business school until I drove around the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. I mean there are no big columns out front or gigantic sweeping staircases, but it’s massive and regal just the same. With the exception of the giant hill I’d have had to climb every day to get to class, I think I would have enjoyed going to school there. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t decide on Alabama until I saw the campus. Had I done the same with UNC, the campus would have sold me on them as well.
Moving on, I finally used up my time before the Student Store opened. I walked around in the store for about 20 or 30 minutes. I bought a few things, and then I got back in my car ready to go home slightly bummed that I had pressed my luck and didn’t see Tyler, again. Now, I must preface this next part by saying that only because I subscribe to Inside Carolina Magazine do I know what kind of vehicle Tyler drives. A couple months ago they did a feature article on him, and a lot of the pictures in the article were of Tyler standing next to his big black truck which had, of course, a Missouri license tag seeing as he’s from Poplar Bluff, MO. Not truly believing I would actually see him out driving around, I was jokingly looking at every black truck I passed while I was in Chapel Hill, but after going to the store, I was ready to head back to the interstate. However, when I got stopped trying to turn left on one road because pedestrians were walking in front of me, I noticed a big black truck at the stop sign on the street I was trying to turn on to, so just for laughs, I looked down at the license tag. Wouldn’t you know it was a Missouri tag, and just at that moment the truck turned the corner and drove passed me. The driver’s side window was rolled down and there was Tyler in a Carolina blue t-shirt talking to whomever the heck was in the car with him and me with nowhere on earth to turn around. The latter, in hindsight, is probably a good thing. I certainly don’t need to go chasing a college kid down in my car in a town where I don’t really know my way around. Oh well…maybe one day I will get to meet Tyler, shake his hand, and tell him how thankful I am for him giving us all four years of his NCAA eligibility. That’s really all I want to do.
Of course, all of this really hacked me off because now I had seen him twice and couldn’t put myself in a position to meet him because I was so stunned that I saw him in the first place. The traffic on 95 didn’t help my mood, but overall it was a great weekend in North Carolina, a place where I wish I actually lived.
Oh well…a girl can dream, can’t she………….