Kobe Bryant Reveals Tar Heel Leanings

Photo courtesy of ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES – Sorry, Dookies. It looks like NBA legend Kobe Bryant is a Tar Heel after all.

It was widely believed that, had Bryant chosen to play college ball instead of leaping from high school straight into the NBA, that he would have made the trip down to Durham rather than Chapel Hill.

But in a pleasant surprise, Bryant said in a conversation with talk show host Jimmy Kimmel that he would have been donning Carolina Blue in his college years.

Although he says he has a close relationship with Duke Coach and US basketball head coach, Mike Krzyzewski, he admits that he was leaning towards playing for recently-named Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Dean Smith.

In fact, Bryant says he cherishes the recruitment letter he received from Carolina’s priceless gem, Smith, all those years ago, and he has it tucked away as a special memento.


Bill Guthridge, Kelvin Bryant To Be Inducted In NC Sports Hall of Fame

CHAPEL HILL – Former UNC men’s basketball coach Bill Guthridge will be inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame Thursday.

Guthridge was Dean Smith’s assistant coach for 36 years. He repeatedly declined head-coaching offers from other universities—electing to stay with Smith and the Carolina basketball program.

When Smith retired in October of 1997, Guthridge became the head coach of the Tar Heels.

He led UNC to an ACC championship and two Final Four berths during his three years as head coach. In 1998, Guthridge became the sixth person to play on a Final Four team (played for Kansas State as a student athlete) and then lead Final Four team as head coach. Guthridge was named National Coach of the Year in the same season.

UNC great, running back Kelvin Bryant joins Guthridge in the 2013 inductee class.Bryant won the 1988 Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins.

Other inductees include Ron Francis, Wade Garrett, Tommy Helms, Marion Kirby, Rich McGeorge, Hugh Morton (deceased), Bob Quincy (deceased), Marty Sheets and Mildred Southern.

The 50th annual induction banquet is set for tomorrow evening at the Raleigh Convention Center.

For ticket information, contact 919-845-3455.


Part of 'A Unique Family'

Chapelboro.com has been publishing excerpts from Return To The Top on the 20th Anniversary of Dean Smith’s 2nd NCAA title season in 1993. Check the “Hoop it Up” section for all the excerpts from this fantastic series. 

By George Lynch, UNC ‘93

In the end, the coaching staff had a lot to do with how all of our talents and personalities meshed together so well. Assistant Coaches Bill Guthridge, Phil Ford, Randy Weil and Dave Hanners all had that competitive spirit that means so much during the course of a long and tiring season.

Before or after every practice, Coach Ford would often challenge one of us to a game of H-O-R-S-E or something just to keep us sharp, to keep us humble and to remind us that he could still play. He liked to point out that he’s the one with the No. 12 hanging in the rafters!

Sometimes when we played H-O-R-S-E at the Smith Center, he would first tell me to go stand on the baseline, turn around and look up. Then he’d say, “Okay, whose name and number do you see up there?” That was his way of trying to psyche us out, but it was also something that the guys got a kick out of. We laughed about it, but we always knew that being remembered – especially at a school like Carolina – was one of the highest honors you could achieve. We knew that winning the NCAA Tournament would give us that opportunity, and that was our ultimate goal.

The next year, when they had our national championship banner hanging up there, I wanted to come back and play Coach Ford one more time. Before we played, I was going to make him walk over to our corner of the Smith Center, turn around and look up. Then it was going to be me asking, “What do you see?” That’s something we’ll always tease each other about.

But the truth is Coach Ford and the rest of the staff had an important part on this team, too – showing up for practice every day, enthusiastic and ready to work hard. That’s the way it is here and that’s the way it should be. Whether you’re the head coach, an assistant, a manager, a star player or the last guy on the bench, you know that you played an important role in our success.

As soon as you come into this program, you feel like you’re part of something important, something unique. You realize there’s a lot of history and pride on the line every time you put on a Carolina uniform. It’s like it’s your duty – and privilege at the same time – to try to carry on the tradition that was built here before you. During the season, many of the former players called just to encourage us. We talked to Kenny Smith, J.R. Reid, Steve Bucknall, Ranzino Smith and just about all of the guys who played here in the last few years. Everyone wanted to keep in touch just to see how you’re doing. Sometimes they’d call to give us a few pointers or to tell us what to expect at a certain point, but the main thing was just to wish us luck and say they were all pulling for us to have a great season.

It’s no joke when people talk about the unique atmosphere that surrounds the Carolina basketball program. The minute you sign a letter of intent to attend the University of North Carolina, you’re part of a big family. When you’re not going well, they’re all there for you and willing to help in any way they can. The other side of that is when you win, you win for yourself and your team – but you win for the rest of your family, too.

It was a great feeling at the end, watching Coach Smith cut down the nets in New Orleans. He’s the man who held this family together over all these years. Our team had been through some tough times with Coach. We played hard every year I was at Carolina, and we had nothing to be ashamed about, but it was definitely hard watching Duke win those back-to-back national championships. After that, I think Coach Smith and the players all felt it was time for North Carolina to win another one. Winning conference championships and regular-season titles were nice, but that’s pretty much common ground around here now. It was time for something different, something bigger, and we did it.

Ten years from now, when you look at the history of Carolina basketball or the history of the Final Four, we’ll be there. All of us – Scott, Matt, Henrik, Travis Stephenson – the whole crew. The great wins over Arkansas and Cincinnati, and then Kansas and Michigan; they’ll all be there forever. When we’re sitting back many years from now, watching Carolina teams in the future, we’ll be able to tell our kids and our grandchildren about the time we were there, about the time we won it all.

The original Senior Diaries were  b   y Travis Stephenson, Matt Wenstrom, Scott Cherry, Henrik Rodl and George Lynch, as told to contributing editor Lee Pace.


Heels-'Nova Have History

Carolina and Villanova have played 14 times in men’s basketball, with the Tar Heels holding a 10-4 record, 4-1 in the NCAA Tournament. But almost all of the games have been significant. To wit:
Their first meeting was in 1956, when Frank McGuire’s eventual (1957) national championship team was playing together for the first season. The Tar Heels, who finished 18-5 that year, defeated Villanova in their Dixie Classic opener in December. Carolina won by 23.
Their next meeting was in the final Dixie Classic in December of 1960, before UNC President Bill Friday shut down the eight-team holiday tournament due to the point-shaving scandal that emerged after the season. Carolina beat the Wildcats in the second round by 20 this time.
The teams met again in what had become the most famous Christmas tournament, the Holiday Festival in Madison Square Garden. Dean Smith succeeded McGuire and by December of 1968 had built the second-best program in the country behind UCLA. The Tar Heels and four-time national champion Bruins were in the Festival field, along with Villanova, St. John’s and Princeton. Carolina defeated Villanova in the opening game, 69-61, in a rough-and-tumble affair that included near fisticuffs between UNC’s Charlie Scott and Villanova’s Howard Porter. The Heels missed their chance to face-off with Lew Alcindor and UCLA when they were upset in the semifinals by hometown St. John’s before a roaring capacity crowd at the Garden.
The Carolina-Villanova rivalry really got interesting when the schools next met 12 years later. The top-ranked Tar Heels with freshman Michael Jordan, sophomore Sam Perkins and junior James Worthy, played  Rollie Massimino’s Wildcats in the Elite Eight game of the NCAA Tournament in Reynolds Coliseum. In a regional where all five UNC starters scored in double figures in both games, Carolina held off freshman star Ed Pin   ckney and ‘Nova, 70-60, and moved on to New Orleans where they defeated Houston and Georgetown for Smith’s first national championship.
The following year, the teams played a regular-season game at Carmichael Auditorium. No. 12 Villanova stunned No. 1 UNC, which had won 18 in a row   going in. The 56-53 shocker turned the season around for the Tar Heels, who lost three straight and dropped to No. 11 in the rankings. Carolina went 7-5 over its last 12 games, including two upsets to Cinderella N.C. State and a loss to Georgia in the Elite Eight of the 1983 NCAA Tournament, which denied them another shot at the Cardiac Pack in the Final Four. And you know what happened there in Albuquerque.
The most historic loss to Villanova came in the South Regional final in Birmingham two years later. The Tar Heels, who had rallied through the 1985 NCAA Tournament without injured guard Steve Hale, actually led the Wildcats by eight and were holding the ball for the last shot of the first half. Kenny Smith got tied up for a jump ball, Villanova took possession and Harold  Jensen made an old-fashioned three-point play at the buzzer. Unranked ‘Nova outscored Carolina by 17 in the second half, moved on to the Final Four in Lexington and pulled off the biggest upset in NCAA history by shooting 79 percent for the game (22 of 28) and beating “unbeatable” defending champion Georgetown and Patrick Ewing for the school’s only national title.
Carolina defeated Villanova in the 1989 Maui Classic and at home during the 1992 season. In between, the Tar Heels beat the Wildcats in the 1991 East Regional on the way to the Final Four. The top-ranked Heels won the next meeting at the Smith Center in 1995, but then dropped TWO games to  Villanova the following season, one in Maui and the other in Philly.
Who can forget the East Regional sweet Sixteen at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse in 2005? Certainly not ‘Nova fans. With Carolina clinging to a three-point lead late, Villanova’s Allan Ray drove, scored and appeared to be fouled by Melvin Scott. But Tom O’Neill’s whistle was not to signal the “and one” that could have tied the game. It was for travelling on Ray, which when looking at the clip  does not appear to have occurred.

Anyway, Carolina won the game, went on to win the national championship and, four years later, beat Villanova easily in the Final Four at Detroit on the way to Roy Williams’ second NCAA title. The rich, and controversial, series between the two schools resumes Friday night in Kansas City. My guess is that O’Neill, who was voted 2012 national official of the year, will not be calling the game.


I'll Never Forget This Team

All season long Chapelboro.com’s “Hoop It Up” will be republishing select excerpts from Return To The Top on the 20th Anniversary of Dean Smith’s 2nd NCAA title season in 1993. Check back on Monday of each week for the next RTTT.

By George Lynch, UNC ‘93

I have always thought that Carolina Basketball teams over the years have had the talent and the confidence to win the national championship. Each team had a great coach who gave his players the opportunity to win. This year, it was just a matter of us going out, executing Coach Smith’s philosophy and having a little bit of luck along the way. When all of these happen, Carolina teams are usually very tough to beat. This year, it just seemed like everything fell into place.

I’ll never forget the feeling I had after the championship game in New Orleans. The whole team went to Bourbon Street to celebrate, but it was really hectic down there and we got separated pretty quickly. I went back to the team hotel kind of early, but it was impossible to get to sleep. We had just won the national championship, and Donald Williams and I were supposed to appear on the Good Morning America show the next morning.

My body was very tired, but I kept thinking I was going to miss something if I went to sleep. I tried to catch SportsCenter on ESPN to see the highlights of the Michigan game, but I couldn’t really focus on the screen because so many things were running through my mind. I couldn’t believe that my college career was over, and I couldn’t believe it ended exactly the way I hoped and dreamed it would. I’ll never forget this season, and I’ll never forget this team.

All year long, from the first pickup games last summer through the final seconds of the championship game, we had confidence that each player would step up and do his part. Everyone came to play, and on most nights we had enough guys playing well to make us very difficult to beat. With the guys we had, it was hard not to be confident. On any given night, we had eight or nine guys who could step up and have a big game.

Of course, everyone knows Carolina always has talented players. The key this season was to use all of that talent in then most productive way. When you come to Carolina, it takes a whole lot  to understand Coach Smith’s philosophy and to appreciate the fact that there is a reason for everything he does.

My freshman year, we played a lot of juniors and seniors who understood the way Coach Smith looked at the game, and they were given a lot of freedom on the court. My sophomore season, the year we went to the Final Four, we had three seniors (Pete Chilcutt, Rick Fox and King Rice), but we had a “red light, green light” shooting system because everyone else was so inexperienced. That year, a good shot for some players was a bad shot for Coach Smith, so we played by a different set of rules where the players didn’t have as much control.

This season, he gave us a lot more freedom because most of the players have been here three or four years and we understood his philosophy. It may sound strange, but it often takes three or four years to understand what is a good shot and what is not a good shot.

I was even taking bad shots early my senior year. I had a horrible game against Michigan in Hawaii when we lost by one point. I hit only 5 of 18 field goal attempts and many weren’t very good shots. I took to heart one of our thoughts for the day. “There are four things you can do with a mistake: recognize it, admit it, learn from it and forget it.” I think I did all four with my mistakes in the first Michigan game, and that helped me the rest of the season.

It takes a lot of discipline to go out there and think like Coach Smith while you’re sweating and competing at the same time. But I think this team did it as well as any I’ve ever seen. We were very unselfish and we always played together. And I think Coach Smith saw that in us. So he changed the rules a little bit, left it up to us to take the rights shots in the right situations and, in a way, allowed us to determine our own destiny.

NEXT: Lynch on Hanging The Banner


Truly, A "Rich Man"

All season long Chapelboro.com’s “Hoop It Up” will be republishing select excerpts from Return To The Top on the 20th Anniversary of Dean Smith’s 2nd NCAA title season in 1993. Check back on Monday of each week for the next RTTT.

By Henrik Rodl, UNC ‘93

Monday was absolutely miserable. Few of us slept well on the eve of the biggest game of our lives, and the minutes crept by. We had a shoot around at the Superdome and a team meeting, but otherwise we tried to kill time by watching ESPN or movies in our room. You’d look  at your watch and it would say “2:25”. You’d look at it after what seemed like an hour and it would say “2:24.”

We went downstairs for our pre-game meal. Coach (Bill) Guthridge passed around the gold scissors that a fan had sent. Engraved on them was, “North Carolina, 1993 NCAA Champions.” That was kind of neat. We passed around the scissors, hoping that we’d be using them later that night.

When we got on the bus a little while later, a lump welled up in my throat seeing all the parents standing around waving pom-poms and hugging everyone as they passed by. The Montrosses, the Salvadori’s, the Cherry’s, Derrick’s parents and his little brother. Everyone else – there was something about the sight that was very moving. I guess it hit me how much our team touched and affected so many people’s lives.

Finally, 8 o’clock arrived and it was time to play. The game, of course, as a classic, full of streaks by both teams, marvelous individual play, interesting strategy by the coaches. The only thing that distracted from the championship atmosphere was the size of the massive Superdome and how the crowd is so removed from the playing floor that it is a non-factor. It’s not like a lot of ACC games where our crowd or the opposing crowd on the road can be a real part of the game.

Thirty-one minutes into the game, Michigan took a 60-58 lead on a dunk by Chris Webber. Then Donald Williams went to work for us. Twenty-three footer from the left – swish. Twenty-two footer on the right – boom. Then Derrick made a layup on an assist from Brian (Reese) and, with 3:07 to play, we were up by one, 68-67.

George made a super turnaround jumper in the lane and then a wonderful pass out of a trap to Eric, who broke free for a dunk. Those baskets gave us a 72-67 lead, but Michigan cut it back to one with two baskets. Then Pat (Sullivan) was fouled and went to the line for a 1-and-1. Pat made one of them to give us a two-point lead and set up the game’s most talked-about moment.

Too much attention has been made of the Webber timeout that resulted in a technical. Too many people have blamed him for the loss. That’s ridiculous. One, Webber walked at the other end with rebound after Pat’s missed free throw, so we should have had the ball anyway. That’s not open for debate. The violation is crystal clear on tape. Two, he was surrounded by Derrick and George, who weren’t letting him go anywhere. Three, Donald still had to make the foul shots. And four, without Webber, Michigan’s not in the game anyway. At times, we couldn’t stop him.

So the spotlight was on Donald those last few seconds and he swished four free throws to give us the championship, 77-71. When the gun sounded, all I can remember was wanting to find everyone on the team and give them a big hug. We’d become such good friends. We’d worked so hard. We’d been in the spotlight for so long. It was such a relief, I can’t begin to describe it. I remember being very, very thankful there wasn’t another game to play. That there wasn’t a championship of the universe or galaxy still to win.

One of the special moments was when the team, coaches and managers returned to the locker room and we had a few minutes to ourselves – after the celebration on the court and before the press came in. We said our prayer and hugged each other, more out of love this time than the celebratory hugs out on the court. Someone – Coach Guthridge, I think – had written on the chalkboard, “Congratulations. You’re a great team. No practice tomorrow!”

We were amazed at the crowd gathered at the hotel. The lobby was wall-to-wall people. Everyone wanted to give us a big high five, but all our hands were carrying our bags. I think a few high fives landed on our heads. Some of the guys never went to sleep that night. You could see how they looked when we got on the bus to go to the airport Tuesday morning. We all needed a few hours of quiet time on the plane to get ready for the homecoming celebration in Chapel Hill.

When the bus drove into Chapel Hill, I became overwhelmed with emotion. We went down Franklin Street on the way to the Smith Center, and people were waving and laughing and yelling. You could see some splashes of blue paint from the celebration the night before.

It had been some journey – from learning about Carolina Basketball from Coach Williams so many years ago to winning a national championship in New Orleans.

It dawned on me in the season’s aftermath, as I planned my return to my native Germany, that I am indeed a rich man through the friends I’ve made and the lessons I’ve learned during my years at Carolina.

NEXT: Captain George Lynch’s Diary on winning the championship banner that will hang forever.


Smith By The Numbers

                           Dean Smith will be 82 on Thursday, which is February 28 and a neat juxtaposition of numbers wouldn’t you say? 
Wait, there is more irony here. Smith won his first NCAA championship as a coach in ’82, which was 31 years ago. And The Dean was born in 1931.
Next season will be the 17th since Smith retired – that is the exact number of ACC regular-season championships he won, which was far more important to him than his 13 ACC Tournament titles. Consistency over time was the mathematician’s favorite formula. He would take three months over three days, easy.
Nevertheless, the 17 + 13 = 30 is the total years it took Smith to win all the aforementioned championships. By the way, he also signed 30 players who went on to be first- (26) or second-round (4) NBA draft choices.
And that does not include Charlie Scott, who is listed as a seventh-round pick by the Boston Celtics (where he eventually won an NBA championship) because Scott signed with the Virginia Squires of the old ABA long before the 1970 NBA draft. (Like he did with Larry Bird, Red Auerbach drafted Scott as a “future” star.)
Of course, Smith retired with 879 career victories, which is roughly the number of lettermen he coached (or claimed or wished they had been) in his storied career. Just like 40,000 people still insist they were in Carmichael Auditorium for the famous 8-points-in-17-seconds comeback win over Duke in 1974.
The beloved Smith, as we all know, is suffering with progressive dementia and may not recognize all of the people who plan to give him a small birthday party and cake on Thursday. But, clearly, he is still regarded as one of the giants of the game and great humanitarians in the history of all sports. Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, Arthur Ashe Award from ESPN, the list goes on.
A petition for Coach Smith to win the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian honor in the United States – fell far short of the needed 100,000 signatures, but those who coached with, played for or just know the man believe he deserves such recognition for his work with racial integration and many other causes for the betterment of humanity and society.
After growing up watching his father, Coach Alfred Smith, put his job on the line by keeping black player Paul Terry on the Emporia High School team, Smith had as one of his goals when he arrived in Chapel Hill in 1958 to help head coach Frank McGuire integrate the Carolina basketball program. McGuire had recruited Wilt Chamberlain out of Overbrook High School in Philadelphia, but The Stilt did not meet the archaic ACC entrance requirements of the time and went to Kansas.
You know the irony of that story, as the 1957 Tar Heels shocked the Jayhawks in triple overtime in Kansas City to win the NCAA championship. McGuire later coached Chamberlain with the old Philadelphia Warriors during the 1962 season when Chamberlain scored 100 points against the New York Knicks in Hershey, PA., and they remained lifelong friends.
Smith continued the fight for racial freedom in UNC athletics when he took over as head coach. He had invited freshman Willie Cooper, an African-American walk-on from Greensboro, to join the varsity in 1965 because Cooper was good enough to earn a scholarship. But choosing economics as a major, Cooper decided he could not do both and dropped basketball. Cooper’s daughter later played for Sylvia Hatchell’s team here.
The ground-breaker was Charlie Scott, whom Smith “stole” from Lefty Driesell and Davidson after Scott and his coaches at Laurinburg Institute had been refused service at a restaurant in downtown Davidson. Smith learned of that incident and, for the only time he ever recruited a player who had verbally committed elsewhere, invited Scott for a visit to Chapel Hill.
Scott loved Driesell, even called him “Lefty” as a high school kid. “Lefty,” he said, “I would love to play for you, but I just think Chapel Hill is a better place for me.”
One of the legends about Smith was that he treated all of his players equally, which of course is not true. The best players got the minutes, and Scott got privileges that Smith had not previously granted others on his teams. Entering school in the fall of 1966, Scott had to succeed at UNC to pave the way for other black athletes to follow. So Scott got special time away with assistant coach John Lotz, his best friend who was eventually the best man at Scott’s wedding, and Smith allowed Scott to visit a girlfriend in Durham and sleep away from Avery Dorm when he needed to. Often on the couch of Howard and Lillian Lee.
Scott was the chosen one because he was, foremost, a great player who would elevate the Carolina program. But he was also an excellent student who would surely graduate and a New York native tough enough to stomach some of the guff he would encounter in places like Columbia and Clemson.
Scott was not spared the racism of the time, the biggest injustice coming in 1969 when five  voters left him off the first-team All-ACC ballot. The graceful 6-6 Scott was unequivocally among the five best players in the ACC, the best most people thought. So with the urging of Smith and Lotz to prove those five racists wrong, Scott went out and tore up the 1969 ACC Tournament in Charlotte.
Remember those numbers? Twenty-eight points in the second half, 40 for the game, to rally the Tar Heels past Duke to their third straight ACC championship and, eventually, their third straight Final Four.
Scott’s famous 40 aren’t among Dean Smith’s numbers, but Smith was surely behind them, as he was so many other achievements that numbers don’t show.
Happy 82nd, Coach. We love you.


Bourbon Street Agenda

All season long Chapelboro.com’s “Hoop It Up” will be republishing select excerpts from Return To The Top on the 20th Anniversary of Dean Smith’s 2nd NCAA title season in 1993. Check back on Monday of each week for the next RTTT.

By Henrik Rodl, UNC ‘93

New Orleans would be different from Indianapolis. I could feel that Sunday on the trip back from the Meadowlands after winning the NCAA East Regional. And I knew it even more on Tuesday when we gathered for practice after taking Monday off.

We all went crazy two years before when we beat Temple to earn that trip to the Final Four. It had been nine years since Carolina had been to the Final Four, and the pressure to return had gotten pretty intense. It seemed like getting to Indy was the victory that year. We practice hard but it almost seemed like that whole week was one big victory lap – we were taking a bow for just getting back to the Final Four.

Ten of 15 players on this year’s roster were seniors and juniors and had been to Indianapolis, and we approached Final Four practice week with a much more business-like demeanor. Our practices were just like they’d been all year – enough cracking on each other to have fun and keep things loose, but when Coach Smith blew the whistle to start practice it was serious business. That continuity told me we weren’t in for any surprises when we got to New Orleans.

Coach Smith downplayed the rematch with Coach Williams of Kansas from the beginning of the week. That had been a much bigger issue two years before when the seniors had been freshmen and Coach Williams was still at Carolina. This year, I was the only player on the team with any connection to Coach Williams. I was introduced to Carolina basketball about nine years before when Coach Williams taught at a camp in Germany. He had tapes of Carolina games and that’s when I became a Tar Heel and Michael Jordan fan. I had never experienced anyone who could be friendly but tough as well. I respected him from the outset and wanted to learn more about this place called North Carolina.

We didn’t leave for New Orleans until Friday morning, Coach preferring to stay in Chapel Hill, practice and go to class and not get caught up in all the hoopla in New Orleans. I think that was a smart thing to do – a very smart thing to do. The environment – the bars, the music, the food, the crowds – could make it difficult to concentrate on basketball. We landed in New Orleans, went straight to the Superdome and, after practice and press conferences, we checked into the hotel InterContinental. The atmosphere started to sink in as a jazz band in the lobby was playing our fight song when we arrived. Almost immediately, some of us walked down St. Charles Avenue, across Canal Street and over to Bourbon Street.

Coach Smith occasionally will put us in a hotel away from the crowd if he’s worried about distractions. We stayed well out of town in Indianapolis in ’91, but New Orleans was so jammed full of people there wasn’t anywhere else to go. So we stayed at the Carolina-designated hotel, with our athletic department staff, Educational Foundation group and fans. Our fans are great, don’t get me wrong, but it was a change having to sign autographs every time you went for a team meal or get off the elevator. It was especially difficult for guys like George Lynch and Eric Montross. I give those guys credit for being patient with all the fans’ requests and still being able to keep their focus and not get side-tracked.

Scott Cherry and Pat Sullivan did their excellent job of keeping us loose in the locker room before the Kansas game. After we’re all dressed and waiting for the coaches to come in, Scott and Pat would start throwing a basketball around like they’re the Harlem Globetrotters. The problem is they’re not as good as the Globetrotters, and there is no telling where the ball would end up. Usually, it bounced off a wall or someone’s head. It was good for a few laughs and a diversion.

Coach Smith came in a few minutes before we went out for warm-ups. He went over a few key points and then said, “If you don’t know how to play basketball by now, there’s not much time to teach you.”

Fortunately, he taught us pretty well. The Kansas game was a solid, all-around performance. There were no nerves like two years before in Indianapolis, no long scoring droughts that killed us then. We got out of the block well, withstood a little run by Kansas midway through the first half, then maintained the lead the rest of the game. Donald Williams hit a big 3-pointer with us ahead by three and 2:43 left in the game. That lifted the margin to six points and was the key basket. The final was Carolina 78, Kansas 68.

Afterward we dressed and watched the first half of the Kentucky-Michigan game in some seats designated for us behind media row. That was one of the few times we were able to relax and have some fun. We turned around and waved to our families and friends in the stands. Then at halftime we went back to the locker to get our bags and leave. Walking out, all the Carolina fans on the far side saw us and gave us a standing ovation. That was worth a few goose bumps.

We had no strong feelings about who we’d like to play Monday night in the championship game. But once Michigan won the second semifinal in overtime, I guess there was a consensus of satisfaction for the match-up. We’d show in Hawaii we were as solid as Michigan and everyone relished the opportunity to play them again.

Coach Smith did a classy thing Sunday before practice at the Superdome. NCAA officials had asked each coach to bring his five starters to the press conference, but Coach Smith said he’d like for Pat, Kevin Salvadori and me to go as well. We played eight players  pretty consistently all season, and Coach was kind of making a statement that a team doesn’t get to the championship game with just five players. We should have taken all 15 players.

NEXT: Rodl’s diary on the NCAA Championship game against the Fab Five.


School of Rock


“Big-time basketball” made another stop in Chapel Hill Saturday, and though it isn’t always this way the shaking Smith Center gave nothing up to crazy Cameron, maniacal Maryland and the Wild West venues of the Big 12 that Roy Williams occasionally pines for.

From the moment you saw far more fetching fingers in the air than tickets for sale in the afternoon mist outside, you knew this was going to be some scene inside. If only the game would live up to the hype between these old foes that seem to have a hoops rivalry again after years of domination by UNC, which came      in with a 9-0 home record against N.C. State in the Williams era and won 13 of the last 14, 19 of the last 21 and 36 of the last 45 games against the  revived   Wolfpack.

Far from the half-empty upper decks that drive Williams nuts for lesser games, this resembled Duke’s annual visit in that the seats were filled to the top rows of the biggest on-campus basketball arena in the country. With every tough ticket being had, this crowd was ready to go long before the 4 p.m. tip.

And, as well as the atmosphere, the game between more bitter enemies than respectful foes did not disappoint. For more than two hours on a second straight bad-weather Saturday on the Hill, Carolina was the School of Rock. Even more  so than last week’s great win over Virginia, the old girl with the Teflon top that   is  now 27 years young     never shut up.

Sure, it helped  that the opponent wore the red-trimmed black unies of a State College that has continually inserted itself into the recent troubles at UNC by hacking into websites, making the message boards buzz with obnoxious opinions and absurd accusations and playing freelance researchers for the local newspaper.

So the early video of Gio Bernard’s touché touchdown return that stunned State last October did not seem like just another football promo to launch 2013 ticket sales. It was far more an up-yours reminder, much like Duke kept showing the Austin Rivers’ dagger for weeks after it cut out Carolina’s heart last season.

The Smith Center itself is having a welcome metamorphosis. Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham found $800,000 to install the electronic ribbon board all the way around the upper deck fascia, where the graphics are pretty cool if not the most creative. And PA announcer Tony Gilliam has finally given UNC that deep, dramatic voice of intonation during introductions and scoring calls that has long been needed and really revs the crowd.

There is no question that, with one lineup change, Williams has made this a much more lovable Tar Heel team. It’s no coincidence that catalyst P.J. Hairston gets the loudest roar during starting lineups, and the fans are both hyped and hopeful that the four-guard alignment so contradictory to Carolina basketball will still produce the expected result come March.

After all, here is a double-post program that did not shoot a free throw for the first 30 minutes and four seconds of the game but had opportunities, albeit missed, to blow State out in both halves of what turned out to be a taught, tense, back-and-forth game. Williams has disdained trying to pound the ball inside to big guys who cannot score from the blocks consistently in favor of a West Coast style of offense that spreads the field, er, the floor.

Alignments aside, ol’ Roy’s young pups are definitely getting better and with three straight victories  find themselves one  from the magical 20 mark and  i     n third place (9-5) of the ACC race. This so-called quality win, 76-65, will go a long way toward assuring another NCAA tournament berth for the Tar Heels. Running the table would leave them 13-5 and with a possible top four seed.

They are still not beyond silly mistakes that stop runs and send Williams into sideline gyrations. But the plays they do make are both gutty and great-looking. Like tipping out missed free throws, a lost art with most teams invented by Dean Smith that provide precious extra possessions. And the sneaky overplaying defense that resulted in consecutive steals and snowbirds that opened up a seven-point lead in the first half.

When Carolina widened a six-point advantage to 10 with the first four points of the second half — but missed a chance to make it 16 by blowing two chippies and throwing it away with numbers on the break — Williams unnerved the crowd by using it as a teaching moment. Though he is essentially down to a six-man rotation, he answered the careless stretch by a bizarre bench-clearing with so little firepower that State astutely went to a zone and dared Carolina to shoot.

Marcus Paige, the only starter left on the court who had a stellar day with 8 assists and no turnovers after playing like a true freshman in the first game  in Raleigh,   answered with one of his two three-pointers. But before Williams could get the regulars back in the game the lead had become a four-point deficit to the extremely talented Wolfpack. The main men had gotten the message, though.

They  regained  the lead for good on Paige’s second three-pointer  and  took control of the  game with the help of their first trips to the foul line and more  big baskets by  Paige and Reggie Bullock, who continues his vastly underrated season and looks more like a potential pro every game. The 6-7 Bullock’s 13 rebounds and 3 assists to go with his 5 three’s and 22 points made him the player of this game.

Sir Reginald had eight points in the 18-4 run that settled it, a stretch during which State and particularly C.J. or Calvin or Fester Lester (6 points, 4 rebounds in 30 minutes, for which Hairston’s defense has to get much of the credit) played like a true pack of dogs. Their  real  star, senior center Richard Howell, and freshman T.J. Warren combined for 23 points and 27 rebounds, and sharpshooter Scott Wood  had  drained both wide-open and contested treys, but  State basically threw in the towel by not pressuring or fouling when the outcome was still in doubt.

By now, the home crowd was roaring its approval for the team with more heart than height and an alternative style of play that would make a retired coach and mathematician proud.

It was also time for the way-cool video that begins with former UNC stars ticking off the number of ACC titles, Final Fours, national championships, etc., and ends with them repeating “THIS. . . , THIS . . ., THIS . . .” and Smith himself completing the phrase:

“THIS is Carolina Basketball.”

On a beautiful, if not sunny, Beat-State Saturday, it certainly was.

image by todd melet


Jersey War Clinches Final Four

All season long Chapelboro.com’s “Hoop It Up” will be republishing select excerpts from Return To The Top on the 20th Anniversary of Dean Smith’s 2nd NCAA title season in 1993. Check back on Monday of each week for the next RTTT.

By Scott Cherry, UNC ‘93

The East Regional in the Meadowlands was another four-team tournament, with us Arkansas, Cincinnati and Virginia. No matter what we thought going to Winston-Salem a week earlier, we knew this weekend would be a challenge. Arkansas and Cincinnati were both cat-quick, athletic teams like Florida State, the teams that tended to give us trouble. And should we meet Virginia again, we knew we’d beaten them three times already and a fourth time would be difficult.

We checked into the Park Lane Hotel, overlooking Central Park, on Thursday. One of the great things about playing basketball at Carolina is that you travel first class in every respect. The coaches figure, as hard as we work and as much as we bring to the university in terms of recognition and revenue, without being paid anything beyond our scholarships, we at least ought to stay in the finest hotels and eat the best food. The Park Lane is one of the classiest hotels in the city, and it’s a super experience, especially for guys who haven’t been in New York much. We had a team meeting on the 41st floor, overlooking Central Park, and while the New York guys were sitting around the table before the meeting began, everyone else was looking out the window marveling at the view.

The games that weekend were a testament to the adaptability of our team to play up tempo styles, the individual abilities of each of our starters and key reserves, to our ability to play great defense in key situations and, finally, to the coaching of Dean Smith.

We were mind-boggled by some of the comments coming out of Arkansas during the week. One of their guys said they’d pressure us like we’d never seen before, in our faces, 94 feet, for 40 minutes. If they could pressure better than Florida State, we said, bring them on. Their comments were repeated many times during the week. They just fueled the fire already in us.

The game was just as we figured — nip and tuck, fast-paced, anyone’s game. We rallied from 11 down in the first half to tie it at halftime at 45. There was a flurry of transitions early in the second half that showcased what a wonderful blend of diversified athletes our team had become. For example, Eric Montross made a great pass, three-quarters court into the corner to Brian Reese, who flew by his man on that lightning-quick first step for a layup.

Our first big defensive play came with 2:34 left in the game, the Tar Heels up by two. We played tight for 45 seconds and forced them into a hurried, leaning shot with a hand in the face as the shot clock went off. That was huge. We went down and scored and we were up by four.

When Arkansas hit a three-pointer to cut it to 75-74 with 51 seconds left, we called a timeout and listened to Coach Smith go to work. I don’t know how many times we’ve seen it over the years, and I only had a four-year frame of reference. But Coach set up a play that everyone knew would work, and of course it did to perfection.

It was a backdoor play from George Lynch to Donald Williams. Coach told our guys what to do and what the Arkansas guys would do in response. It worked just like he drew it up. When George picked up his dribble at the top of the key, the Arkansas player expected a pass his way and broke in front of Donald to pick it off. Eric’s move supposedly to help George was significant, as he took his man with him, leaving a lane for Donald, who made a back door cut and caught George’s perfect pass for a layup.

The Cincinnati game had us a little worried in the first half when they broke on top by 15 points, 29-14. Nick Van Exel was hitting everything he looked at, including one 3-pointer falling out of bounds. We had a hand in his face most of the time, but he still made 6-of-10 three-pointers anyway.

We had rallied to cut the lead to one at the half and Coach told Derrick Phelps at halftime to stay on Van Exel and forget about helping or trapping. Derrick was walking around the locker room, saying, “He’s mine now. He’s mine now.” That shut Van Exel down and he got only two more points for the rest of the game.

A lot was made about Brian missing a dunk at the end of regulation with the game tied, but the officials said it would not have counted anyway. George got in everyone’s face in the huddle and told us we were only five minutes from New Orleans, True to his word, George refused to let us lose and Donald came through with two big three-pointers. When we finally won, 75-68, George was named MVP of the regional with 21 points, 14 rebounds and six steals in the game.

There was a little difference of opinion about whether to cut down the nets. A couple of guys wanted to but several others said no.

“Let’s wait till next week,” someone said. “We’ve got more work to do.”

We were pleased to have won. But satisfied? No way.

NEXT: Henrik Rodl’s diary of a weekend in The Big Easy.