There are no words to describe how I feel about what happened Monday night, so I won’t even try. I’ll simply say, “Congrats, Villanova” and move on.
I do have words to describe how proud I am of this team, from top to bottom, upperclassmen to underclassmen, scholarship players to walk-ons.
I remember 1998 being the first team I really followed and not just because my mom was watching them. I loved that team. I cried the night they lost in the final four in San Antonio, and after tonight, I truly believe the state of Texas is cursed for Carolina teams.
I loved the 2005 team because it was Roy’s first championship and that squad had been through so much.
I loved the 2009 senior class. That group of guys who didn’t even have to speak to each other. They knew what each of them was thinking from a look.
But this team…THIS TEAM…this team knew. They knew what it meant to wear that jersey, to play in that dome, to fight for each other, to BE a Tar Heel. They just made me proud to cheer for them every day. They entered every single game with one thought in mind…win or lose…you gotta take us outta here kicking and screaming. This team didn’t need rings or trophies or hats and shirts or pieces of nets to solidify or determine their worth. They demonstrated it in every way they represented Carolina on and off the court. They did it by doing the unthinkable: they made me love Carolina basketball more than I already did. I didn’t think that was possible.
I am grateful for Marcus and Brice and Joel and Kennedy and Isaiah and Justin and Nate and Joel (II) and Theo (I didn’t forget you, Theo “where’s my chair at” Pinson). I loved this ride they took us on…the ups and downs and twists and turns were worth it…every bit of it. Just like Marcus, I wouldn’t change a thing or give back any of the losses to change tonight. Well, maybe I’d give back that one in Chapel Hill against that team from 8 miles away, but whatever. It’s all part of the story. It’s all part of the journey. It’s all part of what makes Carolina Basketball great. Vince Carter and Phil Ford who don’t have national championship rings are just as important to The Family as Michael Jordan and James Worthy who do. Now, this 2016 team will be folded into that canvas. A lot is said about that Carolina family, but this group made their own family within it. The rest of the Family could be seen in grand display behind the Carolina bench Monday night as I saw all of them stand in unison, unprompted, to cheer for their own. No one has that. No one ever will.
So maybe it didn’t end the way we hoped. So maybe they aren’t hanging a national championship banner in the rafters. Sure, it would’ve been great to win that game, to see Marcus and the rest of the guys cut down the nets. But, do you know how many Carolina teams in my lifetime alone I have watched who flat-out had the talent to win it all and didn’t or the ones who had the heart to win it all and didn’t or the ones who had both and still didn’t win it all? I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count that high. For crying out loud, that 2009 senior class could’ve walked away with 3 instead of 1 easily in their 4 years, but they didn’t. Even Coach Smith used to say to win a championship you have to have a lot of luck.
Luck. It’s a funny word when you look at it, but when I look back on this year and all the years that came before them, I’m reminded just how lucky I am to be a fan of a program that is consistently considered to make a deep tournament run every year. There are four, maybe five programs in the country you can set your watch to for that. So much pressure is placed on the shoulders of 18-22-year-olds to carry not only the expectations of the current season, but the entirety of a historically successful program as well. The comparisons alone are enough to make anyone crack underneath it all, and no one would’ve blamed them. They didn’t. Instead, this team brushed off those expectations, pulled on those jerseys that represent so much, and fought every damn day for a program, for a school, for a coach, for a fan base, but most importantly for each other. Make no mistake, this Carolina team will be remembered for years to come, but the way they came together to create their little family, to scratch and claw for each other, is remarkably unmatched in Carolina basketball’s over 100-year history. So, when I think of Carolina basketball, this 2016 group is one I will remember with great pride and admiration.
And so, I fight for and with them every season…for The Family…for my Heels, with love.
This is March…
~ where diving for balls an extra couple rows into the stands happens.
~ where the pay off for the chemistry you built with your team during pick up games in the summer happens.
~ where Cinderella finding her slipper happens.
~ where pushing you through the last 5 minutes of the game because of an extra work out you got in on a random off day Tuesday back in December happens.
~ where anything’s possible happens.
~ where rivalries happen.
~ where the basketball gods bringing up past transgressions and achievements from 6 decades ago happens.
~ where one shining moment is also heartbreaking happens.
~ where looking past any opponent will get you a one way ticket home earlier than you expected happens.
~ where mental toughness outweighing size and talent happens.
~ where playing for your team, your school, your state, your family, and your friends happens.
~ where happy and sad tears happens.
~ where changing your itinerary because of half court shots happens.
~ where “one more stop” is all you need to shock the world happens.
~ where hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard happens.
~ where emptying your entire tank happens.
~ where leaving it all on the court happens.
~ where how much of your heart you’re willing to give determines your destination happens.
~ where full commitment to the final buzzer happens.
~ where Madness happens.