Beginning, Ending...and Beginning Again

3.31.2011

Small dogs don't know they're small. If they're challenged, they don't back down or run away. They stand and fight...
__________________________________________________________

To sum up the 2011 season for these Tar Heels by Sunday's heartbreaking loss to the Kentucky Wildcats would be as incomplete as trying to sum it up after the first game of the year. This season was not pretty or historic; it was hard fought and ugly.  The hopes, dreams and expectations for this team were loudly vocalized before the ball was tipped for the first time. And at times the call was answered and other times you had to wonder if last year was going to be repeated. Questions and doubts arose in Puerto Rico. Who would step into the leadership role that, for all intense purposes, had been vacant since 2009? Who, from this incredibly young team, would be that voice on and off the court? The talent was there; the experience was not.

Succumbing to the doubts, questions and the unearned expectations was not part of the game plan. The plan was simple; to play basketball and to play the Carolina Way. Neither crumbling after a loss or having a sense of post victory invincibility was an option. Not with this team. Not when there were often more questions than answers. Not when there were more pieces were missing than were present at times in the puzzle that is college basketball.

Despite all of that though, there were glimmers. Glimmers that proved the 2010 season could finally be laid to rest. Hope was starting to make itself known throughout the Tar Heel nation. It was not always constant or consistent, but as the season progressed, it grew. But with any season in sports or in life, there are both high points and the points you would rather just forget. High point? Clinching the regular season title by a 14 point victory over Duke on Carolina's Senior night. Hands down.

Low point? The aforementioned heartbreaking loss to the Wildcats.

The end may be quick, but it's never painless. A loss is a loss no matter when it happens...unless it happens in March. The finality of walking off the court for the last time in a season is bitter and emotional and cannot be placed into nutshell. You never think it's going to be the last game, but the game has to be played that way.

This team wasn't always as advertised, but you couldn't help but keep watching to see what they would do next. There were games where everything worked and games where you had to wonder if they knew what the orange, spherical object they were holding was meant for. They weren't the 2006 team; they were the 2011 team. There were beautiful passes and awkward shots. Moments where the will to win wasn't evident until the final 9 minutes and suddenly scoring 26 points was effortless. And moments where Blue Steel had accumulated ample minutes by the time it was all said and done.

This team didn't know what they couldn't do. They didn't know that after losing 12 scholarship players in 2 years {some more unexpected than others} that they weren't supposed to make the Elite Eight.  They didn't know that their freshman point guard had the ability to dish out more assist than an entire team. They didn't know that their freshman forward would score the most points ever by any player in the ACC semifinals {40}. Carolina had no intentions of doing what people thought should have done.

That's not their style.

And though their style was ill-defined for much of the year, the closing weeks of this college basketball season gave reason to believe that this team is not through. That was not the ending they worked for nor the ending they wanted. And when it feels as though the ending is incomplete, it means it's just the beginning.


That's March

3.28.2011

I will write a more complete post of last night's loss to the University of Kentucky Wildcats, but for now, I leave you with this...

"This group doesn't know what they're not supposed to be able to do." J. Haase



From 68 to 32 to 16...

3.23.2011

What began as the 68 most worthy collegiate basketball programs in the country, has dwindled to the final sweet 16 left in the fight. The Big East, who many believed the national champion would come out of, started off with 11 of their 18 teams in the Big Dance.

Now?

Two--the University of Connecticut and a surprising Marquette University.

I found out today that Marquette boasts four junior college transfers in their starting lineup. Not your stereotypical tournament team. Their head coach, Buzz Williams, in his third year, is proud to defend his squad’s makeup. Because after all, his roots started with junior college.
“I like guys that have had to ride on 15-passenger vans,” Buzz Williams said on Saturday. 
Teams like Marquette is what March is all about and the catalysts of Cinderella stories.

Teams like Marquette, scare me.

This team plays in the largest conference of the NCAA, which in this case means they play against some of the toughest competition in the country. They are the 11th seed that squeezed by the 3rd seeded Syracuse this past Sunday. If one Big East team was supposed to still be playing, it was not the Golden Eagles.

And they know it.  Roy Williams describes junior college transfers as this,

“...playing with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder that things didn’t go as smoothly as perhaps they wanted to, whether it was the level of offer they got or somebody said, ‘You can’t do that now, you’ve got to go here and do something else first.”
Though this particular Tar Heel squad still has something to prove, they are still the University of North Carolina. Names like Worthy, Wallace, Stackhouse, Carter and Jordan have been stitched on the back of the jerseys. And while one of the most well known NBA guards in Dwayne Wade once donned that blue and gold jersey, the Tar Heels are expected to be a post season contender.

But as I've said before...this is March. And anything can happen.

The games against Long Island University and the University of Washington proved to be a challenge for this youthful Carolina team. They have mastered the art of late game rallies and clutch shots. Decisions made the first 35 minutes may often times be more than questionable, but when that game clock hits the five minute mark, something shifts inside of the guys wearing light blue jerseys. Though this is clearly not the manner in which the guys in the suits on the sidelines expect or desire to get the victory, they're still playing.
"I'm not pleased with the way we played," {Roy} Williams said, "but I'm pleased we're still playing."
 Though called the "Sweet 16", defeat never is. And whether it's the unexpected Juco filled team from the Big East or the young, late hitting one from the ACC, someone will not be there Sunday as one of the elite. And when the last buzzer sounds throughout the Prudential Center of Newark, NJ, the nation will have its answer.  This will be a game of heart, desire, intensity and attitude. All things these Tar Heels have lacked at some point this season. Friday night they will have to prove to themselves that they are worthy of being one of the elite and just how tough they can be.

Let the games begin.

No Words

3.17.2011

From open practice this afternoon...

Though I'm Crazy...

3.16.2011

...I do not do this...



And the March Begins

3.15.2011

Some folks may think that March Madness doesn't begin until conference tournaments or even Selection Sunday.

These folks, would be wrong.

This is a process that begins never stops. It is continuous. College basketball may end for some in early April, but for many, the lack of analysts and brackets doesn't mean the end has arrived.

I am one of those people that start counting the weeks until "midnight madness". I read too many articles and know too many numbers that in the end will get me nowhere in the real world. But I do it. I cannot explain it, but like ESPN says, "it's not crazy, it's sports".

However, I do recognize that one has to possess a certain level of insanity to love sports. But with that said, I go back to the subject at hand; March Madness. As I said before, I love and hate this time of year. Part of the reason I hate I blame purely on the level of insanity I possess. I love college basketball all the time. Not just throughout the month of March and it irrationally bugs me that once brackets come out, "fans" and "experts" just start popping out...please realize that, yes, I do know it's irrational. 


Needless to say, though, brackets are abounding, money is being put on the line {not by me} and offices around America are about to become a lot less productive. And it is a beautiful time of year.  Carolina is playing their 2nd & {hopefully} 3rd round {used to be 1st & 2nd} games here in Charlotte and I'm hoping that the "home court" advantage will shine through. 


Enough rambling for today...what about you? Do you do brackets? Bet money? Do you look at field goal percentages or jersey colors? Please humor me and my irrational insanity!

A Picture is Worth...

3.12.2011

©Jeffrey A. Camarati
Pretty much sums up the come from behind victory against Clemson...

Pray for Japan

I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things. - Isaiah 45:7
...yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He will make me as surefooted as a deer and bring me safely over the mountains. - Habakkuk 3:18-19



Comebacks

When the final buzzer sounded in the nerve wracking game that was Carolina-Miami, there was no question that we're in March. And though I've seen Carolina teams rally, I'm not sure I can ever recall a game like yesterdays.  For instance, never in the depths of my memory can I recall five {count it, five} walk-ons coming in midway through the FIRST half. If I'm being honest, I questioned Roy's sanity at that moment. Never mind the fact that the five guys that had been on the court did not deserve to be there at that moment in time, but walk-ons? In the first half? In the ACC tournament?

Seriously.

I do not mean to sound cold hearted because I love when those guys that sit in the last five {give or take} chairs at the end of the bench get to rip off their warm-ups and take the court. But let me reiterate; first half of an ACC tournament game and not a scholarship player to be found on those hardwoods from the Carolina bench. Needless to say, I'm not sure I took a breath for roughly 120 seconds. But when those two minutes were done, no damage was done, and those guys got to play in the first half of an ACC tournament game. And when those two minutes were done, things somehow got worse. Like, down by 19 points worse. And at moments like that, I wish I was a bandwagon fan or some variation because then I could've just walked away and just checked later to see what the final score was.

But no. Not the case. I was fairly silent and still for the last 16 minutes of that game, going between crying, throwing something or doing something like this...

But then something happened at the 7:13 mark in the second half. The momentum started to swing. And within a minute, instead of being down by 16, they were down by 7. The final run? 27-6 in nine minutes and 55 seconds...

Conference and the NCAA tournaments are unique unto themselves. Teams that should win don't and the name Cinderella takes on a whole new meaning. Anything can happen in March and that's why the word 'madness' follows it. Emotions and stakes are high. Win or go home. Fight or get beat. Does not matter how big the margin of victory is or how high the final score is {hello, Wisconsin-Penn State anyone}.

With that said, Tyler Zeller's layup to put the Heels up 61 to 59 was the first lead of the game for Carolina.  But what is the point of leading the whole game if you're not leading in the end? Answer; there is none.

Carolina is moments away from facing the Clemson Tigers for the third time this season. Statistics, predictions, historical data means nothing at this point.

This is March and anything can happen.

Love/Hate Relationship

3.10.2011

The Big Dance. March Madness. And simply, the NCAA Tournament.  This time of year can have many different names, but it's all means the same; the beginning of the end. I love and hate it. I love it for the excitement and multiple days of continuous college basketball. I hate it for the fact that as I said, it's the beginning of the end. There is officially less than a month left in the 2010-2011 college basketball season and that's always a hard thing to accept. From early October to early April {sometimes} my weeks are defined by the ups and downs that is college basketball. And more specifically, the ups and downs of the University of North Carolina. 
"I would like to remind you that 48 days ago Georgia Tech was thrashing Carolina, 78-58 in Atlanta. The Tar Heels were 12-5 overall and 2-1 in the league...They now stand here 24-6 and 14-2."..Adam Lucas {March 5, 2011}
To say that I'm anxious for the game against Miami tomorrow is an understatement. Yes, I know that this Tar Heel team has already defeated the Hurricanes once this season, but something comes out in a team when it's an all or nothing situation. And for this seasons Miami Hurricanes, that is exactly what it is; either win or go home and look forward to football season.

So tomorrow at noon, I expect to feel something similar to consuming 10 cups of coffee.  There is a fine line separating excitement and nervousness and insanity and I will tread that line from here on out. So with that said, please wish me luck tomorrow in my work productivity.

And above all else...GO HEELS!

via here

Unexpected Day Off

With the weather changing and tress and flowers blooming, I've woken up every morning for a week congested and with my head feeling as though it weighs ten pounds more than it should. Yesterday morning was the breaking point for me and I decided to just stay home and rest. Another contributing factor to that decision was just needing a mental break. My job is by no means stressful {I mean it has it's moments as does any job}, but I was starting to feel as though I never had enough time in the day to do everything that needed to be done. And that my dear friends is a terrible feeling.

So yesterday morning, I started my internal list of things to do and this is what I accomplished:
  • grocery shopping
  • cleaning the fridge out {this shoulda been done awhile ago..}
  • several loads of laundry 
  • general straightening of the house
  • a nap
  • a cardio workout {that was hard enough, weights were NOT happening}
  • cooked a great dinner {if I do say so myself!}
  • AND my nails are now ready for the tournaments

Yes I am so serious. In my grocery shopping trip to Target yesterday, I passed this color and knew I had to have it. After getting those things done and just being able to rest, I feel better than I have in weeks. It was just what I needed and after such a productive day at home, I'm ready to go and be productive at work for the next 2 days!

Happy Thursday!

Turning the Pages

3.09.2011

In anticipation of the multiple {hopefully} basketball posts that will be writtin in the coming weeks, I'm going to write about something completely different...brace yourself...

Books.

Riveting topic I know.

And with that said, I'm going to need some serious reassurance after you read this post that I'm not alone in what I'm feeling...

Seriously.

I have always been a reader and can read just about anything, unless of course it's boring.  Up until recently I'd been on a John Grisham kick. I have ready nine of his books since December. NINE! Hubbs thinks I'm a little crazy I think, but they're excellent. Some were better than others, but I enjoyed all of them.
image via here
Bleachers was the most recent read of his, and it was so different than any of his other novels. He used to be a lawyer, so naturally his subject tends to go down the legal road more often than not. This one, though, was about football and I highly recommend this book. It's a quick read, but you still get sucked in.

Next I read  Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin. As I said in a previous post, I liked and disliked it all at the same time. It was well written, as her books usually are, but the subject is what I disliked.


Last night I finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett and I was positively captivated. It starts off a little slow, but by the time I was to the halfway point, I was hooked. Several people have suggested this book to me including my friend Nicole and my mom, and I am so thankful that they did because I was seriously missing out.
**Side-note, this is being made into a movie that comes out August 12th and I can't wait to go see it.**

Now comes the part where I need for y'all to tell me that I'm not crazy. When I'm getting close to a book that I'm really enjoying and/or absorbed in, I start to feel sad and like I should read slower. But at the same time, I cannot wait to see how it everything resolves. It's quite the internal battle going on in my head for the last fifty pages. And then when I've finished, I have this silly sense of sadness and something else that resembles disappointment.  I want the story to continue. I want to know what happens to these characters and the rest of their lives {not literally, but you get what I'm saying}.  I suppose it just comes from the fact that after reading about them and their thoughts, struggles and triumphs for over 300 pages {giver or take}, I always want there to be more. And when I've close that book for the last time and it sinks in that there is not and will not be more, I'm sad. No tears or anything. Just the finality of saying "goodbye" to the individuals in the book can be...I do not want to say 'sad' again because I feel as though I've said it too much already and all the synonyms are so dramatic sounding. But you get it, hopefully. And if you do, then I need you to reassure me that I'm not alone.

And if you don't get it...well...I'm sure I sound quite unhinged to you.

You can't get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.  - C. S. Lewis



Battle of the Blues, Round 2; It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint

3.05.2011

After leaving Atlanta with a humiliating loss of 20 points, I was sure that the road was being paved for back to back appearances in the NIT.

However, slowly but surely, this incredibly young team started to show the world just what they were made of and how much heart and true talent have the ability to outweigh experience. 12 games have happened since then with a victorious outcome. Those victories were not always pretty and they were not always how you expected them, but a win is a win no matter how you get there.

With that said, going into tonight's game against Duke, I finally {possibly the first time this season} had faith in the 5 guys taking the court in the prettier shade of blue.

This game always causes inexplicable emotions. And the fact that three years ago, almost to the day, one of Carolina's own was taken away in a vicious and violent way right before the Blue Devils Senior Night of 2008, causes high emotions to soar. Tonight may have featured a different Carolina squad than in 2008, but the emotions and memories of that day still resonate throughout the campus in Chapel Hill. The guys playing tonight may or may not have known Eve Carson or ever even heard of her. But for those that did, this win is so much more than a regular season title. It's about everything that Eve loved, because she loved Carolina.
"I love UNC. I love the quad in spring and the arboretum in the fall. ... I love Roy all the time."- Eve Carson
Tonight is not just about cutting down the nets in the Dean Dome to signify winning a regular season title. No, tonight is about so much more. Tonight is about recognizing where you came from, where you are in this moment, and where you're going. What are you standing for? Are you fighting for what you want and believe in? Are you supporting those around you or just standing by and watching life fast break past you? Be in the moment. Breath it in. Hear every sound. Open your eyes and realize what you are having the chance to witness. It may not be there tomorrow because this life we live is fleeting. But this moment, right now, it's here. Enjoy it.

81-67 was what the scoreboard read as the final tenth of second ticked off the clock. It was never an "in the bag" game. The lead hovered anywhere from 7 to 10 points throughout the 2nd half. And when you're facing a team that shoots 27 3-pointers, it is impossible not to tense up when one of those is heaved toward the basket. But the Blue Devils finished only making 6 of those.  Carolina shot 52% for the game, with Duke finishing at 36% for the night.  However, the number that stands out above all that is this one; Kendall Marshall finished with more assists {11} than Duke had all together {9}. I'm honestly not sure how that's possible or how a head coach goes about correcting something as elementary as passing the ball.

One thing I hope to never forget about tonight is hearing the crowd inside the Dean Dome {through our television speakers} when the three senior walk-on's took the floor to start the game. The tradition of senior's starting no matter their hierarchy on the team on senior night is a special thing to witness. This night is something none of these guys will ever forget. When you commit to going to the University of North Carolina, you commit to the rivalry that is Carolina-Duke.

And that commitment goes past four years. It doesn't end when that Tar Heel jersey is thrown into a locker for the last time or when you walk across the graduating or draft stage. It is something bigger then yourself.

It is a way of life.


"...and it was a wonderful day to be a Tar Heel." Coach Roy Williams


Beyond Clutch

To say that this season's Tar Heel squad has had some ups, downs and in-betweens, would be an understatement to the greatest  degree. It's been a team that can be victorious by 30 and be embarrassed by 20. It's been a season of shocking moments, unexpected departures and growing pains that I've never seen another team persevere through in one year.

Wednesday night's victory against the Florida State Seminoles was heart-stopping, gasp-provoking, yelling-so-loud-your-throat-hurts-the-next day kind of game. It was also eerily similar to a game that took place on January 28, 2009. Except instead of having 3 seconds on the clock, the sound of the buzzer was all that you heard. And a mature, well developed junior instead of a young forward, took that game winning shot.

As each game has passed, this team has grown as well as taken steps backwards. My love and admiration, though,for this squad and this coaching staff has only grown. I have finally been able to let go of last season, remember what the Carolina tradition truly is and look forward to what the future holds for these Tar Heels.

In less than four and a half hours, the Duke Blue Devils will take the court inside the Dean Dome to face five guys that have something to prove and more than anything, something to gain; respect. Over and over this team has been questioned from their heart to their ability to score. Now is the time to silence the critics and the unbelievers in this teams talent.

Roy Williams had no idea what he would go through this season with these guys and these guys had no idea what they would go through together. But when the clock ticks down to zero and the buzzer sounds, a regular season champion will be determined.

For these Tar Heels, that is not even close to being enough. That is not the banner they want hanging from the rafters when this season is over.


 
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