Beginning, Ending...and Beginning Again


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.

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