Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tar Heels, take a step back.

Since the union of the University of North Carolina and basketball, we UNC fans have been a fickle bunch. None of us were conscious during the early struggles of the Coach Smith regime. UNC students and fans wanted little to do with the short, large-nosed, young man who dared to think he could take over the program Frank McGuire built into a national power. They hung him in effigy...twice. They berated him in the student paper. No one outside of his close friends and the Athletic Director supported the no name from Emporia Kansas. Imagine where UNC would be had it listened to its fickle fans then.

During Coach Smith's 36 years of unmatched excellence, we as a fan base became "fat and happy" (to borrow one of Coach Williams' terms). ACC title after ACC title. Final Four after Final Four. National Titles. Collegiate and NBA superstars. Man, its good to be king, huh? Duke went back to back, but we answered and now they are struggling to even challenge Wake Forest. UNC is the dominant program in all of America.

Then came the summer of 1997. The end of an era. The saddest day in my entire life. On that day, Dean Smith stepped down and handed the reigns over to his longtime assistant and friend, Bill Gutheridge. Now, in interests of space, I will selectively skip the Gutheridge and Doherty eras as its impossible for UNC fans to agree on who's to blame. Regardless, the IBM of the college basketball world tumbled into mediocrity. The proudest and most arrogant fan base in the land was smacked with the ultimate insult: irrelevance.

Coach Williams' arrival changed all of that. He taught his first team how not to lose. In 2005, he tought UNC how to win. Oh, how quickly we arrogant Heels forget our lessons.

Was that 2005 team not comprised of the same characters who blew lead after lead in the '03-'04 season? Was that not the same team that squandered a 20+ point lead at halftime against FSU and ended up getting embarassed? The very same team who had its heart, will, and desire questioned game after game, week after week? The team loaded with talent, yet never quite doing what we expect?

Its amazing what a national title will do for our memories, isn't it? All people seem to remember is the great leader and game breaker Felton became, not the horrendous shooter and turnover machine he was the previous years. We remember how Sean May became an animal in '05, a double-double machine. We forgot all about the soft as Charmin May of '04. The do-all-the-small-things mentality of Jackie Manuel and Jawad Williams is adored by Tar Heels the world over. They never seem to mention Jackie's terrible shooting, bad free throws and turnovers. Or Jawad's shying away from the hoop.

That 2003-04 team was comprised of mainly sophomores and juniors. Not just that, but they were learning a new system under a new coach. They might as well have all been freshmen. They were a young team who's bandwagon emptied as much as it was filled. They were a team that everyone became convinced would never allow the team concept to penetrate their talent and ego riddled minds.

What happend? Time. Practice. LEARNING.

Roy Williams took a group of kids that had never won anything of significance at the collegiate level and in 2 years turned them into national champions.

So, the next time UNC blows a lead they shouldn't, the next time Brandon bricks a free throw, the next time Lawson attempts a pass he shouldn't or the next time the Heels look lost during an end-game possession, remember one thing.

The 2003-04 Heels looked even worse. And how did they turn out?

All the talent in the world is great. I wouldn't trade UNC's future for anyone else's. It is common for young teams to be really, really good. They are, however, seldom great. We are being treated to a great season. And you know what the best part is?

Its only going to get better.

- "UNC" Charles

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