Road Trip: Blue Heaven
This is a long one, so grab a beverage and settle in.
Late Night with Roy really started for me on Thursday afternoon when I picked up my mom at the airport. She flew in to take the road trip down and back with me and enjoy the festivities herself. I figured this was only fitting after all the woman made me the Tar Heel monster I am today. We figured out that the spring of Phil Ford’s senior season was the spring she was pregnant with me. We can only assume that her yelling and screaming at the Heels permeated to the womb as I have become her clone during basketball season. In any case, we woke up at 6am and were on the road by 7:15. We arrived in Chapel Hill around 11:30 and took time to drop by our hotel before heading to the Smith Center. This being our first time at a Late Night, we weren’t sure of the crowds or the parking. Thanks to our friend Adam Lucas who is the publisher of Tar Heel Monthly, we were advised that people start lining up after lunch and the best place to park was the Rams Head Deck. Kudos to my mom for enduring the up and down hill walk from the parking deck to the Smith Center and back. The University of North Carolina campus was built back in the 1700s, so I’m pretty sure they weren’t concerned about my mother’s legs and stamina back then.
So, we parked the car and made the trek down Ridge Road and Skipper Bowles Drive to entrance A of the Smith Center. Adam had also mentioned the Tar Heel Tip-Off show that would be broadcasting from that entrance between 2 and 3:30, so we wanted to be sure to have a good viewing point for it. All in all the waiting wasn’t terribly bad because we were in line around 12:30 and the doors opened at 4. I did discover for the first time a reason I was glad I hadn’t gone to UNC for college. While we were standing in line, I overheard some of the conversations between the students. One of them asked the others, “who are we playing tomorrow” referring to the football game. The other students answered correctly, but one of them said, “I’m kind of glad we don’t have a game next weekend” referring to the bye in the football schedule. I nearly fell over in disbelief. Now, I know that Tar Heel football has left much to be desired for the last 20 some odd years, but never in a million years, I don’t care how badly they’re playing, would you EVER hear “who are we playing tomorrow?” during football season at Alabama. People commit the football schedule to memory before their class schedule. I’m definitely spoiled by where I went to college. Alabama Football is definitely like Tar Heel Basketball with its prominence on campus, but even at Alabama the basketball, baseball, softball, and gymnastics games/meets are widely attended by the students and very well known and talked about. But, I digress…
Mom and I took turns going to the Basketball Museum only a few yards away from the Smith Center to eat up some time. That place never gets old. I can find something I missed every time. For instance, this time I went to the restroom at the museum. The walls are all Carolina blue. Seriously, the thought and detail that went into the whole building is remarkable. Mom went to the museum after me and while she was there Adam arrived as one of the hosts of the Tip-Off show. Mom has a bit of a crush on Adam. Sort of a motherly crush, but a crush nonetheless. So, I decide I should call her on her cell phone to let her know he’s arrived. I swear I called her 18 times with no luck only to find out later she had somehow turned her volume down to the lowest setting and never heard it ring. She got back in time to see and speak to Adam before the show started. The Tip-Off show was incredible. We got to see/hear Danny Green, Tyler Hansbrough, Eric Montross, Ty Lawson, and Coach Williams. We also got to see some really great videos that they’d put together for the show. You can watch the entire Tip-Off show here if you’ve got an hour and a half.
After the show, they took down all the equipment and the doors finally opened. I won’t go in to all the details about the person who was in charge of opening the doors on time and giving people the proper instructions for Late Night, but I will say I’m considering sending my resume to UNC Athletics for the job of Smith Center Special Event Coordinator. Once inside, we were treated to a mad dash for the best seats in the house. Mom and I chose to sit in the “end zone” (not sure what else to call it) with the benches to our left and the media table to our right. Section 116.
We got to see the volleyball team play Clemson before Late Night started. Carmichael Auditorium where the Lady Tar Heels play along with several other sports including volleyball is being renovated this season, so all the sports have been moved to the Smith Center. It was really interesting to see another sport on campus and to see how the students come out for those sports. I’m pretty sure there were more people at that volleyball game than will ever be there the rest of their season, but I’m also pretty sure the volleyball team will take what they can get. What intrigued me was the announcer during the game. Whenever the Tar Heels scored a point he would say, “POINT” to which the crowd was to respond with “HEELS.” However, when Clemson scored, he turned into micromachine man and said, “pointtigers” as fast as he could and ever so slightly under his breath. 🙂
After the volleyball match, which the Heels won in straight sets, there was just a little bit of down time before Late Night started, but when it started it was all kinds of fantastic. ESPN’s Stuart Scott (UNC ’87) was the MC as has been his job for all of Roy’s Late Nights at UNC. The Lady Tar Heels had their Late Night performance first. They were all introduced in class order starting with the freshmen. Then, they did a little skit where they all dressed like Coach Sylvia Hatchell. This will be her 23rd season at UNC, which is most impressive to me. The ladies had a 7 minute running clock scrimmage that did not disappoint. They look phenomenal and poised to take their 5th straight ACC Tournament Championship this season.
After the Lady’s finished, the lights came down, again and the most spectacular show I’ve ever seen (next to my Bon Jovi concerts) began. Again, the players were introduced in class order beginning with the freshmen. This was our first time to get to see the freshmen in action. I’m really excited about this freshman class. They are proof that no matter what the NBA water testers had done or Tyler had done, Roy would have been prepared for it all. When Stuart got to the introductions of the Senior class I nearly lost it. I figured I’d cry, but I just didn’t know when. Senior Marcus Ginyard cracked me up because he recently had surgery on his foot and is in a walking boot, but still on crutches. He basically spent the entire night in a motorized scooter/wheelchair. Hysterical…especially when they got to the dancing part. Once Stuart had introduced 4 of the 5 seniors with Tyler still yet to be introduced, he simply said, “I think there’s one more,” and the entire building erupted. I think we blew the roof off the place. Then, I really lost it. I never tire of hearing the word Senior before his name nor do I tire of hearing National Player of the Year. This kid who will be 23 years old on Monday, is a public high school graduate from Poplar Bluff, Missouri. He never went to a prep school. He played in the AAU circuit, but by all accounts, he’s just a good ole boy from the middle of nowhere. In this day and age of prep schools and academies that have become basketball farms that promise to get you into the elite schools across the country, it’s nice to see a kid who just went about it the old fashioned way.
He’s not the only one I’m proud of though. Every single one of those seniors came to UNC as the team that would rebuild the Tar Heels, but what they became was just more ammunition to reload. Their freshmen year was the year after the 05 National title when the team returned only David Noel from the 05 junior class who averaged a mere 3 points a game. They weren’t even picked in the top 25 preseason much less believed to be a tournament contender. But they jumped in the deep end, bought into Coach Williams’s scheme and they’ve never looked back. I couldn’t be prouder of another group of seniors and what they’ve accomplished so far if I tried. But, I digress, again…
After introductions, there was a skit that actually involved David Noel that paid homage to a skit from when he was a student-athlete and also introduced the audience to the fact that we’re starting out the season in Hawaii at the Maui Invitational complete with Carolina blue grass skirts. Throughout the night, we were treated to pieces of a video that Senior guard Bobby Frasor filmed kidding Coach Williams about his tirade over the slippery NCAA logos from the 1st and 2nd rounds of the tournament last year. Bobby Frasor was dressed as Coach Williams and every where he went around Chapel Hill he slipped on an NCAA logo.
After the grass skirts, the ENTIRE team came out in Carolina blue tuxedos to do some ballroom dancing to Sammy Davis, Jr.’s “Hello Detroit” referring to the site of this season’s Final Four and National Championship. (INSERT DEEP SIGH OF HOPE HERE) Following the Detroit number, the individual class dances started with the freshmen, and suddenly I discovered how old I am. When they were performing their routine which was an 80s style workout video complete with neon colored spandex and headbands, I realized that these kids were all born in 1990. I actually looked it up. Of the four freshmen, only Ed Davis was born in 1989. The rest of them were born in 1990. I cannot believe that we’ve gotten to this point where freshman in college were born in the 90s. So, I quickly moved off of that thought just to keep from getting depressed.
The juniors (including sophomore Will Graves) performed a number to Soulja Boy’s “Get Silly” while wearing t-shirts with Roy Williams’s HUGE face printed on them. Roy was wearing sunglasses in the picture that were painted with the words “Soulja Roy.” Very cute. Coach got a kick out of it. Finally it was time for the seniors. The five of them walked out in Carolina graduation caps and gowns. They sat in chairs at center court and reminisced about their college careers complete with video of some of their dunks and flubs and frat house balcony jumps. Marcus’s missed dunk in last season’s tournament when he fell flat on his behind was fun to see, again. He even said that his mom couldn’t even look at him after that one. I’m gonna miss his humor (and his defense). Once that was over, they stood up and removed their caps and gowns to the tune of Vitamin C’s “Graduation (Friends Forever)” to reveal themselves in white t-shirts with sleeves rolled up and cut off jeans in which they danced to Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days.”
There was one final dance that included the entire team in a circle just basically free style dancing. They got the coaches in on that one, and then the skits were over. The team ran back in the locker room and changed into their practice clothes for the 20 minute scrimmage during which the white team won 48-45. There was some blood shed as Bobby Frasor’s nose ran into Tyler Hansbrough’s elbow…don’t let Bobby tell you differently. 🙂 And something happened that caused Tyler to get a scratch on the back of his right hand. I never did see how that happened. The team looked alright. It seemed to take the new Tyler (Tyler Zeller) a little warming up time, but he pulled in 12 points and 12 rebounds. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do with Tyler and while Tyler’s taking a break on the bench. After all that, the show was over and we took the trek back up the hill and down the hill to the parking deck.
Kudos to UNC and the Chapel Hill police who were incredible at directing 20,000 people and their cars off campus. I was highly impressed with that. Mom and I got back to our hotel late, but we finally fell asleep. We got up the next morning, drove back to campus so mom could see the new baseball stadium and the place where I saw Tyler in his truck this past summer. I wanted to show her the football stadium, but they had everything already roped off for that day’s game. We went to Bojangles for breakfast to get ham biscuits. YUM! And stopped at Food Lion for Sun Drop and Cheerwine to take back. We also went to the Chapel Hill mall. Considering the size of the town of Chapel Hill, the mall’s not half bad. Then, we headed back up the road in the on again/off again rain while listening to the Carolina/Boston College football game. Turned out to be a good one.
The weekend could not have been more fun. Chapel Hill just feels like home to me. I promised myself that if Tyler returned for his senior season that I would go to Late Night, and I am so glad I kept that promise. I am so excited for this season to start, so that we can get the ball bouncing and through the hoop. GO HEELS!