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To Heels, With Love

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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.

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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.

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Happy 50th, Your Airness

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It is in our human nature to mark important milestones in our lives, and on this day 50 years ago, Michael Jeffrey Jordan was born to Deloris and James Jordan in Brooklyn, NY.  I can say with almost complete certainty that when Mrs. Jordan looked down into her baby boy’s eyes for that first time that she did NOT see the future that was ahead of him.  At that moment, she probably just hoped to raise a good kid, and yet here we are 50 years later celebrating the birthday of one of the greatest athletes ever in the history of sports.  I tried to think of how to properly mark this occasion for a man who epitomized the words dedication, determination, strength, competitiveness, and perseverance as well as phrases like “love of the game” and “never quit” and “no obstacle too big.”  The best I could come up with was to post a few of my memories of him.

Happy 50th Birthday, Michael!

Happy 50th Birthday, Michael!

From North Carolina, At Guard, 6’6″, Michaelllllll Jorrrrrrrdan…

I'm not sure any single shot has ever made my mother as happy as THIS one did.

I’m not sure any single shot has ever made my mother as happy as THIS one did.

All the dunks over cars or people in my mind can't hold a candle to this one.

All the dunks over cars or people in my mind can’t hold a candle to this one.

Visual evidence of a proverbial monkey being taken off someone's back.

Visual evidence of a proverbial monkey being taken off someone’s back.

His second...yes, SECOND...Olympic Gold Medal.

His second Olympic Gold Medal.

Fear the tongue...that meant he was doing work and in you were in his way he was working you.

Fear the tongue…that meant he was doing work and if you were in his way he was working you.

My absolute favorite of all the shoes.  Who doesn't love a sneaker with patent leather?!

My absolute favorite of all the shoes. Who doesn’t love a sneaker with patent leather?!

No matter the criticism, I can never fault a kid for at least attempting to carry out the dream his father had for him.

No matter the criticism, I can never fault a kid for attempting to carry out the dream his father had for him.

Winning championship number 4 was just as emotional as championship number 1, but for completely different and horrific reasons since it was won on Father's Day.

Winning championship number 4 was just as emotional as championship number 1, but for completely different and horrific reasons since it was won on Father’s Day.

The Flu Game. Enough said.

The Flu Game. Enough said.

The Last Shot (in a Bulls uniform).

The Last Shot (in a Bulls uniform).

Yep...6 championships in 2 three-peats.

Yep…6 championships in 2 three-peats.

Hangin' with MJ at the house his house.

Hangin’ with MJ at his house.

With Phil Jackson.

With Phil Jackson.

And with The Dean.

And with The Dean.

And a few of my favorite videos.

“Be Like Mike” Gatorade Commercial

“Let Your Game Speak” Nike Commercial

Three “generations” of Michael Jordan’s

“Maybe It’s My Fault” Become Legendary Commercial.  My favorite of the series.

And the greatest Hall of Fame Induction Speech EVER…

Opportunity Knocks

UPDATE: Loss #17.

In about half an hour, the North Carolina Tar Heels will take the floor at Madison Square Garden in New York City to play the championship game in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT).  If you had told me five months ago that Carolina would be playing in the NIT rather than the NCAA tournament, I would have laughed in your face.  I would have conceded that this season was not going to be like last season’s championship run, but I never would have expected that they wouldn’t make the 65 team field.

Since the NCAA tournament took over as the definitive championship tournament, the NIT lost its luster to most college basketball fans.  Daily Tar Heel columnist Brandon Staton even wrote about it this week.  I, on the other hand, loving college basketball as I do, always kept an eye on it.  Maybe it was some small part of me that believed those kids on those basketball teams deserved attention just like the NCAA tourney teams did.  After all, they did practice day in and day out for four months just like those other teams.  They worked just as hard to try and earn an opportunity to play for the championship, but for whatever reason (the ball bounced the wrong way, they didn’t have all the right pieces, they didn’t have the right coach, they didn’t have the talent) they didn’t make the tournament.  Though I was never a student-athlete, I’ve always had a soft spot for them because knowing how hard I worked in college, I can’t even begin to imagine throwing in a full load of practices and workouts and games/matches as an athlete on top of it all.

And so with all due respect to my readers out there and in the words of UNC’s coach Roy Williams, I say, I “could give a shit” what you think about the NIT.  You may call it the Not Invited Tournament, but those boys on that court are playing for something.  They didn’t start their season hoping to play in the NIT, but that’s where they landed.  They didn’t choose this opportunity, but you don’t always get to pick the opportunities that come knocking on your door.  However, you do get to choose what you do with that opportunity once you open that door.

I know there are plenty of fans of other teams out there getting a laugh at Carolina’s expense because a 20-16 record is laughable at best for one of the winningest programs in the history of college basketball.  But what’s done is done, and no amount of anger or sadness we have about this season compares to the anger or sadness that the players and coaches have about this season.  We can’t go back and change any of those losses into wins.  We have to move forward and take the hand that’s been dealt.

I don’t know if tonight’s game will turn out to be win 21 or loss 17, but I do know that every single one of those players is talented and they have fought so hard to get to the point where they are.  They never once gave up and threw in the towel.  They just kept playing because just like I believed they weren’t as “terrible” as their record suggested, they KNEW they weren’t that “terrible.” At some point during the season, it stopped being about wins and losses and post season expectations and it started being about how do we get this team to become something Carolina can build on.  In these last few games of the NIT, we’ve started to see shades of the Carolina we fans know and love.  We started to see those boys play together, set up shots, and generally just “get it.”  Do they still make some stupid mistakes? Absolutely, but I don’t know ANY team…even the ones in the Final Four…that doesn’t make stupid mistakes.

Opportunity came knocking when Carolina thought it was all over, and thankfully for us fans, that program, and those players, they didn’t look a gift horse in the mouth…remarkably…look where it got ’em…one win away from two championships in as many years. So, tonight I will be watching because when the NCAA tournament field expands to 96 teams and becomes watered down and all about marketing and money stripping away what little bit of true focus on basketball it had left, I’m still going to long for the days when the tournament was really just about the game of basketball and the kids who play it.

It’s Been A Pleasure

The title you see above are the words that Deon Thompson published on his Twitter feed today in the hours leading up to Senior Night for Carolina Basketball.  Every season, I write a post about the graduating seniors from UNC.  This season hasn’t been exactly what we expected it to be.  It’s been frustrating to say the least, but none of us fans have been as frustrated by it as the players themselves.  As I watched the loss column rack up numbers I hadn’t seen in nearly 10 years, my heart ached for Marcus Ginyard, Deon Thompson, and Marc Campbell.  How could this be their last season, but then I reminded myself that it’s not about one season or one game.  It’s about the journey.  It’s about the whole story.  It’s about the career.  And my goodness what a career those three men have had.  They’re all National Champions.  They’re all back to back ACC tournament champions.  Simply put, they’re all Tar Heels.

I could sit here and tell you about each of them.  I could tell you about Marcus’s journey.  About how he had to give up his real senior year due to injury and watched from the bench as his friends and teammates played for a National Championship, but what you might not have noticed is how much of a cheerleader he was.  That when you see pictures of the goofy smiles as the players celebrated in Detroit, Marcus’s smile was the biggest of them all.  I don’t think any one of those players could have asked for a better teammate.  I could tell you about Marc Campbell who is a Carolina basketball legacy as his father played for the program, too.  They’re the only father-son combination to play for the program in 100 years.  We haven’t seen much of Marc this season because he’s part of the clean up crew that comes in at the end of blow outs.  But, what you don’t know is that the length of his hair has gotten longer and longer every year and that his journey to Chapel Hill was bumpy to say the least.  He’s honestly an incredible ball handler and a very, very underrated point guard.  He’s a classic example of someone who probably could have started at some other schools in the country but chose to come to UNC because it’s UNC.  And then I could tell you about Deon Thompson.  The kid who grew up on the entire opposite side of the country and knew absolutely nothing about Carolina basketball before he decided to become part of the tradition.  I could tell you about how his game has improved every season because he has put in the time and the hard work.  He doesn’t try to be a player that he’s not.  He just tries to be Deon, which is pretty fantastic.

Sure, I could tell you all of that, but instead I’m going to let Deon tell you how much the last four years have meant to him. The following is a speech Deon gave at a dinner for Rams Club (booster organization) Donors, so without further adieu, Deon Thompson, in his own words…

I want to reach out to you all and tell you what you have done for me while also saying thank you!

For me growing up in California, I didn’t know very much about Carolina athletics — much less Carolina Basketball.  At home, pro basketball is a bigger deal than college basketball, so I knew about James Worthy, because he played for the LA Lakers.  And when Roy Williams made his recruiting visit to my home, I knew I wanted him to be my coach.  I thought Carolina would be the best possible place for me to get an education while also playing basketball at the highest level.

What I found out when I got here was that everything at Carolina is done at the highest level.  The first fall I was on campus, women’s soccer won a national championship.  That spring, Brie Felnagle won the 1500 meters national championship and Justin Ryncavage won the javelin throw national championship.  The baseball team went to the College World Series.  The women’s basketball team went to the Final Four.

We lost to Georgetown in the NCAA tournament final eight.  We were one of the best teams in the entire country…but we weren’t even the best team on our own campus.

We did a little better the next year — we made it to the Final Four.  But that same year, field hockey won the national championship.  The baseball team went back to the College World Series.

In the fall of 2008, women’s soccer won the national championship — again.  That’s their 19th NCAA championship.  Do you know how hard it is to find room for 19 banners?  The men’s soccer team played for the national championship, and so did the women’s lacrosse team.  The baseball team went to the College World Series — again.

A couple weeks ago, my teammates and I stood in the Smith Center and watched them unveil the banner for our 2009 national championship.  It reminded me of all the hard work that went into winning that title.  But it also reminded me how high the standard is at Carolina.

Since I got here, I’ve gone to Boshamer Stadium and watched Dustin Ackley — the best hitter in college baseball — play.  I’ve gone to Kenan Stadium and watched Hakeem Nicks — the best receiver in college football — play.  I’ve gone to Carmichael Auditorium and watched Ivory Latta — the best point guard in women’s basketball — play.  I know some schools have a great program or maybe even two.  But there’s nowhere else that you can walk across campus and see the very best in so many sports on any normal day.

Being a Tar Heel is more than just the Old Well or the fight song or Franklin Street.  It’s doing things the right way — in every area.  We’ve been the top-ranked ACC school in the Director’s Cup all three years that I’ve been here.  But it’s more than winning. We also had 274 student-athletes on the 2009 ACC Academic Honor Roll.

The Rams Club members here gave all of us the opportunity to make that happen.  I know there are other benefits to giving a scholarship.  You get tickets, or you get a better parking pass, or you get the chance to come to dinners like these.  But just know that you did something I appreciate even more: you gave a kid from California a chance to come to Chapel Hill, spend the best four years of my life, and totally understand what it means to say I’m Deon Thompson, and I’m a Tar Heel.

Thanks Marc, Marcus, and Deon for the memories and for showing all of us what it means to be a Tar Heel.  It’s been a pleasure.

Silver Lining

Believe it or not, every season of Carolina Basketball I get so frustrated with them that I seriously consider not watching ever again. I’m conditioned to believe that they’ll win every game they play when in fact they’ve only gone undefeated once in 100 seasons.  I sort of did that last season when I got so angry with them beating themselves (all 4 times), that I would DVR the game and not start watching it from the beginning until the 2nd half started.  That way, by the time I caught up to the live feed, the game was over or almost over and I would know the outcome.  It helped save a few years on the end of my life, so that was worth it.  This season, to say the least, has been frustrating.  So frustrating, that I’m at the point where I have to laugh to keep from crying.  Last night watching the UNC/FSU game, I actually physically hurt when one turnover after another just made my muscles ache.

Then, I got up this morning, and as I do after every game, I log on to tarheelblue.com and read Adam Lucas’s post-game column.  I’ve studied most of the great literary writers in history.  Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations is still a page turner, and I find something I missed in Shakespeare every time I read him.  But no one has ever made me feel like he was sitting in my living room watching the game with me like Adam Lucas.  Like clock work, after every game, Adam posts a column not about the stats and percentages but about the story behind the game.  He’s moved me to tears and made me laugh…sometimes in the same column.  In short, he’s more often than not put what I was thinking in print because he’s just as much a fan as the rest of us.

North Carolina is currently a .500 team that could end up being a below .500 team before it’s all said and done.  A rare occurence at best.  In the 100 years of Tar Heel Basketball, the program has amassed a nearly 74% winning percentage second only to Kentucky in the history of college basketball.  This losing thing is really kind of new to all of us.  In those 100 seasons, the program has experienced a .500 or below season just 11 times.  ELEVEN TIMES!  Think about that.  It’s entirely possible that someone had an entire lifetime without EVER seeing Carolina have a losing season.  So, as I read the words that Adam Lucas wrote to remind us all that no fan of any other team is feeling sorry for us…that in fact, they’re likely rejoicing in our learning how the other half lives, I laughed.  I remembered just how incredibly lucky I am to be a Carolina fan.  To know that the one place where people like Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Vince Carter, and Antawn Jamison are just “one of the guys” is tiny little Chapel Hill, NC because those bigger than life NBA and former NBA players will never be bigger than the program itself.

Using the advice his own father gave him after a Carolina loss, Adam reminded us just how important it is to be a Carolina fan during the good times AND the bad times.  “You have to sit through the bad ones to enjoy the good ones.”  Truer words were never spoken.  I remember feeling the sweetness when we won the National Championship just 11 months ago (yes…that was just 11 months ago) because the year before had ended on such a horribly sour note in the Final Four.  I remember crying all the way to church the next day because I was so upset, and then I remember just 12 months later not being able to wipe the stupid, silly grin off my face.  Even now, when I think about that run to the championship, I still giggle a little.  Someday, we’ll all look back on this and laugh…I hope…when we think about how frustrated we all were.  How we all felt like a program that has spent nearly 90% of its lifetime winning more games during the season than losing them couldn’t catch a break this season.  And I hope when we are at that point, we will look back and remember that Adam Lucas was the one who set us on this course by finding the silver lining in the midst of misery.

Lucas: Fatherly Advice

Feb. 24, 2010

By Adam Lucas

In the spring of 1986, I cried when Louisville beat Carolina in the NCAA Tournament round of 16. It was a sound 15-point whipping, as “Never Nervous” Pervis Ellison was in the middle of one of the best months of his basketball life. It left my beloved Tar Heels without a Final Four for the fourth year in a row–imagine that, four straight years without a Final Four!–and I went to my room, cried, and wished evil things for Never Nervous Pervis (it worked, as he was drafted by the Sacramento Kings).

I’m not particularly proud of the reaction. Since then, I have moved on to much more mature responses to losses, such as breaking things. At the time, though, I think my parents were a little concerned about what type of weirdo/person they were raising. After what I imagine was probably some intense negotiation, with my mother slamming down her fist and yelling, “I have to pack his lunch every day, do you know what it’s like to make peanut butter and jelly five days a week?” my dad came into my room very cautiously.

It was at that moment that he gave me some of the most profound advice he ever shared with me. Yes, even ahead of, “Don’t plan on being tall,” or, “A red light is a great place to catch a nap.”

This is what he said: “You have to sit through the bad ones to enjoy the good ones.”

And he was right. It didn’t make me like Never Nervous Pervis (you’d be surprised how many ways a 9-year-old can find to make fun of a name like “Pervis”) any better, but it did make it feel a little sweeter seven years later when George Lynch and the Tar Heels were on top of that ladder cutting down the nets in the Superdome. Somehow, I felt like I’d earned it. I’d weathered Louisville and Syracuse and Arizona and Kansas. Michigan felt good.

The truth is, we don’t sit through many bad ones as Carolina basketball fans. No one feels sorry for us. You know that, right? They love this. They are downright gleeful that for three months out of our lives, we’re experiencing what it’s like to be everyone else. We’re even having to talk about…next year.

We stink at talking about next year. That’s because we have no practice at it. Next year to us might as well be 20 years away (same with last year, but that’s a different column). Most every year that I’ve been alive except for maybe three, a Carolina basketball season has been about this year until the last possible second elapses in the NCAA Tournament.

Take Roy Williams’s first year. That team couldn’t figure out how to play together long enough for the water to get hot. But when the brackets came out on Selection Sunday, do you know what everyone said? “Carolina is a Final Four sleeper.” This year.

That was crazy talk. But it was Carolina, so it made sense. Struggles are never a permanent condition. The Tar Heels are .500 right now and every national media outlet is wondering what’s wrong. You know where this team will be next November? Right back in the national preseason top-25. This isn’t a foundation-shaking season. It’s just a disappointing season.

If you’re a Tar Heel, in most years sitting through the bad ones means that maybe six or seven times a season, you’re miserable. This year is different. This year, now that I’m a father and don’t want to risk raising my son to be the same weirdo/person that I am, I’m having to come up with different ways to answer the question, “Daddy, did the Tar Heels win last night?” at the breakfast table each morning after a game.

Usually, I try to distract him with Spiderman, which has a remarkable success rate.

Maybe it would be better to tell him the truth, to prepare him that there will be some bad ones along the way to all the good ones. And the truth is that Wednesday night was a bad one. On Wednesday night, Florida State was demonstrably better than Carolina. The Tar Heels couldn’t get stops when they needed them, shot 52 percent from the field in the first half and still trailed by 15 points, and committed too many silly turnovers.

You don’t worry about the upperclassmen quite as much, because they’ve won at Carolina and know how to win. It’s the freshmen that concern you.

“I don’t want to feel like this ever again,” Dexter Strickland said. “I feel embarrassed. It’s probably the worst game I’ve ever played and it’s aggravating.”

Without prompting, though, he quickly turned the focus to the future.

“This season will help us in the future,” he said. “This feeling I have right now, it makes me want to play even harder to make sure I never feel this way again.”

The freshmen don’t have to look far to see recent examples of other Tar Heels who endured first-year hardships on the way to eventual success. Raymond Felton played in the NIT. Jawad Williams was on a team that didn’t even qualify for the NIT.

Both left Carolina as national champions, which means when they return to Chapel Hill they are kings. They played through the bad ones to get to the good ones, and both would tell you even today that the ending was a little bit sweeter because of the way it all began.

“I talked to Melvin (Scott) the other day,” John Henson said. “He told me you have to keep pushing. He said they had their rough times, and if you fold up, it’s going to be worse. We can’t do that.”

Adam Lucas is the publisher of Tar Heel Monthly. He is also the author or co-author of five books on Carolina basketball, including the just-released book on the 2009 national title, One Fantastic Ride. Get real-time UNC sports updates from the THM staff on Twitter.

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.”

~Walt Disney~

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.

1 vs. 100

Next week, the 2009-10 college basketball season begins, which means we’re roughly 21 weeks away from knowing who the 2010 national champion will be in Indianapolis, IN.

There are lots of changes to this season. For my Alma mater, Alabama, they’re at year 1 of a new beginning, a new chapter with a new coach. There’s a new scoreboard for Coleman Coliseum among other improvements to the venue for this season. I have lots of memories of the basketball team when I was in school. I can remember my freshman year sitting court side behind one of the baskets for the Kentucky game. I remember going to that game specifically to see Rick Pitino. I remember thinking how strange a feeling it was when he walked out on the court, like a king had just entered the building with his bodyguards dressed like mobsters. I remember when Mark Gottfried was hired. I remember it being such a breath of fresh air when he arrived. I remember going to Midnight Madness when the NCAA still required the teams to NOT scrimmage until it was actually after midnight. I had a huge crush on Jeremy Hays. He was the center on the team when I was in college. I still have his autograph on a poster and a t-shirt. But alas, the Mark Gottfried era, though it brought an Elite Eight and Mark’s Madness student section who did their best to keep the SEC refs in check, came to an end last season. Anthony Grant was hired in March and that same newness and breath of fresh air seemed to overtake those of us who actually pay attention to Alabama basketball. It’s a spark, an excitement, a push in what we hope is the right direction for the program. And it begins with this first season.

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There are lots of changes this season. For North Carolina, the team I’ve pulled for since I was in my mother’s womb begins it’s 100th basketball season next week. For the 6th time, they are beginning a season as the reigning National Champions. In some ways they are starting over, too. Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green, Mike Copeland, and Bobby Frasor will not be dressed in Carolina uniforms. This team will do everything they can to chart their own course, make their own legacy all the while living in the shadow of the legends that have walked that campus and played for that school. They will look to model their game after people such as Lennie Rosenbluth, Phil Ford, Michael Jordan, James Worthy, and Antawn Jamison…among 100s of others. They’ll play for the name on the front of the jersey instead of the one on the back (we hope). They’ll be guided by one of the most accomplished coaching staffs in college basketball. They will try to handle the pressure not only of living up to the legacy that has been built over the last 99 seasons of Carolina basketball, but also the pressure of the media to see what this reloaded team can do as an encore to the last 4 seasons that culminated in the school’s 6th championship.

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It’s exhausting, sometimes, what these 21 weeks can bring. I know with great certainty that while I absolutely LOVE the game of basketball, I usually feel like I’ve run a marathon by the time the championship game rolls around…and all that without ever putting on a uniform or dribbling a ball, so I can’t imagine the exhaustion level of one of the players. I’m determined to have fun with this season. Last season I was frustrated with the way Mark Gottfried’s tenure ended. He deserved a better ending. And I was nervous for every Carolina game that it would be the undoing of the entire team and they wouldn’t win their championship they’d worked 4 years to win. So, this season I want it to be different. I want to enjoy it…to feel that fun that Coach Williams talks about all the time. To experience the journey whether it be with the 1 or the 100 or both.

Bring on the season.

Bring on the fun.

ROLL TIDE and GO HEELS!

Tyler Hansbrough Day

There’s really no way that my own thoughts could do this event justice, and since I wasn’t there in person, I won’t attempt to do so.  I’ll just let the news report speak for itself.  I will tell you that they painted his autograph on the floor as the way to designate it Tyler Hansbrough Court at Poplar Bluff High School.  I hadn’t even really thought about what it would look like, but using his autograph was a pretty creative idea, I think.

My favorite part is that he specifically referred to his teammates when talking about what an honor this was.  As you can read in the article below, he wants all future players at PBHS who see his name on that court to remember all his teammates that worked just as hard as he did.  Team First = Tyler “what planet are you from” Hansbrough

For a slightly longer, professional video by the Pacers, go here.

Poplar Bluff presents Hansbrough with key to city

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. — Indiana Pacers rookie forward and former University of North Carolina national champion Tyler Hansbrough was honored Thursday night in his hometown as the city awarded him a key to the city and the gym floor was named in his honor at E.T. Peters Gym, where he played prep basketball at Poplar Bluff High School.

Hansbrough was a three-time all-state selection for the Mules from 2001 to 2005, winning two Class 5 state championships in his junior and senior years.

Hansbrough owns the school record for points scored in a career (2,464), career rebounds (1,175), points in a season (801) and points in a game (44).

Hansbrough, who was wearing a walking boot due to his recent shin injury, pulled the sheet off the newly enshrined Tyler Hansbrough Court.

“One thing about this court is when you see my name out on the floor when the kids are back [from summer break] working out, one thing I want them to remember is about the team that I was involved with,” Hansbrough said. “It wasn’t just myself.”

Hansbrough thanked his teammates for helping him earn this honor.

“It was more the people that I was surrounded with that helped me out in high school and in college,” he said. “I’ve been lucky to be around great people and a great community.”

Hansbrough had family, former teachers and teammates, along with about 500 fans, in attendance.

“We’ve had a lot of great memories here,” Tyler’s mother, Tami Hansbrough, said. “It’s hard to describe. It’s just great to be back and having people supporting you. He’s excited about [the honor], too. Basketball is just a big part of our lives.”

North Carolina coach Roy Williams, former Poplar Bluff coach John David Pattillo and Pacers coach Jim O’Brien also attended the ceremony.

O’Brien said he hoped Hansbrough’s winning ways at UNC and Poplar Bluff rub off on the Pacers, who haven’t made the NBA playoffs since the 2005-2006 season.

Hansbrough went 99-15 at Poplar Bluff and 120-22 at North Carolina.

O’Brien, along with Pacers president Larry Bird and general manager David Morway, were shocked he still was available at their No. 13 pick in June’s NBA draft.

“We are absolutely delighted to have Tyler,” O’Brien said. “We were shocked that he was available to us at 13. We made the decision [a few years back] that we were going to build a team of people of high character that loved to be in the gym, that loved to work, that would be good teammates and good representatives of their community.”

Williams spoke of his memories of coming to Poplar Bluff during the recruiting process.

He made a visit one fall to watch Hansbrough lift weights and shoot baskets. After a visit to a golf course with some Poplar Bluff coaches in the afternoon while Hansbrough was in class, Williams returned later that evening to watch a Mules pickup game.

“I couldn’t talk to Tyler,” Williams said. “It was during the time period that we couldn’t talk to individuals, you could only watch him play.

“I remember walking back and saying to John David, I said, ‘Coach would do me favor? Would you tell Tyler that I was here from weights at 7 a.m. and I was here for shooting at 7:45 a.m. and came back to the scrimmage at 7 p.m. and [Duke coach Mike] Krzyzewski’s butt was just here for the pick up games.'”

Williams never will forget the time spent as Hansbrough’s coach.

“It was a wonderful experience to coach him for four years and be in that locker room,” Williams said.

Earlier in the program, Poplar Bluff Mayor Loyd Matthews read a proclamation and presented Hansbrough with a key to the city.

Later in the evening, Hansbrough remarked that he wished he had that key while in high school so he could have worked on his game.

“It would have been a lot easier to get in this gym,” Hansbrough said. “I wouldn’t have had to climb through the window or break a door. I was really religious about getting in here and working out and getting my shots.”

Friday, August 14, 2009
By ROB TATE ~ Daily American Republic

Speechless

I’ve been to the Carolina Basketball Museum three times now, and it’s not old, yet.  I’m still finding something I missed every time.  This time was important though.  This time we were going to see the newest additions to the family.  The 2009 National Championship trophies.  I proudly wore my new Hansbrough Pacers t-shirt and still cried when Antawn Jamison says in the video introduction to the museum that he’s never felt on any level the way he felt when he ran out of the tunnel at the Smith Center. 

I understand there is a case in the works for Tyler’s memorabilia that he has donated to the school/museum, but it isn’t ready, yet.  And, the new trophies will eventually be placed in a case similar to the ones the other national championship trophies are in.  Just another reason to visit the museum.  This time through, I only took two pictures because only two pictures needed to be taken, and I still got giggly when I saw the trophies like the game was just the day before.

Funny story: when I took the picture of the game ball and NABC Coaches’ Trophy, I did a double take on the ball at first thinking that it couldn’t possibly be the ball signed by the team from this year because the score of the game wasn’t nearly lopsided enough.  HA!  But it was the correct ball from the correct team. 

If you’d like to see all my pictures from my visits to the museum, go here

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It’s Official

After scoring 17 Monday, Tyler Hansbrough followed up with 23 points and four rebounds Tuesday against Oklahoma City.

After scoring 17 Monday, Tyler Hansbrough followed up with 23 points and four rebounds Tuesday against Oklahoma City. (Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images)

Pacers News Release | Indianapolis, July 8, 2009


The Indiana Pacers announced Wednesday they have signed their No. 1 draft pick, Tyler Hansbrough, to a multi-year contract. Per club policy, terms of the contract were not disclosed.

Hansbrough, a 6-9, 250-pound forward from the University of North Carolina, is the all-time leading scorer in the Atlantic Coast Conference with 2,872 points. He is the only player in league history to earn First Team All-America and First Team All-ACC honors four times.

As a senior in 2008-09, he was named First Team All-America by Sporting News, USBWA, NABC and AP. He is the North Carolina Tar Heels’ all-time leading rebounder with 1,219 rebounds.

Hansbrough is currently playing with the Pacers’ summer league team which is participating in the Orlando Pro Summer League through Friday. The Pacers have won their first two games and play again on Wednesday (3:00 p.m.), Thursday (7:00 p.m.) and Friday (3:00 p.m.).

You can watch all the Pacers’ summer league games live on Pacers.com and be sure to visit Pacers Summer League Central for comprehensive coverage.