Passion, pride and patience … plenty of patience.
That’s what it takes to be among “The Risers,” the student cheering section at UNC basketball games at the Smith Center.
Just ask UNC students and friends Jane Zorowitz and Marta Case. The pair waited about four hours, mostly in biting cold temperatures on a recent Sunday for a chance to cheer on the Tar Heels from just a few feet away when they took on Clemson.
They were rewarded by making the cut for a Phase 1 ticket for the closest position with a few dozen other students. Others settled for seats farther from the court or had to be turned away in what’s referred to as Phase 2 or 3 of the process.
Zorowitz and Case took in the Tar Heels’ dominant 80-61 win over the Tigers, which started a winning streak that propelled UNC back into the middle of the ACC pack.
“It’s exciting being this close to the players,” said Zorowitz, a biology major who said her enthusiasm wasn’t tempered by the team’s 1-4 start to ACC play. “We have faith – you have to have it in your team, and coming to games is a reason why you go to Carolina.”
Case agreed with Zorowitz, and said the Tar Heels have the right coach in place to lead them to success. In fact, she’s comfortable enough to be on a first-name basis with Roy Williams … try that (or not) with ex-Indiana coach turned ESPN analyst Bobby “Call me COACH!” Knight.
“Roy (Williams) is my favorite, he’s the man,” Case said. “I like how he leads the team.”
Greyson Cook and his roommate, a Ram-suit-donning Brennan Grusky, stood just behind Zorowitz and Case in the student cheering section for the Clemson contest. Cook, a Peace, War, Defense/Political Science major, appreciated the tactical positioning he had for rooting on the Tar Heels.
“The best part of this is being close to the action, I feel like I’m more of a part of it,” said Cook, going for a ‘ninja look’ by donning a blue bandanna over his face. “This is why you come to UNC!”
Cook, who hails from Waxhaw, just south of Charlotte, is in his last semester at UNC and is trying to attend as many games as possible before starting service in the Air Force.
“I’m in the home stretch,” Cook explained. “I want to see them hit their stride just about now and beat Duke at least once this season.”
Tar Heel players like Kennedy Meeks appreciate the effort of their fellow students to make the Smith Center one of the most difficult places in the nation for a foe to play.
“They’re incredible,” Meeks said of the student cheering section, after UNC ran its NCAA record for the longest home winning streak against one opponent to 57-0 vs. Clemson. “They help us a lot with all their noise because it rattles the opponent.”
Leslie McDonald, who has picked up his scoring of late, said “The Risers” are an integral part of the atmosphere at the Smith Center.
“When you hear the crowd getting loud like that it gets you going,” McDonald explained. “My appreciation goes out to them for the love they have for the game and for us.”
The relationship keeps getting stronger, it seems.