“I think the three freshmen coming in are really gifted basketball players. They know how to win – all three won state championships, and I love that – and I think they’ll really help us. And with the core we could possibly have coming back, I think it’ll be a fun year.”
                                                                                                 -Coach Williams

You know what they say: if it comes easy, it’s not worth striving for. Well, Tar Heel fans, take solace in this adage. We get spoiled sometimes with Carolina basketball. We expect a Final Four experience every year. That’s our barometer.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. In fact, it’s a testament to the wild success UNC has achieved for decades. But in this day and age, college basketball is more competitive than ever. The parity is mind boggling. Anybody can truly beat anybody – just take a gander at the NCAA brackets the past few years.

The last four minutes of the Iowa State game were painful. The Tar Heels played their hearts out, but came up empty in the most crucial of moments. The Cyclones, to their credit, ended in an astonishing flurry to stun the Tar Heels. Coach Williams said the locker room was one of the most emotional he’s ever seen in his coaching career. Enough said there.

But all may not be lost – another run at glory may be brewing.

And there’s precedent here. Remember that 2008 team that was absolutely throttled in the Final Four by Kansas in (yes, that’s right) San Antonio? I don’t even need to tell you what happened in 2009. Franklin Street will never be the same.

Maybe there’s symmetry and symbolism in these Tar Heels losing in San Antonio yet again in 2014. And like that 2008 team, it appears nearly the same cast and crew plans to author a new ending next season. Hmmmm…

So, 2014 Tar Heels, channel your inner 2009 in 2015 and you may too be cutting down the nets and hoisting another big banner in the Smith Center. In the end, all these bumps, bruises and obstacles along the way will only make it all the sweeter.

Some say you have to fully experience the lows of bitter defeats to truly bask in the delight of the highs of glorifying success. If that’s the case, these Tar Heels certainly know the lows. Oh, how they do. They have the battle scars to prove it.

They’ve survived the endless P.J. Hairston saga, they’ve taken endless jabs to the academic well-being of their program, they’ve had to exorcise their inner demons at the free throw line, and they’ve suffered excruciating (and even bizarre) losses, in moments Carolina is accustomed to shining through.

But their resolve and determination has a chance to put an end to all that suffering. Marcus Paige has announced his return loudly via Twitter. He said he “never even thought of leaving; we got work to do.” James Michael McAdoo has alluded to his desire to return to Chapel Hill as well.

Likely, only Leslie McDonald has taken his final curtain call. Experience galore for the Tar Heels. Just add in the bevy of McDonald’s All Americans congregating on UNC’s campus this fall and voila! You have a scary good Carolina basketball team.

Next year’s team may not be as offensively challenged as this past year’s squad. And that’s great news for Carolina fans and bad news for the rest of the college basketball world. Roy will have the weaponry he salivates over in his arsenal. Look out!

Close your eyes. I can see Joel Berry and Justin Jackson running the floor now. Theo Pinson is electrifying – making an impact. I can hear the roar of the Smith Center crowd as free biscuits for 100 points becomes a regular thing once agin. Oh wow, just look at the steely determination in Paige’s eyes. I can envision a newly fit and rejuvenated Kennedy Meeks owning the boards and clapping his hands in excitement. Oh, over there, Brice Johnson’s swooping in for another finish at the rim to the dismay of the Cameron Crazies in Cameron. I can see the “track meet” Tar Heels returning, showing little mercy to their winded and exasperated opponents in the NCAA Tournament – running through the field. Can you see it all, too?

Oh yes, Roy, you’re right. What a “fun year” it promises to be.

You can follow Matt on Twitter @moakes3