So this is heartbreak. Not quite a full 24 hours later and that very distinct emptiness that follows any loss at the hands of the Blue Devils still lingers. Maybe I’m being a tad melodramatic, but then again… no, no I’m not. More than simply another tally in the right-hand column, last night’s game represented a shot at redemption for a hungry team and fanbase: a deliverance from evil that just never materialized.
The stage was set but the Heels never showed up (which is ironic, since just about everyone else did).
Yes, the stars were out in full force Saturday. From our limited vantage point in the back row of the risers my friends and I took part in a rousing game of “name that celebrity” to pass the hours before tip-off. Former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker and her husband, tennis pro Andy Roddick, sat courtside and enjoyed a halftime chat with Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder and his better half, ESPN sideline reporter Samantha Steele (or Ponder now I suppose). Also spotted were country music star Eric Church (who head football coach Larry Fedora seemed to take a real shine to), former Vice-Presidential candidate John Edwards, and former NFL running back/current ESPN analyst Merril Hoge.
But enough of the lifestyles of the rich and famous (and in Decker’s case, the incredibly good looking). Though millions of eyes were on Chapel Hill Saturday, what’s really important is what was seen by a select few. I’m speaking, of course, about recruiting.
Saturday marked what, to the best of my knowledge, was the biggest night of recruiting in the school’s history. Over 30 big-name basketball and football recruits were in attendance; Da’Shawn Hand (a defensive end from Virginia widely regarded as the #1 overall football recruit in the class of 2014), Rashad Vaughn (shooting guard from Minnesota ranked as ESPN’s #9 overall player in the 2014 class), and Andrew Wiggins (small forward and #1 ranked recruit in the class of 2013) being among the top targets.
Though for many months the campaign for Wiggins was viewed as a two-horse race between Florida State and Kentucky, many are now speculating that the Canadian-born “Maple Jordan” may be giving serious consideration to calling Chapel Hill home. With Wiggins regarded as the best talent to come out of high school in years, it was imperative for the Tar Heels to capitalize on his visit.
They attempted to do just that through a series of not-so-subtle “This Is Carolina Basketball” video clips, featuring famous players of the recent past discussing their favorite aspects of campus life and being a part of the UNC basketball family. It’s a good thing Wiggins saw Carolina basketball on the jumbotrons, because it was nowhere to be found on the court.
There really couldn’t have been a worse time for the Heels’ hot hands to go cold, as their six-game win streak came to a grinding halt on senior night. While it was far from the storybook ending they’d hoped for, seniors Dexter Strickland and Frank Tanner took the court after the game to an earnest standing ovation from an otherwise dazed crowd. As they headed back to the locker room, the enormity of the moment sank in for those of us in the stands. After all, Dex and Frank weren’t the only seniors in the building. For many, this would be the last game witnessed in the Dean Dome as a student. For many, this would be the last trip to the risers. This was the culmination of years of student-fandom; of countless hours waiting in lines; of shouting oneself hoarse game in and game out. For many, this would be the last opportunity to Jump Around.
I consider myself blessed to have one more year to watch games from a place where I can lose my mind and not be judged. For those of you students moving on to the real world: I salute you and wish you the absolute best. I only ask one thing, and that is that you take a little bit of the risers with you. When you find yourself back in town for a game (and I know that you will; Chapel Hill finds a way of drawing people back), don’t be afraid to shout a little bit louder and jump a little bit higher than those around you. Don’t forget where you came from, because Carolina basketball never stops.
All Chapelboro.com Hoop It Up photos provided by Todd Melet.