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Now More Than Ever, Support the Tar Heels
A perspective from Thad Williamson
It’s interesting how many reactions to UNC’s loss to Virginia in the ACC Tournament and the season as a whole center the disappointment fans feel, rather than the disappointment—or rather, the pain—the players and coaches feel.
Here’s the sum total of my contributions to this season: I bought a few tickets, drove a few hundred miles to use them, concentrated and cheered while at the games, turned on the TV a bunch of times, tried to send positive vibes before and during games in hopes that somehow mattered, and tried to offer some positive comments online between games.
I didn’t run any sprints, do any defensive drills, sacrifice my body to take a charge, study (or prepare) any game plans, deal with the pressure of expectation, or have to try to guard a really good player on the other team. I didn’t do any of those things, nor did any other fan or supporter.
The eighteen guys on the team invested all that, and more. They came up short of their own expectations, and they know that. They don’t need anyone else to tell them that.
And as happy as Coach Davis and the staff were for the guys to have some amazing experiences last year, he and they no doubt hate that the players have had a very different experience most of this year. There will be a lot to assess at a later point, once the season is officially over (and they don’t need anyone else to tell them that, either).
As a fan, I accept that I have no control over anything that happens with the team. And yet how the team performs impacts my well-being and those of people close to me, sometimes in a subtle way, sometimes in a profound way. Carolina basketball has brought me a lot of joy and meaning and community and connections over the years.
I’ve been on occasion in position to offer direct encouragement and support to people in the program, and I like to think I have contributed mostly positive vibes over the years. But the fact is, I’ve contributed very, very little, and gotten a great deal in return.
A lot of joy, some disappointment and heartache. And usually even in the disappointment and heartache there is a lesson, an opportunity for growth, that may not be immediately evident.
It’s a heck of deal.
What last year’s team provided me, and many other people, was a totally unexpected gift of joy. To see those guys reach a level no one thought possible, rack up some of the biggest wins in the history of the program in the process, give me the chance to high-five random fellow Carolina fans in the Dean Dome after the Final Four win until my arm fell off, was a gift I will always treasure. It came at a time in my life in which I appreciated the emotional boost, and at a time in our collective lives coming out of the pandemic in which the team’s run felt like nothing less than the reclamation of the joy of life itself.
That’s deep! But the key thing is, it was a gift, not an entitlement.
Hubert Davis, I think, understood this at some level, which is why he kept trying to get everyone’s focus this year on this year, not last year. Everyone’s focus perhaps included some of his own team.
I’ve never played or coached the game at this level, but I’ve been close enough to it to appreciate the extreme competitiveness of ACC basketball, and the thin margin between success and defeat. We played in a strong league, and played a strong non-conference schedule. Apart from two games (Indiana and Wake away) we had a chance, often a really good chance, in all thirteen losses. We also pulled out some games that could have been losses. The analytics show the defensive effort was generally very good; both the analytics and our own eyes show that the offense was there some nights, but not consistently enough to be a consistent winner at this level.
The bottom line is the Tar Heels came out on the wrong side of a painfully thin line too often. I feel for the players, coaches, and all directly involved, because none of them wanted this outcome. Numerous guys at times made heroic efforts. Yet the team collectively didn’t make enough key plays at the key moments of key games.
Again, they don’t need anyone to tell them that.
And I’m not mad or upset about it, or mad at any of the players or coaches. They don’t owe me (or other fans) anything beyond what they owe themselves, which is their best effort.
The way I look at it, this (mostly) same group of players and coaches gave me and the Tar Heel community a huge lift and much joy last year, for the price of nothing more than watching the games and living vicariously through the nerves and tension of competition.
A year later, the players and coaches are no doubt in a position of pain, frustration, maybe embarrassment, maybe emotional exhaustion. Maybe it’s our job and responsibility as supporters to lift them up, in precisely moments like this. It’s the inclination and willingness to do so that makes support for a college basketball team a reciprocal relationship rooted in community, not a transactional one.
If Carolina somehow got an NCAA bid, we would be the most dangerous team in the tournament. If Carolina is invited to the NIT and accepts, I will be excited to support the team and will do my best to travel a few more miles to root them on in person.
For all this team has given me (and us), that would be the least I could do.
Thad Williamson, who grew up in Chapel Hill, is Associate Professor of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond. He is author of “More Than a Game: Why North Carolina Basketball Means So Much to So Many.”
(featured image via Todd Melet)
“Viewpoints” on Chapelboro is a recurring series of community-submitted opinion columns. All thoughts, ideas, opinions and expressions in this series are those of the author, and do not reflect the work or reporting of 97.9 The Hill and Chapelboro.com.
Your article was just as sweet and kind as a cute little puppy dog. But UNC basketball is in bad shape and don’t think fans of other schools don’t see it.
Since you are an Associate Professor of Leadership Studies, I’m sure you know that Hubert is a great leader of men to Christ, but his coaching leadership leaves a lot to be desired. We look terrible offensively while Duke is setting ACC records for assists in a tournament game. And other teams that shouldn’t even be in the same league as UNC are killing us at our own game. We did have a great run at the end of last year but otherwise we have been very mediocre, although we have 4 and 5 star players. Here is the question: Is our coaching staff 4 and 5 stars? Hmmm…
By the way, I said “Christ” above. I’m not sure that’s legal in our liberal university articles, although you are at Richmond.
If they get an invite, will they go?
Wow, you’re absolutely right. Makes me ashamed of myself for sharing a few salty comments about the team that I love with all of my heart. I guess that what they accomplished last year made me so upset about their play this year. Every time that they had what I assumed was a breakout game I would say ” yes!!, they are back!” just to watch them get beat down by a lesser opponent over and over again. I had no control over how angry I was about what I was witnessing, but I did have control over how I responded to it and for that I apologize to the team and coaching staff. You talked about all of the hard work that players put in. I don’t eeeeeeever want to hear anyone say Practice Makes Perfect again…..lol.