Chansky’s Notebook: Are The Clouds Clearing?

This is today’s Art Chansky’s Sports Notebook as heard on 97.9 WCHL. You can listen to previous Sports Notebooks here.

Another sign the worm may be turning at Carolina.

Last April, the best two-sport athlete in North Carolina committed to Duke because his favorite school, UNC, was still mired in the NCAA investigation. Last week, Chazz Surratt of East Lincoln High School in Denver, NC, de-committed to Duke and said he was flip-flopping to Carolina.

It may be another indication that the Tar Heel football and basketball programs won’t be hit with serious sanctions by the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions when it metes out penalties sometime in early 2016. If so, take that, Brandon Ingram!

Surratt is a super athlete, a chiseled specimen with speed to burn and a great throwing arm. The 6′ 2″ rising senior quarterback led East Lincoln to a 16-0 record, passing for 4,338 yards and 51 touchdowns last season, while also rushing for 1,239 yards and 22 touchdowns on 156 attempts.

Surratt committed to Duke on April 21 over offers from Boston College, Clemson, Georgia Tech, NC State, Tennessee, Wake Forest and West Virginia, among others, as well of course from Larry Fedora and the Heels. Too much negative recruiting about UNC caused Surrat to commit to David Cutcliffe and the Devils.

His mother confirmed that her son turned away from Duke last week and committed to Carolina on the same day. And while he will sign a football scholarship next February, he will also be invited to try out for the basketball team and give Roy Williams more depth in the backcourt, where Surratt averaged 20 points for East Lincoln last season. He was named the state’s best two-sport athlete by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.

An AP all-state selection for both football and basketball, Surratt ended his sophomore season with 2,590 yards on 178-of-273 passing (that’s 65-percent) with 28 touchdowns. He also rushed for 1624 yards and 34 scores on 208 carries (a 7.8-yard average). Likely red-shirted in football, he will play behind Mitch Trubisky in 2017 and then take over when Trubisky graduates. It may be another omen that those dark clouds over Carolina are finally clearing.

Chansky’s Notebook: They’re The Bomb!

This is today’s Art Chansky’s Sports Notebook as heard on 97.9 WCHL. You can listen to previous Sports Notebooks here.

Are the USA Women cool, or what?

Full disclosure. I really don’t like soccer because, pure and simple, there is not enough scoring for me. We live in a society of immediate gratification, and watching 90 minutes plus stoppage times for a 1-0 or 2-0 result is not worth it.

Unless, of course, you are pulling for your country with the coolest bunch of women soccer players ever. Thank Anson Dorrance for creating the monster that created so many good gal players. Is Alex Morgan not the bomb, and pretty hot, too. How about Carli Lloyd, who’s been on fire in the World Cup.

The game last night was the most exciting 2-0 match I have ever seen, even with a scoreless first half. When Julie Johnson committed the cardinal sin of fouling in the box, the Germans looked like they would take the lead with a penalty kick, which they missed for the first time in World Cup history, adding to Hope Solo’s record for shutout minutes which is now up to like 518 without giving up a goal.

When Lloyd stepped up for her penalty kick a few minutes later, you knew she was going to bang it home. And then she assisted on a spectacular goal by Kelly O’Hara to seal the victory and send the USA to the championship match for the second straight World Cup, which I think is another record in itself.

I never noticed how much holding is allowed. These women grab each other from behind, ward off opponents with forearm shivers and go sliding and diving and flying throughout the match. Women’s lacrosse needs to lighten up and allow more contact; after all, they wear helmets and pads, while soccer players wear no armor at all.

The skill level just keeps getting better. My favorite move is when Morgan is advancing the ball, stops on a dime and controls it with the top of her foot like a ballerina, then spots an opening and takes off again. The USA’s passing to the open woman and terrific defense are remarkable, and I can’t see either Japan or England beating us in Sunday night’s final in Vancouver.

But what do I know? I just watch because our women are so cool and they ARE, after all, OUR women.

Chansky’s Notebook: She Is The Greatest!

This is today’s Art Chansky’s Sports Notebook as heard on 97.9 WCHL. You can listen to previous Sports Notebooks here.

Is Serena Williams the best and most accomplished athlete on the planet?

How about you? Serena Williams never ceases to amaze me. At 33, she has already won two legs of the tennis grand slam this year and looks quicker and stronger than ever heading into Wimbledon, where if she wins will be the first woman to be 3-0 in the majors since 1988 when Steffi Graf did it.

That’s because Serena has won more grand slams, 20, than the entire Wimbledon women’s field, minus anyone named Venus, her sister. If you care, the leggy Maria Sharapova has five. By the way, Serena is 20-4 in her last 24 grand slams and 12-1 in her last 13. Not getting older, getting better.

It sounds ridiculous, but Serena can win her sixth Wimbledon, which is one more than Venus, and one away from Graf’s seven. Martina Navratilova’s nine? Serena will be only 36 when she matches that number. Don’t bet against it, her overall record in 82 matches at the All England Club is 72-10, and the 10 losses are to nine different foes, losing twice to Venus. That’s sisterly love.

Of course, there was the Serena Slam a few years ago, when she held all four championships at the same time but overlapping two years. Now, she is going for all four trophies and silver plates in 2015 by winning Wimbledon and on her home hard court at the U.S. Open. . . .to become only the third woman to win all four in the same calendar years after Graf in ’88 and Margaret Court in 1970. What are odds? Vegas has her at even money.

I say all this because, pound for pound and muscle for muscle, Serena Williams is the greatest athlete in the world. Better than LeBron who is only 2-4 in NBA Finals. Better than Rhonda Rousey, Serena would slam her to death. Even better than Jordan Spieth, who’s matching her major for major and will go for his third at St. Andrews in the British Open. Should they both win them all this year, then it goes to tie-breakers in any other sports besides tennis and golf.

Basketball? Serena in a slam dunk. Wrestling? Not even close. Arm-wrestling? Over in seconds. Tackle football? Poor Jordan Spieth.

Watch Serena Williams this week and tell me you have ever seen a better physical specimen. And, when she is running her monster body from sideline to sideline, from baseline to net, remember she is 33 going on another grand slam.

Chansky’s Notebook: Abby Or No Abby?

This is today’s Art Chansky’s Sports Notebook as heard on 97.9 WCHL. You can listen to previous Sports Notebooks here.

Can the USA women score enough to beat potent Germany?

Despite only a 1-0 win over China, the U.S. women’s World Cup team looked far more aggressive than in its previous matches. But can that translate into more goals against high scoring Germany in the semifinals Tuesday night, a game that has great precedent.

This will be the fourth World Cup meeting between USA and Germany, none for the championship. But the winner in each case went on to win the World Cup, the USA in 1991 and 1999, Germany in 2003. This time the red, white and blue can’t rely on a fourth straight shutout from goalkeeper Hope Solo, who has been spectacular in Canada. They have to stay on the attack.

Will 35-year-old Abby Wambach, playing in her last World Cup, be on the field more than the last few minutes she played in the win over China? The all-time leading scorer in international soccer may no longer have the speed necessary to keep the pressure on from her forward spot. Still, can coach Jill Ellis keep her on the sideline for so long? It’s a gamble, for sure.

The 5′ 11″ Wambach says criticism of the offense is justified, and she points to the constant pressure her younger and faster mates put on against China as the key to finding the back of the net against the Germans. While the U.S. now has a record for holding opponents scoreless over 422 consecutive minutes, assuming that will continue for 2 more games is fool’s gold. With Alex Morgan rounding back into shape and Carli Lloyd as dangerous as any player in the World Cup, keeping up the 90-minutes of urgency applied to China is the key.

By opening the game on the sideline, Wambach has become a spiritual leader, pumping up her teammates with fury and an occasional four-letter word during warm-ups. And, in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling, the face of same-sex marriage in this country going out with her first World Cup will cap a career that has made her an icon on and off the field.

But, when all is said and done, if it’s better for her not to start and come in to provide much needed inspiration in the second half of a close match, that’s what should happen. Speed is no longer her game, and this is no time for sentimentality.

Chansky’s Notebook: For Griff And Teddy

This is today’s Art Chansky’s Sports Notebook as heard on 97.9 WCHL. You can listen to previous Sports Notebooks here.

They played the member-guest for Griff and Teddy.

Chapel Hill lost two of its most popular figures and long-time residents over the last two years, real estate attorney Griff Graves and Insurance agent Ted Seagroves. Both were avid golfers and dedicated members of the Chapel Hill Country Club.

So this year, the club renamed their annual member-guest tournament for Griff and Teddy and awarded championship belts that would rival what Floyd Mayweather and Mike Tyson might have in their trophy cases . . . to the winners, retired UNC Hospitals employee Mark Kozel and realtor Mike Lewis.

Both guys were proud to wear their big, heavy medal belts around town this week, one belt called The Griff, with engraving, bangles and a picture of Griff Graves following through on his pure golf swing; the other called The Teddy with a picture of Seagroves smiling broadly from a golf cart.

Chapel Hill has a rare private country club that is more like an expensive good ol’ boys public course for its long-time and loyal membership. And they always celebrate their past with special events named for the people who have become legendary members of the club and made plenty of friends and memories.

It was appropriate that Kozel and Lewis won the first Griff and Teddy belts because they had played golf with Graves and Seagroves since 1980. They met at UNC, have been fraternity brothers and best friends for 43 years and both played dozens of rounds with their dearly departed mates. Lewis loves to tell the story of how he lost a five-dollar bet to Griff and Teddy in their first match which, after all the presses on the back nine, wound up as eighteen bucks.

The money went toward pitchers of beer and lots of laughs that night. The victorious  teammates said they felt the presence of Graves and Seagroves as they played through the two-day tournament that was one big party, just the way Griff and Teddy liked it every year.

“I definitely felt their presence all weekend, and I’ve worn this belt around most of the week,” Lewis said, holding his wrap-around trophy that must weigh at least 10 pounds. “Griff and Teddy would be thrilled we won.”

Indeed they would.

Art’s Angle: Writer Back On Beat


This is a story about a sportswriter and a football coach and the debatable definitions of each man’s job.

Ron Morris has written for newspapers in Chapel Hill, Durham and Tallahassee before becoming the lead sports columnist for The State in Columbia, S.C. He has known Steve Spurrier since The Visor was at Duke – as the Blue Devils’ offensive coordinator in the early 1980s and their head coach in the late ‘80s before going to Florida and winning a national championship.

morris billboardMorris is a controversial columnist whose points of view often push the envelope. He has endured various forms of public humiliation over his feud with Spurrier, the 68-year-old legendary South Carolina football coach, from callous billboards to constant calls for his firing.

In his nine years at Chief Gamecock, Spurrier has amassed the kind of power Bear Bryant had at Alabama (and Nick Saban has now), the late Joe Paterno had at Penn State, Dean Smith had at UNC and Mike Krzyzewski has at Duke. While all of those men wielded behind-the-scenes influence, some of them occasionally wound up in civic squabbles.

Smith once took on the entire Consolidated University of North Carolina over what he believed was an unfair report about (some of his) student athletes. Early in Krzyzewski’s tenure, he ripped the Duke Chronicle sports staff in private and, after seeing the account in the next day’s edition, learned that one of the student reporters had tape-recorded his tirade.

Paterno, of course, was lionized throughout his Hall of Fame career at Penn State, only to be fired in disgrace over his alleged negligence in the Jerry Sandusky child-abuse scandal. Paterno died shortly after from cancer.

In an ongoing controversy, Spurrier got Morris removed from the South Carolina football beat by complaining that Morris had written and opined inaccuracies about him. Spurrier began his campaign by refusing to answer questions in any press conference Morris attended during the 2011 season. He then held a secret meeting with The State’s Publisher and Executive Editor, after which Morris was ordered not to ask Spurrier any more questions and eventually told that he could no longer write anything about South Carolina football.

Morris had infuriated Spurrier during a radio interview by likening his power at South Carolina to the fiefdom Paterno established and said none of that could be good for any university or athletic department. When the Gamecocks played in the Outback Bowl after last season and when they opened the current season at home against UNC, Morris and his wife went to the movies.

The dispute had found its way into various media columns and became fodder for talk shows, but when Morris wrote stories about the South Carolina basketball and baseball teams the spat was considered old news. In the background, Spurrier had influenced The State to hire a noted “homer” to cover the Gamecocks on the paper’s website and later lobbied for him to get a raise.

Not until national media blogger Jim Romenesko published his well-researched piece in early September did Morris’ plight become a national story. USA Today chimed in and, after Romenesko’s blog went viral, The State reversed field and allowed its lead sports columnist to again cover the most popular subject in the newspaper’s circulation area.

As imagined, the debate goes on thanks to the interactive nature of today’s media. Every Internet article on the subject is followed by a comments section and the Pro-Spurrier and Pro-First Amendment sides continue to go after each other with a blurry line between supposed fact and off-the-wall opinion.

Morris was back in the Williams-Brice Stadium press box for Saturday night’s game against Vanderbilt. And, with the credibility and motives of his managers at The State being called into question, he will continue to be a lightning rod for both sides of the story.

If you are interested in the sordid details, here are inks to the column that most angered Spurrier, Romenesko’s blog that created the national backlash and the recanting of Morris’ position by The State.

Google Ron Morris-Steve Spurrier to find even more.

All make fascinating reading, no matter where you stand.

feature image by nsdis via flickr

Art’s Angle: Break Out The Bull


Larry Fedora knows where he’s at. And it must be driving him a little nuts.

The hyperactive, Red-Bull-guzzling head coach of the Tar Heels obviously sees the potential of Carolina football, or he wouldn’t be here. Saturday, he dressed his team in almost acrylic light-blue uniforms with black numbers and trim, cool togs the kids must like.

His ground crew filled the CAROLINA TAR HEELS painted in the Kenan Stadium end zones with the argyle design, which alum Alexander Julian (who invented it 21 years ago for the basketball unies) must have liked. The weather was certainly likeable, the opponent manageable and the players prepared. Well, almost.

Fedora half-joked Friday that he expected a so-so crowd for the home opener and didn’t want to invite any recruits to the game. He’s going after the cream of the crop, head to head with the rest of the ACC and much of the SEC, and he wants the atmosphere that playing rival games has seemed to generate in his one season heresofar.

Kudos to the home side of Kenan and the packed Tar Pit. They were in dire contrast to the rest of the house. Season ticket sales were inexplicably down despite an improving economy and football program, so the sun-side glistened with silver benches. Unfortunately, that’s the side the TV cameras see.

A capacity crowd fires up the players when they take the field. It also impresses high school players, which is why The Hat didn’t invite any to the home opener.

It appeared the Tar Heels were still waiting for everyone to show up when middlin’ Middle Tennessee drove 80 yards with the opening kick-off to an apparent touchdown. Fortunately, the Blue Raiders’ score was overturned in the replay booth, the defense came alive for an exciting goal line stand and the Heels dominated the rest of first half on the way to a 23-0 score.

Keep an eye on junior Norkeithus Otis, who had five tackles and three sacks from the hybrid Bandit position. He will steal your heart. Romar Morris equaled his previous career high by scoring two touchdowns and Bryn Renner sneaked to his first of the new season.

But one of the captains, who had deferred after winning the toss of the coin, forgot to say “the ball” or “we receive” or whatever they tell the officials to start the second half. When he said “defend this goal” we saw something we may never see again – one team receiving the kickoff to begin both halves.

“We were trying to give them a little extra help,” Fedora deadpanned after the game. Ninety minutes earlier he had something else to say to the captain who forgot what to say. And it wasn’t, “Good job.”

Middle promptly finished its long drive this time, bursting up the middle to ruin the shutout. After Chapel Hill’s Thomas Moore booted his second field goal of the game and third of the young season (and remained perfect with 55 career PATs), Middle stripped slot-back Ryan Switzer across the middle and ran the fumble in to make it a 26-13 game. Remember, this was the same Middle that upset the same Georgia Tech team that scored 68 points in the same Kenan Stadium in Fedora’s first season.

He may have reached for another Red Bull.

Carolina hung on with Renner’s second touchdown pass of the season to Quinshad Davis and freshman Bug Howard’s first (his lone catch of the day). It only mattered to Fedora’s acid reflux that Middle went back over the middle for one more score to make the 40-20 final respectable (but still covering the 17-point spread).

The Tar Heels not only doubled Middle, they doubled Fedora’s pleasure from last week, when his team blew the opener at South Carolina on a few blown plays.

“It’s always preferable to fix mistakes after a win,” he said. “You don’t have that knot in your stomach and bad taste in your mouth.”

Fedora will have two weeks to keep from falling under .500 again, preparing to stop a Georgia Tech triple option that scored 70 points on Elon in its season opener and might score at least half that many this Saturday at Duke. The program The Hat inherited has lost four straight to the Jackets, 13 of the last 15 and hasn’t won in Atlanta since Mack Brown’s 16-13 squeaker in 1997.

So there’ll be more to worry about than the home crowd. Break out the Bull.

Chansky: Cackle On, Coach!

duke spurrier kenan

Did you get as big of a kick as I did Sunday when Steve Spurrier gloated over his undefeated record against North Carolina?

C’mon, Head Ball Coach, surely winning a Heisman Trophy and a national championship are more impressive accomplishments to cackle over on your way to the Football Hall of Fame.

After all, the records of the four UNC teams you “swamped” were 5-6 (in Dick Crum’s last season), 1-10 and 1-10 (in Mack Brown’s first two) and 4-8 in Butch Davis’  only losing year in Chapel Hill (except of course losing his job in 2011).

Those vaunted Tar Heel teams were a combined 11-34 as you rolled over them in three years at Duke and the one meeting so far at South Carolina. That’s a real resume builder!

Actually, Spurrier has great affection for the Carolina where he almost coached. According to insiders, he wanted the UNC job after leaving the Washington Redskins midway through his second wash-out season in the NFL and nearly had it in 2004.

But, as the story goes, Carolina’s upset win over nationally ranked Miami that season squashed the subversive plan to replace favorite son John Bunting with the Head Ball Coach, who instead succeeded Lou Holtz at South Carolina.

Spurrier has never told that story in public but, after a cocktail or two, has been known to confirm it. The appointment would have sent lightning bolts across the Carolina blue sky because of Spurrier’s history with North Carolina while at Duke.

Recall (if you dare) his last game coaching the Blue Devils in 1989, before bolting for his alma mater Florida. It was Brown’s second season, after losing whatever good players he inherited from Crum and before his recruiting took hold. Duke was headed for its first bowl game in three decades when it swaggered over here looking for its third straight win vs. the Tar Heels — the first time the Blue Bellies would do that since the maiden days of the ACC more than 30 years earlier.

Duke rolled up 37 first downs and 656 yards of total offense on the way to a 41-0 slaughter. Chapel Hill’s Clarkston Hines caught eight balls for 162 yards and three touchdowns and running back Randy Cuthbert rumbled for 116 yards and one end sweep when he flattened a Tar Heel corner in the open field near the Duke sideline, which exploded in unison.

After the game, Spurrier needled his quarterback Dave Brown, who passed for 479 yards and two scores but missed a couple of open receivers in the end zone. Spurrier knew he was heading for Florida and apparently had promised a few Duke old grads that he would try to even the score from 1959 and Carolina’s famous 50-0 rout on Thanksgiving Day.

That’s when a Duke manager ran in and shouted that the electronic scoreboard in the southeast corner of the end zone was still showing the final score. The Duke sports information staff told the Head Ball Coach, “You may be leaving but we still have to live here. ” By that time, the Blue Devils had run back onto the field and flopped down in front of illuminated 41 under GUEST and 0 under CAROLINA. The picture above has since become a classic in the Duke annals.

Of course, Mack Brown (whom Spurrier kiddingly called “Mr. Football”) seethed with the rest of Tar Heel Nation and, while Duke changed coaches three times in his last eight years in Chapel Hill, he never lost that game again while outscoring the downtrodden Dukies by a collective 100 points in the midst of Carolina’s longest winning streak ever in the rivalry (13 in a row).

Brown went on to Texas where he became a real “Mr. Football” in the Lone Star State, matching Spurrier’s BCS championship at Florida with his own in the 2006 Rose Bowl. So you can see why after the Head Ball Coach tried the NFL, how polarizing his return to Kenan Stadium on the home sideline would have been. Fortunately, Connor Barth’s 44-yard boot as time expired against “The U” turned all that into an old wives’ tale at UNC.

Nevertheless, Spurrier won’t be far from our minds as long as he coaches in Columbia. After Thursday night’s season-opener down there on ESPN, the Battle of the Carolinas will move to Charlotte in 2015 in what could become a regular Border War. But Spurrier will be 70 by then, so he may be approaching his last cackle as the Head Ball Coach anywhere.

(Photo by Duke Sports Information)

A Mad, Sad Summer

BOSTON – In a way, it’s consoling that the turmoil that seems pervasive in Chapel Hill these days is pretty much everywhere in sports.

College athletics appears ready for either an evolution or a revolution, and standing pat is simply not an option. The PED scandal in Major League Baseball has already banished one all-star (Ryan Braun) for the season with others to follow, and now word is spreading that the next names exposed won’t be limited to the National Pastime or even professional sports.

But nowhere in the country is there more collective anxiety than here, where within four months a terrorist bombing shattered the Boston Marathon, a member of the revered New England Patriots was charged with first-degree murder and they finally broke up of Big Three that brought the Celtics their last NBA Championship.

Oh, and the Boston Bruins blew the Stanley Cup in 17 seconds of Game 6 while the Red Sox are hanging on for dear life with a decimated pitching staff. Plus, it’s raining cats and dogs, just like most of the summer in Carolina. What is a fan to do who uses sports as his or her escape?

NCAA President Mark Emmert is under siege from what – for the time being – has settled in as the big five conferences, the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 14 and Southeastern. All five commissioners, including the usually reserved John Swofford of the ACC, have used their football media days as bully pulpits to lobby for changes that run from the old (paying college athletes something) to the new (a football federation with a separate set of rules within the NCAA). Emmert has no choice but to support everything everyone is proposing, because apparently he is fighting for his job.

So far, no member of the Red Sox has been linked to the Biogenesis PED scandal, but supposedly that list is long and surprising. After the Marathon bombings that killed three and injured hundreds on April 15, the city rallied around the Sox who were trying to recover from their own relative disaster of losing 93 games in 2012 under beleaguered and since fired one-year manager Bobby Valentine.

After an exciting 20-8 start that took Boston’s mind off the Marathon, the Sox pitching staff began going down one by one, from closers to set-up men (including UNC’s Andrew Miller) to starters who started fast but either haven’t pitched since (Clay Buchholz, 9-0) or pitched poorly (Jon Lester, now 8-6). Somehow, the Sox still led the American League East by a half-game heading into the weekend.

Their biggest news also came with a sobering reminder. Dirtball second baseman Dustin Pedroia signed a $110 million contract extension, keeping the underrated, undersized and unrelenting captain of the team here for the next eight years. But such a signing was an easy reminder that 10 months after the Patriots extended Aaron Hernandez’s contract for five years and $40 million, the deeply troubled tight end was charged with murdering a friend and is now a suspect in at least two other slayings.

With NFL training camps open and Hernandez moving from his mansion to an eight-by-eight jail cell, that story simply won’t go away. Not even Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady can quell the obtuse obsession by acknowledging the magnitude of the tragedy while vowing the Patriots will nevertheless move ahead and play football. People are still going nuts here over how and why Hernandez, an exemplary player with a checkered personal past, could throw away so many lives, including his own.

The sick joke here is that the Patriots knew they were gambling on Hernandez, who had failed a drug test at Florida and supposedly had gang relationships back in his hometown of Bristol, Connecticut, but everyone agreed “it’s not like he is going to kill anybody!”

And even though the Pats still have Belichick and Brady and are favored to win the AFC East for the fifth straight season, who the heck is Brady going to throw to? With Rob Gronkowski sidelined indefinitely and Wes Welker having gone to Denver to play with Peyton Manning, they don’t have a single receiver back who started a game last year.

Even the good news comes with apprehension. Yes, the Celtics parted with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce a year after Ray Allen signed with the Heat, and in return they wound up with nine first round draft choices over the next five years. But that’s FIVE YEARS! Who can wait that long?

And although young, bright Butler’s Brad Stevens is their new coach, why would Doc Rivers want to leave for the LA Clippers? And does general manager Danny Ainge really know what he’s doing with the storied franchise?

Hopefully, the Red Sox can hang on and return to the playoffs for the first time in three years. Remember, they blew a 10-game lead in September of 2011.

Everyone is talking, watching, wondering what will happen next. Not only here but everywhere in sports including back home.

Can Fedora’s offense score enough points and his defense stop anyone? What will Roy do with P.J. Hairston? Will Carolina ever be able to press the restart button with its athletic department?

Some crazy summer.  And, where ever you go, it’s still raining.

Shooting Stars

Bullock for two

Both come from pasts filled with trouble and temptation. Both were burgeoning college basketball stars. Both irritated their coach after last season, but for far different reasons.

Let’s start with Reggie Bullock, the third banana in the freshman class of 2011, due to Harrison Barnes’ star power, Kendall Marshall’s creativity with the ball and Bullock’s bum knee that hampered his shooting and required post-season surgery.

Bullock became a star as a sophomore when he took over as Carolina’s top lockdown defender after Dexter Strickland went down with his own knee injury. It was the first time the 6-7 long-armed gunner became known as more than a shooter.

Fatherless for his entire life on the mean streets of Kinston, North Carolina, Bullock honed his shot at the Holloway Rec Center, where he went to stay out of that trouble and away from that temptation. He had mentors like gym manager Skeet Davis and rec coach Derrick Sheffield, but there wasn’t always a game going on so Bullock shot and shot and shot by himself or with a rebounder who fed him the ball.

Although Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell and Charles Shackleford also came from Kinston, Bullock’s  hero and distant cousin was Jerry Stackhouse who was not from a broken family, helped his homies from an early age and always came back while at UNC and in the NBA. Bullock and a lot of kids from Kinston wanted to be just like Jerry, who is winding up an 18-year pro career as one of the most respected players in the NBA.

Bullock lived with his grandmother, a minister, until she died his junior year in high school, when he moved in with Kinston High School Coach Wells Gulledge. His mother was in town, but tending to his two younger half-sisters. By then he was used to finishing his homework and cleaning his room before he went out to play, and because he was a budding basketball star was “left alone” by the gangs and drug dealers he knew and passed by every day.

He made his family and friends proud at Carolina games, leaving them tickets behind the Tar Heel bench while becoming a reliable rebounder and outstanding guard on both ends of the floor. Over the last month of his junior season, Bullock was one of the five best all-around players in the ACC. He made second team all-conference, was a lock for first team as a senior and perhaps the leading candidate for ACC Player of the Year.

After avoiding the question for most of the season, Bullock surprised many fans and his own coach by entering the NBA draft. He was not projected as a definite first-round pick, which makes a big difference, and Roy Williams told Bullock the bold truth. Drafted in the second round by a team he could not make, he might be relegated to playing in Europe far away from home and for far less money he would be assured as a first-rounder after his expected stellar senior season.

Williams, who has happily sent more than a dozen underclassmen into the NBA lottery during his 25-year coaching career, did his homework with pro coaches, GMs and scouts. He told Bullock it was a risky proposition, gambling with his future like that.

P.J. Hairston and junior fellow Tar Heel sophomore James Michael McAdoo disdained the draft and watched Bullock move up on the mock boards after having outstanding performances and interviews at the pre-draft camps and team workouts. And they celebrated with the rest of Tar Heel Nation when the LA Clippers made Bullock the 25th pick in the first-round. Despite a roster with other outside shooters like J.J. Redick and free agents like Scott Wood, Bullock is guaranteed $3 million if he never plays a minute for the Clips (which, of course, is unlikely).

Hairston for two

Meanwhile, Hairston wasn’t as lucky with his choices after the season. The leading scorer and long bomber for the Tar Heels in 2013 was invited to the USA Team tryouts for the World Games, but injured his back and came home to rehab. Before then, Hairston went joy-riding with a couple of friends in a car rented by a convicted felon and, after being stopped by Durham police, was charged with possession of marijuana and a handgun with ammunition nearby. The felonious man involved has turned out to have some ties with UNC athletes, none of them very good.

Williams, who has had two other players arrested during his coaching career — at Kansas for circumstantial charges that were eventually dropped — could not remember being any madder. As the story has unfolded, Hairston’s future at UNC fell more into the hands of university policy than an internal disciplinary problem for the basketball program. Chances increased that Hairston will never suit up again for the Tar Heels, at the least not during the 2013-2014 season.

People who know Hairston say he straddled the line between loyalty to his old friends from the ‘hood in Greensboro and what is expected from a UNC player, a conflicting lifestyle that has landed one pro football star in jail charged with murder in a far more serious and highly publicized case.  For the once wealthy and talented Aaron Hernandez, his actions are more a matter of disbelief than merely bad choices. Hairston’s plight seems far less hopeless.

Hairston faced the same trouble and temptation as Bullock but could not and did not walk away, protected by the cocoon of Carolina basketball. Now, what was feared to be the wrong decision by one and hailed as the right decision by the other have flip-flopped, and the kid who took the biggest gamble with his career came out the clear winner.  Bullock will be in the NBA next season. Hairston faces a long and winding road to get back on any organized court.

Photos by Todd Melet