Kansas, Kansas, Kansas (Ugh!)

It had to be Kansas. Kansas. Kansas.

Roy Williams may be over the heartbreak and heartache his leaving Lawrence caused in 2003, but it’s just getting worse with me. The tweets, emails and blog posts are already out there, claiming that Bill Self has built a better program at KU than ol’ Roy has at UNC over the last 10 years.

Statistics don’t show that (they’re pretty damn even, in fact), but the fact that Tar Heels have now gone home at the hands of the Jayhawks in three of the last six NCAA Tournaments makes it seem that way to a lot of basketball fans.

Both programs have been great all the way back to the Phog Allen and Frank McGuire eras, each having blip periods that caused them to change coaches. But the last 10 years have been basically even-steven, certainly close enough to disavow any notion that one guy has out-coached the other.

Kansas and Self have won more games and have a better record (300-58 for 84%) than Carolina and Williams (282-79 for 78%), but that is largely due to several factors over that 10-year span.

One, Self took over a Kansas team that Williams left in sounder shape than the one Roy inherited from Matt Doherty. Two, the Tar Heels had one dreadful season in the last 10 years, the 20-17 debacle that followed losing four starters off the 2009 national champions. And, three, Carolina’s overall pipeline to the pros has been better than Self’s at Kansas, which ironically has made it worse for UNC.

Thirteen players have been drafted in the first round during the Williams era, 11 of them who left a total of 17 seasons on the Tar Heel table. Compare that to Kansas under Self, which has produced nine first-round picks,   one who left after one year, two who left after two and another two who left after three seasons. If you add Mario Chalmers, the MOP of the 20008 Final Four who was drafted in the second round, the Jayhawks have lost 10   seasons of eligibility in the last 10 years.

As for the NCAA Tournament, Self and Kansas have been there all 10 years but with less results than Carolina and Williams in nine trips. KU has one national championship (’08) and reached another Final Four (2012) and could still improve on those numbers this season. The Jayhawks have gone out in three regional finals, one Sweet Sixteen (and counting), one second round ouster and two embarrassing first-round upsets (Bucknell and Bradley in 2005 and ’06).

Carolina under Williams has those 2005 and ’09 NCAA titles, one other Final Four and three Elite Eight game goners. Sunday’s loss to KU was the third second-round ouster for UNC and Williams, who holds the record of 23 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances with at least one victory. Both Self and Williams have won three national Coach of the Year honors at their current schools.

Their conference records are pretty close, with Self winning a few more regular-season and tournament titles in the Big 12 than Williams in the ACC. But, over that 10 years, the ACC has been the better league top to bottom and won three national championships to KU’s one for the Big 12.

So don’t give me that hoo-ha that Kansas has a better program than Carolina. They are both great. What skews the pooch are those three losses to KU in the three NCAA match-ups, and each one has a story to itself.

At the 2008 Final Four at San Antonio, the Tar Heels were a slight favorite over Kansas after winning both the ACC regular season and tournament and losing only two games all season. But this was the first time Williams faced Kansas, the still-angry KU crowd and all the storylines took away from the game itself.

The Heels played horribly, fell behind by 40-12 in the first half and made a late push that fell short in the 84-68 crusher. Williams (wearing the infamous KU sticker) stayed to watch the Jayhawks win the national championship two nights later, only after Memphis did not foul Kansas with a three-point lead and Chalmers’ dramatic bomb sent the game into overtime.

When the 2012 NCAA brackets came out, Carolina was on another collision course with Kansas in the Midwest Regional, hoping to have John Henson back at full strength from the wrist he sprained in the ACC Tournament. Of course, it got worse after Kendall Marshall went down in the second-round win over Creighton. With back-up point guard Dexter Strickland already sidelined by a knee injury, the Tar Heels were left with freshman reserve Stilman White, who played admirably in the 13-point loss to the Jayhawks in St. Louis.

The committee did it again this season, when it was an even worse scenario for Carolina, which lost two sophomores, one junior and one senior from its 2012 starting lineup that when whole was the only serious threat to Kentucky’s national championship. And the suits sent the Tar Heels to Kansas City (which is like playing Carolina in Greensboro).

By then, UNC had made the NCAA Tournament only due to perhaps Williams’ best coaching job of his 25-year career. Reluctantly, in early February, he scrapped his two low-post offense for a small lineup of four guards and little presence in the paint. The Heels launched and made enough three-pointers to turn their season around and get another NCAA bid, but they went to the Dance living by the long bomb, which was enough to give Williams the hives.

And, yes, they died that way, shooting barely 30 percent for the game and giving in to Kansas’ best half of the tournament thus far. So Carolina under Williams is 0-3 against KU and Self. And, since they will never play in the regular season by mutual consent, it will stay that way until the next time they meet in the NCAA tournament.

With at least five guys 6-9 or bigger next season, Williams will go back to the way he likes to play and, sooner or later, he’ll see his old school again. The NCAA committee seems to like that kind of theater for TV.

Even though, as of this moment, we hate it.


All photography in Hoop It Up is provided by Todd Melet.


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.


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.


Heel, Ram, Gym, Java

OK, for our game against football arch-rival NC State, stories about a Heel, a ram, a gym and java.  First, the timeless question, “What’s a Tar Heel?” Well, there are several versions but, for the one I’ve heard most, let’s return to NC’s colonial history. We have a lot of pine trees and, along the coast where our state’s history began, tall long-leaf pines. 
Those “boys” were the basis for our colonial economy—tar, pitch and turpentine.    Visitors to North Carolina recounted and recorded the spectacle of seeing many barefooted North Carolinians who regularly walked through these long-leaf pine forests and, because of it, bore tarred resin on the bottom of their heels. 
The tree and naval stores became so associated with our colony and state, it, of course, became not only our state’s nickname but this University’s moniker. Now for many years, being called a “Tar Heel” was a slap in the face.  The term implied a backward rube but, interestingly, the Civil War helped to change all that. The story goes that it was in the spring of 1864 when, after a battle in Virginia, a group of Virginians and North Carolinians hooted at one another.  After being teased about whether there was any tar left down in the Old North State, one North Carolinian retorted that maybe some more should be found and placed on the heels of the Virginians so they might stick better in the next fight.  The exchange was communicated to Robert E. Lee who smiled and mused aloud, “God bless those Tar-Heeled boys.”  Hence, like tar, our nickname stuck and honorably so.
So now that we’ve talked about the Tar Heel thing, what’s the story behind a ram as our mascot?  Back in 1924, cheerleader Vic Huggins reasoned that if Georgia had a bulldog and NC State had a wolf—well, the Heels needed something.  Huggins persuaded athletic business manager Charlie Woollen to fork over $25 and the search began.  Shipped from Texas to Chapel Hill and introduced at a pep rally before the VMI game…Ta-Dah…


…a not-so-impressive Rameses made his debut. But why a ram? Two seasons earlier a bruising fullback, Jack Merritt, led Carolina to a 9-1 record.  So bruising he was nicknamed “the battering ram.” A-ha—Huggins’ inspiration. Rameses’ first game was November 8, 1924.  Carolina was locked in a scoreless tie with a then-powerful VMI team. Late in the game, Bunn Hackney was called upon to attempt a field goal. Before going in, he rubbed Rameses’ head and then promptly drop-kicked a 30-yard field goal to win the game, 3-0. Rameses’ storied presence began. Now, from a ram to a gym.   
Woollen Gym, which was home to the 1957 National Champions, was a nice facility but Head Coach Frank McGuire wanted better.  He wanted one to rival NC State’s Reynolds Coliseum.  It would take a while.  In 1955, there were leaks and it was going to cost $20,000 to get ’em fixed.  UNC officials complained but were told the state didn’t have the money.  Well, the VP of UNC, William D. Carmichael, had a solution. 
The Monday, following a Saturday home game against State, word came in that $20,000 had just been allocated from the Emergency Contingency Fund.  What happened in the course of 2 days?  Well, it seems Carmichael got some tickets for the State game and gave them to members of the Appropriations Committee of the General Assembly.  It rained like crazy that Saturday and their seats just happened to be directly under the leaks.  Problem solved. And finally, that java thing.

The Josephus Daniels Student Stores was named for the publisher of the Raleigh News & Observer.  He was, also, Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of the Navy.  On top of that, he was a member of the temperance movement. That being said, he axed the rum ration for the US Navy.  Sailors were not pleased.  The new stimulant was coffee and, out of anger and frustration, men of the US Navy derisively asked for “a cup of ‘ole Joe.”  Enjoy your “ole Joe” and, while you’re at it, enjoy the game. 

Recalling Incalculable Joy

For most dedicated Tar Heel fans, thoughts of the 1957 season are never very far from our minds. Easy to recall this week with the passing of handsome Pete Brennan, the small forward on the team and one of the “Four Catholics” recruited by Frank McGuire to join Lennie Rosenbluth and give UNC a truly legendary story to share forever.

It should not be too hard to find a good handful of kids like me who could tell where they were on that incredible March weekend in 1957 when most of us were watching our first TV basketball games, piped in special by C. D. Chesley to North Carolina stations, so we could all live the miracle.  Where they were, who they watched it with, what it was like, what do they remember most about the game, whether they did anything special to celebrate. 

I lived in Kings Mountain, west of Charlotte, and was a senior in high school, knowing that I was coming to Chapel Hill to go to school that fall.  We had a small TV, maybe 12 or 14 inches, but a block down the street, Peggy Black’s parents had gotten a 21-inch set and we couldn’t imagine anything that big.  They invited the neighborhood.  The Final Four — a name that had not been invented then — was played on Friday and Saturday night. 

We were to play Michigan State on Friday night, and we all went to the Blacks to see it.  About as many people as could be crammed into their little family room huddled around the TV and hung on every shot.   We had never experienced anything like the excitement.  I didn’t know much about Michigan State’s “Jumpin’ Johnny” Green, but we got an eyeful on Friday after Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain had easily defeated two-time defending national champion San Francisco in the first game (that one wasn’t on TV, but the announcers told us about it). 

And there is no way today to recapture the first-in-our-lifetimes triple overtime!  The tension was just unbearable, beyond my capacity to explain it.  And somehow, our Tar Heels held on to win in the third overtime, thanks to Pete saving the game with his famous length-of-the-court drive and tying basket as the horn sounded. 

At that time, I was working at WKMT, the radio station in Kings Mountain, and worked every Saturday and Sunday.  We were supposed to be just disc jockeys, but on the air on that Saturday, I just had to talk about it and, for maybe the first time ever on the station, we let people call the station to talk about what they thought about it: How did we win on Friday night, and did anyone think we could beat Kansas and Wilt The Stilt? 

People wanted to talk.  It was a small town, and the audience on the weekends was probably pretty small, but both phone lines lit up, and I let people talk.  Mostly what I remember was that the manager of the station got pretty mad at me, because that was not the format, and I got behind on the commercials. It was live talk radio. I was so far ahead of my time; I really thought I was going to get fired. 

But, it dominated everything.  We counted the hours to the championship. Back to Peggy’s house to watch. 

To stay on the same court as Wilt The Stilt seemed impossible.  He was already a legend at the time.  When Frank McGuire had little Tommy Kearns jump center, we all jumped with delight, hugging, laughing at how cool that was, how McGuire was the smartest coach in the world, and when Carolina jumped to an early lead, I think it was about as exciting as if, maybe, some girl you liked had smiled back at you for the first time.  We giggled with delight as only kids can. 

But, the lead evaporated and, in the closing minutes of regulation, we lost Lennie to fouls.  He was our savior, our star.  It was worse than anything Indiana Jones would ever face. 

There was, of course, another triple overtime.  And, of course, when we won, we went nuts.  All of us had to drive downtown to the Silver Villa, where the kids gathered for hamburgers and teenagers made out in the parking lot.  The parking lot was jammed, and it was like the whole town came out.  Horns blared.  We stayed out too late.  Nobody cared. 

It was magic. And thanks to Pete and the unbeaten boys of ’57, we have memories of incalculable joy that will stay with us until we, too, have breathed our last.

God bless you, Pete.  Enjoy it up there where it’s all Carolina blue.


Shot of His Life

Time waits for no one, not even Pete Brennan the strappingly handsome second-banana on the undefeated 1957 UNC national championship team.

Brennan has been a folk hero in North Carolina since the shot of his life saved the NCAA semifinals against Michigan State, allowing the Tar Heels to go on and whip Kansas the next night to complete what is still the most cherished sports story in the history of a state that has had so many.

Pete Brennan

But today, the shot of his life for Brennan is what he calls a “miracle drug” named Lupron, which he is taking to slow down and contain the prostate cancer that has spread to a nearby bone mass. Brennan, 6-7 and 220 pounds in his playing days, is in tough shape at UNC Hospitals as he also fights to recover from severe Diverticulitis that has caused leakage and requires heavy-duty antibiotics.

Brennan has been back in Chapel Hill for the last few years after having some major ups and downs in business and his personal life. He stays in touch with other surviving members of the Carolina dream team, particularly All-Everything forward Lennie Rosenbluth who also settled here after losing his first wife and getting married again to the former Diane Stabler.

The young Brennan was a tough guy, a former Marine who still looked roughish and invincible into his 50s and 60s. He never flaunted it, but when asked loved to talk about taking that rebound off a missed Michigan State free throw and driving the length of the court to tie the game as the horn sounded. The Tar Heels won in triple overtime and survived three more extra periods 24 hours later to beat Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain in Kansas City.

He was one of Frank McGuire’s “Four Catholics” recruited from New York City to join Rosenbluth and turn a good team into a great one. Chapel Hill did not have a Catholic church at the time, so Mass was held every Sunday in a building on campus because that’s what McGuire had promised the parents of Brennan, Bob Cunningham, Tommy Kearns and Joe Quigg. Eventually, McGuire and Billy Carmichael Jr. (the other prominent Catholic in town) raised the money to build St. Thomas More.

Brennan, 75, loved shuffling into WCHL to do “Pete’s Picks” on the local pre-game show, and his winning percentage of around 85 might have been even higher had he used his head over his heart on the rare occasion when the Tar Heels were not favored to win. But he could never pick against the team that, in his mind, was always undefeated.

When Chapelboro launched a special section called “Drive to a Championship,” Brennan and Rosenbluth contributed a Wednesday column that traced their magical season and paralleled it to the 2012 Tar Heels who were also a favorite to win it all. Unlike the 1957 team, which kept its five starters healthy, injuries killed Carolina’s chances at the end.

Brennan could not work on the final installment of the series, which described how the ’57 Heels lost Rosenbluth to fouls late in regulation but still somehow held off Chamberlain and the Jayhawks to win, 54-53. That’s when Pete’s friends started worrying about him because he never missed a radio show or deadline. Calls to Brennan went to voicemail, which said his message box was full. Even Rosenbluth could not reach him.

Too sick to leave his apartment and too proud to call for help, Brennan stayed home for nearly two months except for doctor appointments. They were treating his painful stomach ache but also diagnosed the prostate cancer. It seemed like a death sentence for Brennan until his type of cancer matched up with those that had responded well to a shot of Lupron every three months. So Brennan could actually leave the hospital next week to rehab and try to regain some of the 40 pounds he has lost.

Last week, he had about 30 visitors to his hospital room – Rosenbluth, Quigg and his wife Carol, his four daughters who live from Atlanta to up-state New York and some of the people who love the big guy. “I never knew I had so many friends,” Brennan said this week between long naps.

His doctor concurred that if they can get the Diverticulitis under control so the punctures in his stomach can heal, Pete has a chance to keep playing.

“A priest I know came by to see me,” Brennan said, his blue eyes still twinkling, “and asked me if I wanted him to give me Last Rites.

“I told him, not yet. I’m not ready.”