“You can’t come in there tiptoeing through the tulips. You’ve got to come in and be ready to make a stand. Hopefully those guys will do it right from the start.”
Yes, head coach Roy Williams adamantly warned his team. He covered his bases. Like any good parent, he explained to his kids the pitfalls of a lack of intensity. What more could he have done? The only things Ol’ Roy was missing were some flashing lights, a CAUTION AHEAD sign, and an air horn.
I’m sure he wished he had those at his disposal and more Sunday night as the Tar Heels sleepwalked their way through a majority of an ugly loss at Wake Forest. And like most typical children, Carolina’s players had to find out for themselves the harsh consequences of their actions.
When is this Carolina team going to learn? And is it out of Roy’s control? The Hall of Famer has sure seemed at a loss for good answers for why his team’s competition level is so sporadic and unpredictable.
In truth, Coach Williams is just as befuddled as the rest of us. A key word appears in the above quotation: “hopefully.” At the end of the day, hope is all Coach can do. He can’t play for his guys. And I know that’s one of the last things Tar Heel fans want to hear.
I don’t blame them. It’s a scary thought knowing that your coach is saying his prayers the same as you the night before games, hoping beyond hope that the Carolina team that dismantled Michigan State on the road will reemerge on the hardwood.
This Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing must be getting exasperating for Coach Williams. He works them to death at practice, even at 5 a.m. He jerks lackluster players in and out of games with ruthlessness. He makes public statements like the one I built this column around. What more can he do?
You know what? Probably nothing. It’s out of his control. Until the Tar Heels make up their own minds for each and every contest to fight like hell for every loose ball, play suffocating defense on each play, cut out the careless turnovers, and convert on second and third-chance opportunities around the rim, the disappointments will just keep on coming.
But the thing that makes this year’s crop so much more frustrating for Ol’ Roy and the rest of Tar Heel Nation is that we’ve been teased and maybe even fooled. We believe this UNC team is the one that impressively toppled the top three squads in the preseason rankings.
We believe Carolina is led by the exceedingly clutch Marcus Paige, surrounded by high-flying acrobats in Brice Johnson and J.P Tokoto, bolstered by the hard-nosed play of Kennedy Meeks, accented by the athleticism of James Michael McAdoo, and supported by the veteran perimeter play of Leslie McDonald. This UNC team can beat anyone in the country – anytime, anywhere.
But are they really that team? Maybe we should clear our rose-colored glasses?
Marcus Paige has the propensity to conjure up a disappearing act for large chunks of time. Kennedy Meeks finds it hard to match the physicality of the guys in the other jerseys for a full 40 minutes, while McAdoo is still struggling to harness his moon-ball foul shooting.
Carolina’s promise and ability is not negotiable. But let’s be honest with ourselves: the Tar Heel basketball team is just as likely to go “tiptoeing through the tulips” as it is “ready to make a stand.”