All season long’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.