A Kick In the Teeth
“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”
If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been pretty quiet about the current college basketball season. It’s not because Tyler, Danny, Wayne, and Ty don’t play for Carolina anymore. It’s not because Carolina has lost more games in the first half of the season than some previous teams lost in an entire season. It’s because I felt like this team deserved the benefit of the doubt. They deserved an opportunity to experience growing pains and learn from their mistakes and experiences. So, I’ve held my tongue. Heck, I probably actually bit my tongue. And I’m not writing this JUST because Carolina lost to College of Charleston last night in an overtime game. Actually, last night was just the last straw. To be perfectly honest, the opinions I’m going to voice here have been gathered by watching Carolina WIN games…not lose them. I apologize ahead of time if my focus in this blog post turns to sounding as if I’m speaking directly to the players, but sometimes that’s the only way a thought gets worded correctly. I also want to make sure that I give every bit of credit to College of Charleston that they deserve. They embodied what I say all the time…the majority of playing any sport is mental. And if you fully believe that you can beat your opponent, you have a much better chance of actually doing it…despite any amount of talent or skill you might have…ANY.GIVEN.GAME. The minute you walk in there with a shred of doubt is the minute you’ve lost the game.
So, here goes…
I get that they’re young. I get that they’re inexperienced with the college game. I even get that the entire starting 5 with the exception of one player is no longer on the team. But let’s also point out that the intended starting 5 for the team (if we can ever get everyone healthy at the same time) does not consist of one member of the incoming freshman team. In fact, all but two of the intended starting 5 played major minutes last year and in the championship game. Now, I’m not the kind of person who expects a national championship every single season, but I do expect the players to actually compete. What I’ve noticed in the 15 games they’ve played so far this season is that they don’t have rhythm. They don’t look good on the court together. It’s like 5 complete strangers showing up at a school yard court deciding to play together against 5 other people. I understand that rhythm takes time. It takes learning how each person moves on the court and where they’re going to be at each point in any given play. But we’re talking about a group of people who have been playing pick up games since the beginning of the summer. Basketball is not rocket science, folks. We are all creatures of habit and that flows right down to every last movement we make as individuals. It shouldn’t be that difficult to learn your teammate’s idiosyncrasies.
Another thing I notice is that they play selfish. I’m not sure if it’s ego driven and that certain members of the team are more concerned about being a one and done college player or a two and done college player, but I can tell you this much: No NBA scout is impressed with how you performed individually in the losses to Syracuse or Texas or College of Charleston. Sometimes I think the selfishness lends itself to the history of Carolina basketball. I think a lot of the team is walking out on that court expecting to win the game BECAUSE of the name on the front of the jersey instead of playing FOR the name on the front of the jersey. There’s a big difference there. Just because Carolina basketball is what it is does not mean that when you step on the court in that uniform, they automatically hand you the win and we can all go home. No…wearing that uniform means that your teammates, your coaches, your fellow students, your fans EXPECT you to play at a high level. They expect you to be some of the best talent in the entire country, but yet still skilled enough to play a team sport. Maybe that’s a lot of pressure, but if you expected playing for Carolina to be a walk in the park, you were dead wrong. Let’s also go back to the selfish bit and talk about why you came to Carolina. Did you come to Carolina because players from there go to the NBA? Or did you come to Carolina to play college basketball, to learn from one of the greatest minds the college game has ever seen, and to have a CHANCE to win a national championship? Think about that. Why are you in Chapel Hill?
I’ve listened to countless hours of press conferences from Coach Williams. I’m soon to be engrossed in his autobiography. I understand from what he tells us all in the mainstream world what he expects from his players. I’ve heard him rake the team over the coals and I’ve heard him take the blame for something that’s a million miles from being his fault. And this is what I’ve come to learn: If you listen to Coach Williams and then do what he tells you, you win the dadgum ballgame. Should I repeat that to make sure everyone heard it? If you listen to Coach Williams and then do what he tells you, you win the dadgum ballgame. The man has been to more Final Fours than he has fingers on one hand. He has two national championship rings. HE KNOWS WHAT HE IS TALKING ABOUT, BOYS!
I realize we were all spoiled the last 4 years of Carolina basketball to have a team of players that just flat out read each others’ minds. I’m not expecting you to be Tyler, Wayne, Danny, and Ty. I’m expecting you to be Will, Larry, Deon, Marcus, and Ed. I’m expecting you to listen to each others’ movements and react to them the way you’ve been taught. I know a lot of people have compared this team to the 2006 team after the championship, but WOW…that team lost 6 games all season. They hadn’t lost 4 games until January 22nd of that season…and guess how many seniors were on that team: 2…and one of them was Byron Sanders.
I’m not saying you have to be great or spectacular or anything like that. But I’m expecting you to compete. I’m expecting you to care about who you play for. I’m expecting you to listen and check your personal agendas at the door. Take this kick in the teeth and find a way to stop doing what you’ve been doing out there. Cause it ain’t workin. Incidentally, players, quoting the pearls of wisdom from your coach is only cute if you’re actually doing what you’re quoting.
Now…I know some of you might say, man you’re a horrible fan, but think about it. What kind of fan am I if I just sit here watching and gloss over the elephant in the room? There are a lot of people out there saying, “oh y’all will be ok. Just hang in there.” Um…no! You won’t be ok if you keep going the way you’re going. I don’t believe in coddling the players and making them think everything is ok when it’s not. They’re clearly not listening. They clearly don’t care when they lose. They clearly don’t care when they win despite how crappy they play. That’s an attitude problem and certainly one that doesn’t belong anywhere near the hardwood. So let’s stop pretending and let’s stop acting like everything is going to be ok. Are they young? Yes. Do they deserve a little slack? Absolutely. But, ask yourself this…are they using being young and deserving slack as a crutch or are they ACTUALLY WORKING TO BECOME WHAT WE KNOW THEY CAN BE? I still wouldn’t want to be a fan of any other team (besides my alma mater, Alabama), but to use something my mother used to tell me: I always love you, I just don’t always love what you do. Call me a bad fan if you want, but personally, I think I’m just saying what we’re all REALLY thinking.