Posts Tagged ‘ Tradition ’

Recovering from last week’s loss: a look back at Carolina’s 2005 comeback win against Duke

In the hour after our stunning loss to Duke last week, my thoughts turned briefly from somber shock to what I would possibly write on the game here. Balancing my desire to preserve some memory of the event – in case we do proceed to win a national title this season – with my desire to avoid discussing or examining it in any way, I thought about titling a blank post simply “No Comment.” A week and two wins later, it isn’t remotely surprising that disappointment over the loss remains strong. I knew that night that you never fully recover when, having a won a game that would fit into the permanent record of an epic rivalry, that game abruptly becomes an instant classic loss. At the least, it will take a win at Cameron or a national title to dull the frustration.

Most of the frustration centers on how radically the narrative of this college basketball season changed in the course of a two minute long sequence of unfortunately flukish events. If any one of no less than ten unlikely occurrences – some our error, some the refs’ error and some bad luck –  goes the other way, we win the game. Win that game, and there are a number of tectonic shifts in the college basketball landscape. Conversation on the game would remember the way that we survived a hot-shooting Duke team at their best to lead after the first half and asserted ourselves as the far superior team in the second. We would be ranked no lower than #4 and probably #3 in the polls, with a solid grip on the ACC regular season title and a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Kentucky and Syracuse would be looking over their shoulder at our looming shadow as the best team in the country finally getting into gear. Tyler Zeller would have nearly clinched the ACC Player of the Year Award, and Harrison Barnes would have a strong argument himself after taking over the game in the second half.

Conventional wisdom scorns the ‘what if’ talk, but in reality there is little reason to avoid it. It doesn’t diminish their win in any way, but strictly for the purpose of evaluating our prospects for the rest of the season, it absolutely matters that after 38 minutes we were, as we expected, significantly better than Duke. With a one-game sample size and the fact that basketball depends so much on factors outside of the players’ control, far too little had to change to completely reorient all of the conclusions drawn based on the outcome of the game. There are two lessons there, one being to use caution in drawing conclusions based exclusively on who is ahead at the end of a mid-season game. The other is to treasure that in basketball, the nature and rules of the game are designed to produce outcomes reflective of the way the game was played, and that what happened last Wednesday happens very infrequently. If basketball crazy North Carolinians need solace, just think: our favorite sport could be soccer.

While paying ‘what if’ does offer limited if not enduring catharsis, remembering the cumulative history of the Duke v. Carolina rivalry offers relief that is much more potent. Having shared all of the thoughts on last week’s loss that I care to submit for memory, I will now share what proved to be my most effective comfort the day after. I’ve never been much into YouTube, but oh how I was thankful for it on Thursday. A quick search found this video, which I watched five or six times.

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Carolina’s place in a new era of college basketball

In his eight year tenure as the head coach at North Carolina, Roy Williams has essentially coached three distinct basketball teams. Those teams are roughly (though not that roughly) defined as the groups of players from 2003-2005, from 2005-2009, and from 2009-2012. In the current state of college basketball, and especially in our case since the first two of those eras concluded after mass NBA departures from National Championship teams, there isn’t a whole lot of continuous overlap as there used to be: only David Noel, Rayshawn Terry,  Marcus Ginyard, Deon Thompson, and Ed Davis played significant roles on teams in separate groups.

As noted above, Roy is 2-2 thus far winning national titles with his teams, and Carolina fans who lived through Dean Smith going 2-for-a whole bunch realize how fortunate we are to have experienced the last seven years. It is partly a reflection of this new state of the sport; there are fewer really good teams each year, so the programs such as North Carolina that consistently field really good teams have a better shot. That we fell short in a loaded 2008 Final Four field before cruising to a relatively easy title a year later demonstrates this point clearly.

But it in no way devalues the accomplishments of Roy’s squads; to win a national title you are only asked to be the best team in a given year, and there is no question that Roy has done a better job than anyone in the country fielding title-competitive teams consistently. Other powerhouse programs, such as Duke and UCLA, have faltered in this respect. More importantly, with the easier path comes far greater expectations, and this may actually be the defining characteristic of this new era of college basketball.

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ESPN’s new program-specific blog: the choice of UNC over the other powerhouse programs

As I mentioned in the Halloween post, ESPN.com has created a new college basketball blog focused solely on UNC, hiring Robbi Pickeral away from the Raleigh News & Observer to write about the Heels for a national audience. As I have no knowledge whatsoever of ESPN’s internal decision-making process here, what I write in this post is purely speculative. But their choice of Carolina as the first program for which to focus a school-specific blog seems to speak volumes about our status as the premier college basketball program in America.

No matter the circumstances that led to the hiring of Pickeral, ultimately the decision cannot help but represent a choice of UNC over the other schools on the short list options. As a write this post, though, I noticed that ESPN has created two program-specific blogs for college football: Notre Dame and Stanford. The Notre Dame selection was no doubt due to their status as a football independent without a conference-specific blog to cover them. Stanford’s is more odd, and discredits my attempt to find meaning in UNC’s selection. I’ll write it off as an anomaly; ESPN could have chosen a major SEC school and did not, so there must be some extenuating circumstances I don’t know about. The choice of UNC, however, is not hard to figure.

Probably the most significant factor in choosing Carolina for this blog was the timing of 2011. Beyond fitting the criteria for consideration, we are the unanimous preseason #1 team preparing for what may be one of our greatest seasons in team history, and we are perhaps at the pinnacle even of our own storied history, looking for our third national title in eight seasons. Had it been another year, the choice could have been Kentucky, Kansas, Duke or UCLA.

Then again, it at least could have been Kentucky or Duke this season, but it wasn’t. Moreover, a huge part of our current place in college basketball is directly tied to our accomplishments not only in 2005 and 2009, but in the stretch running from 2005 to now. Even prior to Roy’s arrival, we were arguably the program with the highest level of consistent success since 1950, with arguably the largest, most loyal and deep-rooted fan base. Only Kentucky could rival us on the first claim; just Duke could on the second, and only then provided you omit the ‘deep-rooted’ criterion from the question. Kentucky likely wasn’t chosen because their fan base isn’t large enough; Duke didn’t get the nod because their program has vastly underperformed in both hype and post-season success over the period coinciding with UNC’s peak, excepting their 2010 title. Duke should enviously accept their inferior stature represented, in part, by this blog.

In the last couple of years, ESPN created separate websites to house content focused on five major U.S. cities with deep and diverse sports histories: New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Chicago. While the UNC blog is a much smaller venture, it makes similar acknowledgements about a particular sports fan base: the brand has enough national appeal to warrant a spot on a national website, and there are enough people in a given region of the country to comprise regular, sustainable traffic to the site.

One cannot help but notice that the Southeast is the only region of the country not represented in those five major U.S. cities; neither Atlanta or the Charlotte-Raleigh combination provides enough of a cross-sport fan base to support one. But college basketball alone does control the region’s attention just as, for example, the Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots and Bruins all do in Boston. By itself, it couldn’t sustain a website, but it can sustain a blog. Our region should treat its creation as a badge of honor that college basketball in our state is one of the closest sports institutions in America to equaling the prominence of professional sports in our biggest, most rooted sports towns.

The most anticipated seasons in (my) North Carolina basketball history

The tipping point that inspired me to break my off-season hiatus came this week when the blog Rush the Court (of which I am not a reader, credit Twitter for the referral) published their season preview for UNC and called this season “the most anticipated season in North Carolina basketball history.” It was not a subtle remark made mid-sentence either, but a bold statement appearing as the first line of the story.

It is remarks like these that remind me why I would not have enjoyed a career in sports journalism. Designed purely to serve as a hype-generating, cleverly dramatic opener, the statement is at least unnecessary. Worse, though, is that it is unequivocally and colossally untrue. It takes a blindly superficial attempt at hype (so often typical of sports media) and a shockingly short memory to make such a ridiculous statement in the fall of 2012, only three years removed from the 2009 basketball season.

Granted, the author of the post claims that this season tops 2009. He is wildly incorrect, and that he even attempts the claim shows that his historical perspective of Carolina basketball is seriously lacking. In truth, for a program accustomed to preseason #1 rankings – and to being unfairly loaded with talent – 2012 is closer to the norm than it is to the historically anomalous 2009 season, which even for Carolina presented an unprecedented challenge of hype.

Only in 2009 did four players, rather than three, spurn the NBA, three of whom declared before withdrawing and all of whom were rising juniors or seniors. Far more importantly, since admittedly Harrison Barnes’ decision to return is the most bizarre of the lot, only in 2009 had the Heels been a #1 seed with essentially the same team two years running. In both tournaments we fell short in dramatic losses, but progressed to the Final Four in 2008, one round farther than in 2007. Only in 2009 did we return one of the greatest players in conference history and one of the most beloved among Carolina fans, and only in 2009 were all of our core players juniors and seniors that we had been watching perform at a historically high level for two full seasons, becoming highly invested them in ways that we haven’t yet, purely as a function of time, with Barnes and his teammates.

In his autobiography, Roy Williams speaks of persistent sleepless nights leading up to the 2009 season. If after 2012, it is Ohio State or Kentucky cutting down the nets, Carolina will have failed, no doubt, but people will understand. In 2009, that was certainly not the case; it would have been incomprehensible for anyone but the Heels to win, especially after early season thrashings of Notre Dame and Michigan State. Even more difficult personally for Roy was his attachment to the team, and particularly to Hansbrough, that made the prospect of not winning a title agonizing to a degree that falling short this year could not possibly attain.

It seems odd to make this argument at the present time – it would be more fun to agree with the author, given that it is 2012, not 2009. But I was there as a student, and perhaps for that reason his error struck a nerve. But alas, in honor of the approaching arrival of the 2012 season, one that is highly anticipated for a team that, while not 2009, could be historically good and does seem to have a uniquely strong connection to the students and fans: an actual ranking of the most anticipated seasons in my short lifetime of Carolina basketball history.

1) 2008-2009: As mentioned above, no other season comes close. We had never experienced that level of anticipation before, and only perfectly unusual circumstances would allow for it again.

2) 2004-2005: Carolina fans should be thankful that Roy is two for two in delivering national championships during the years in which we were expected to win. Dean Smith was one for a whole bunch of seasons, not because of poor coaching, but because that is often the reality of college basketball (in 1982 Carolina was the preseason favorite, but in 1993 we began the year #7 and were not ranked #1 until early March). The 2005 team was not only expected to contend for the title, but was expected to redeem at last Carolina basketball from the abyss of the previous six seasons. That journey was best exemplified by a senior class that went 8-20 as freshmen and a trio of juniors that represented one of the most heralded recruiting classes in program history. Both groups weathered the storm of initial underachievement and the firing of Matt Doherty, and even Roy Williams at the time brought his additional pressure of having never won a national title. We are fortunate that this squad got the job done, as it set us on course for the most successful five season stretch in program history, and having not won a national title in over a decade, it was a long anticipated event.

3) 2011-2012: It doesn’t take long to arrive at the present season, which, for all of its contrast to 2009, is itself an anomaly, especially for the current state of college basketball. It was such a shock that this team stayed together without NBA defection that we forget how young this team is; we haven’t yet had time to fully invest ourselves as fans in Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall, especially in the case of Barnes, from whom many of us had resolved not to expect more than one season. In any case, the gap between our talent and the rest of the country, excepting Kentucky, may be the largest it has ever been. This team, like 2005, hopes to culminate the escape of its own abyss (2009-2010 and early 2010-2011), and like 2009, returns after a dramatic near miss last season. Unique to this year’s squad is the special connection these players seem to have to each other; I cannot remember another core group of players who were unanimous in the level of joy this team has for playing basketball in Chapel Hill. Capping off the anticipation is that a title this season would be our third in eight seasons, placing Roy Williams’ tenure rightfully at the pinnacle of the sport as its most recent dynasty.

4) 2002-2003: This season did not end as happily as the first two, but there is no questioning its spot on the list nonetheless. Carolina fans had toiled through an embarrassing 8-20 season the year before, and resorted to following intently the developing stories of the incoming recruiting class, especially local South Carolina superstar Ray Felton. As they were one of college basketball history’s most highly regarded classes, and given our program’s prolonged struggle, Felton, Sean May and Rashad McCants were stamped as nothing short of saviors before they set foot on campus. Less than a month into the season the three freshmen led us to an upset of Roy’s highly ranked Kansas team, and Carolina fans were relieved to again be in the national spotlight. Stumbling down the stretch led to the firing of Matt Doherty, but early on at least this season was anticipated at a historic level.

5) 1997-1998: This year’s team contends with 1982 and 2009 as one of Carolina’s most talented groups, though unfortunately it would eventually fall short in the Final Four for the second season in a row. Nonetheless, they returned nearly everyone from that first Final Four team, including juniors Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter, both of whom would be top-five NBA selections after the season. They were deep with NBA talent for a supporting cast, and they were guided by one of college basketball’s all-time assist leaders, Ed Cota. Additionally, this season was Bill Guthridge’s first as the replacement for Dean Smith, the first coaching change for the program in nearly 40 years. I can remember as a ten year old child thinking that my time had finally come to experience a national title I would remember, and wondering if my generation was somehow cursed when it ended. That level of anticipation earns this season the final spot on the list.

The NC Sports Hall of Fame’s 5 Greatest Moments in History

I am a bit late on the scene with this one, but I had been meaning to post for a while on the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame’s five finalists for the greatest sports moment in the history of our state. Recently, the Hall announced that Carolina’s 1957 national title victory over Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas won the voting as the #1 Greatest Moment.

There is little to dispute here – as the most recognizable and widely followed sports institution in the state, this honor, whether bestowed democratically or not, was going to belong to the Heels. The ’57 tournament title is arguably our most significant, and not only for being the first; it was an epic three overtime win over a great team and a great player, and it was the first time that basketball was televised across North Carolina. The following season a collection of regular season games were televised, and Carolina basketball was on its way to becoming one of our state’s most important cultural institutions.

The Hall got it right at the top, important since that moment will define the larger project, which organizers hope will draw more attention to the museum. But the Hall’s list of five finalists peaks early and gets worse. As Scott Fowler points out in his column on the project, the five finalists are without representation by professional sports or Duke.

Both of these omissions are reasonable, and I will even defend Duke’s. Christian Laettner’s game-winning turnaround to defeat Kentucky in 1992 is comfortably in the top five greatest moments in national college basketball history; but at the time the proportion of this state to which it was significant was far too small for it to be a defining moment in our history.

As for the omission of professional sports, I am far from indignant – like most North Carolinians I am first and foremost a college basketball fan, and it is one of the great characteristics of our state that we have had multiple professional sports teams for over a decade yet can put together a top five list excluding them. As I will note shortly, this is not because our pro teams have been terrible. It is because we are one of a small handful of states with access to pro sports teams that have consistently preferred the college brand as a whole.

However… though it may be possible to construct reasonably a list of our five greatest moments with no mention of professional sports, ultimately the results of the list make this difficult to defend. Attribute the flaws of the list to improperly defined terms: when most of us think of “great moments” we are imagining moments that were culturally significant to North Carolina in a lasting manner, memories that will be passed on to later generations of sports fans. If we assume these terms – which the museum folks clearly did not – we can toss immediately from the list Jim Beatty’s mile run and the formation of the ACC. The first is a tremendous accomplishment, but that’s not the measure. The second is the product of someone severely overthinking this project; yes, that is significant, but absolutely no one remembers it because no one was watching and no one was there.

If I was reconstructing the list, I would mostly leave the remaining moments in tact: they chose the right moments from our storied college basketball history, my only suggestion (credit to Fowler on this one) being to sub in State’s 1974 upset of the UCLA dynasty in the tournament for their win over Maryland a couple of weeks earlier. I might also add Carolina’s 1982 title as greatest moment #6, unable to separate it from the other three college basketball moments since this was Dean’s long overdue first title.

That leaves two remaining spots, and the choices are so obvious – both coming in the past decade – that perhaps the museum folks just didn’t mark post-2000 history high enough. One is the 2006 Stanley Cup Championship by the Carolina Hurricanes. It remains the only professional sports title in North Carolina history (a mark not to be broken any time soon), and it mesmerized, for a brief period of time, a state full of people who know nothing about the sport. Native hockey haters can sneer, but my memory reports truthfully: 30 of my friends huddled around a television to watch a Hurricanes playoff game at my high school graduation party, and the Weynand family (at my coaxing) watched the clinching victory together from a hotel room in Washington, D.C. It was significant.

The other is assuredly less controversial: pick a moment from the amazing 2003 season of the Cardiac Cat Carolina Panthers. It could be one of the four regular season overtime victories, especially the October one over the Colts that took us to 5-0 and alerted the city, and the country, of the special season in progress. If you are looking for moments, it would have to be watching Steve Smith streak across the middle of the field and take a simple slant route 60 yards to end abruptly the NFC Divisional game against the Rams with a touchdown. The moment chosen by the Hall as one of the 22 greatest moments, but not advanced to the final five, was the victory over Philadelphia to win the NFC title and clinch a trip to the Super Bowl (this was technically my first time rushing a street in celebration, and the only time it was not Franklin Street, but Symphony Woods Drive in my neighborhood in Charlotte).

Those last three playoff games nearly shut down Charlotte in total focused attention – I was playing a rec basketball game during the first half of the Rams game and receiving updates from a teammate’s dad sitting on the front row. During that few week span, the Panthers pervaded conversation in the same way the Heels do during March Madness, and it also cemented the Panthers as the state’s first and only perenially relevant professional sports team. It was surreal month – a team from North Carolina playing in what is by far the nation’s biggest sporting event? That’s a top five moment.

The many ways to enjoy a Beef Master Frank… and other memories of Woody Durham

Like many Tar Heels, I am far too young to know anyone other than Woody Durham as the radio voice of the Heels.  He is an inherent fixture of Carolina basketball, a part of the institution who cannot not be entirely replaced because too many of his calls resound in highlight reels and in our memories for us to easily adjust to a new voice. If you haven’t already done so, every Carolina fan should visit the collection of Woody’s most famous calls that TarHeelBlue.com put together after the announcement of his retirement. Some of them I had never heard myself, having watched the games on television, but many of course I had heard a thousand times. It comes a little late, but below is my small contribution to the massive endeavor of the past few days to capture the meaning of Woody Durham in words.

Any veteran of the Tar Heel Radio Network eventually realizes that Beef Master Franks are one of the its biggest advertisers, and then comes to laugh at the frequency with which they are mentioned in the course of a game. Depending on your perspective, Woody is either the master of the on-air radio advertisement or the producer of comically awkward transitions into mentioning his favorite product. Regardless, I will always remember marveling at the great variety of circumstances that, according to Woody, were ideal for perfect enjoyment of a Beef Master.

I imagine that many Carolina fans remember where they were listening to Woody for the 2004 football game against N.C. State, which was not televised. If you did not yet feel like you knew Woody as a trustworthy friend, you came to in the final chaotic seconds of that game, in which State’s T.A. McClendon may or may not have scored (he didn’t), may or may not have fumbled (he did), and we were completely reliant on Woody to picture what had just transpired. Woody was a meaningful link to games that otherwise felt distant, and I have a collection of isolated memories of relying on him – leaving places to go sit in a parked car, for instance – when circumstances kept me from a game.

Three times this season I was caught on the road between North Carolina and Washington during games. When this inevitably happens again next year, I will again be reduced to cycling through stations in rural southern Virginia and northern North Carolina, hoping to find the nearest random affiliate of the Tar Heel Radio Network. Enough about the broadcast will be similar – the jingles, the players’ names, the Beef Master Franks – for this to remain effective, but it will be odd searching for a different voice coming through the airwaves. In a strange way I think we underestimate the familiarity and pervasiveness of Woody in our minds, even though he is one of our program’s most revered figures. When I play highlights in my head of Carolina basketball, some that have happened and some that I still hope to happen, without realizing it sometimes I play them in Woody’s voice. The man whose name is literally synonymous with the word radio in the context of Carolina sports is also the official sound effect of the narrative of Carolina basketball history, and in this way will we most noticeably miss his presence.

We take for granted that, with a few very notable exceptions, it is always the same voice behind most of our legendary highlights. But he will forever own several of the phrases that will always sound like Woody when heard during a basketball game, such as “UN-BE-lievable!” and “Jumper from out on the left.. GOOD!”

If Carolina cuts down the nets in New Orleans next spring, Woody, unlike in 1982, 1993, 2005, and 2009, will not be on the call. But picturing the moment now, a year before someone else begins their career with one of their first memorable lines, it is still Woody’s famous words of 30 years ago that echo in the background:

In Woody’s half-hoarse, almost-out-of-breath shout : “The Tar Heels… are going to win… the National Championship!”

Remembering those eight Carolina-Duke games while I was a student

Chapel Hill Magazine published a blog post from a UNC senior who gave up a ticket to the Carolina-Duke game to attend the wedding of a close friend. It was an admirable decision that I have no intention of questioning, despite what many who know me may think, though I will refrain from considering what my own decision would have been if I had faced the same predicament (I am thankful that I did not). It is important to add that it is only a decision for those eight games while I was a student; for a short list of close friends and family, most of whom would not get married during the game anyway, I would without hesitation miss one of the many Carolina-Duke games I will now enjoy as an alumnus.

But the point here is that those eight games were experiences I looked forward to my entire life, through many Carolina-Duke games as a kid, and I’m not sure there is one that I could trade looking back on through many more for the rest of my life. It helps that Carolina was 5-3 in those eight games (and only that after two losses in 2010). But its the greatest rivalry in sports, rooted in both basketball and culture, and best of all, Duke gives us just enough of a run to keep things relatively equal, but we come out on top in every important category. Those eight games in order of magnitude in the narrative of my Carolina basketball memory:

8. March 6, 2010, Duke 82 Carolina 50. Notable only because I watched it with three good friends at a Carolina bar in Washington, D.C. on an epic Spring Break road trip, this game was otherwise an utter disaster. That it represents a memorable transition to watching these games as an alumnus prevents it from being left entirely off the list.

7. February 10, 2010, Duke 64 Carolina 54. As this was my senior night in the Dean Dome, it was my one and only experience watching Carolina-Duke from the risers. It became a special night when a struggling team gave Duke a really tough shot, but ultimately this season will never carry as much weight in my memory as the preceding three.

6. March 4, 2007, Carolina 86 Duke 72. It may be a surprise that a Carolina victory (and my first home Duke game as a student) appears on this list prior to the last remaining loss I experience as a student. However, other than the Henderson-Hansbrough nose-breaking incident during garbage time, this game was an absolute snoozer. Credit that to Duke for not rising to the challenge; it was a pleasantly rough year for the Blue Devils, who proceeded to lose their next two games, one to N.C. State in the ACC tournament before slipping to a six-seed and falling to VCU in the first round of the NCAA’s.

5. March 8, 2008, Carolina 76 Duke 68. This was a statement game for the Heels after losing at home in the first meeting minus Ty Lawson. Home for Spring Break, I watched this one with my family in Charlotte. Of my four years at Carolina, 2008 was the year in which the two teams were most closely matched, and a tense game was concluded when Carolina made a historic and somewhat uncharacteristic defensive stand, shutting Duke down for the final five minutes. This game also included one of every student’s favorite moments of the rivalry: Danny Green dunking over Greg Paulus and shaming the onlooking Dookies.

4. February 6, 2008, Duke 89 Carolina 78. A game which we painfully lost achieves such a high spot in this list for a couple of reasons. Again, 2008 was the tightest year of the rivalry, whereas 2007, 2009, and 2010 were characterized by one-sided domination. More importantly, from my spot in the Fever section, where I watched two other Duke games and countless others, tip-off of this game was the loudest I ever heard the Dean Dome, matching every expectation I had ever had for what these games should feel like. It was a loss that came without Lawson and after Duke hit 13 threes, six from Greg Paulus. We redeemed it a month later before going to the Final Four. Duke lost in the second round.

3. February 7, 2007, Carolina 79 Duke 73. Another game that had all the makings of my ideal Carolina-Duke experience. It was my first of my college years, and I watched it in the Craige North 4th floor lounge with a large group of friends. It was a tense game, which led to the RA having to make a futile attempt at quieting us (seriously??). We won, Josh McRoberts cried on national television, forever captured on Youtube, and we rushed Franklin for the first time.

2. February 11, 2009, Carolina 101 Duke 87. It should come as no surprise that the 2009 games will occupy the top two slots; that season was more than just a national championship winning year. With both teams ranked in the top five nationally this game received major hype, only to see Carolina drop 101 points and run Duke out of their own gym in a blowout. This was one of several points during the season in which a historic Carolina team handled a top opponent with remarkable ease, leaving fans to enjoy the feeling of thinking “this team is really freaking good.” Watching from the Aycock-Graham lounge, we rushed Franklin, but it was a relatively calm rush, indicative of the eagerness with which we awaited the future, more memorable rush we knew was coming April 6. I will always remember Shannon bravely leaving her friends and navigating the crowd to find me, so that we could experience our first Duke-Carolina game celebration together at school. This game also completed a four year reign of dominance over Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium; watching seniors who slept in a tent for weeks soak in the reality that they were never going to see their team beat Carolina at home was glorious.

1. March 8, 2009, Carolina 79 Duke 71. This game was destined for this spot from the moment Tyler Hansbrough announced he was returning for his senior season. It was the biggest senior night in Chapel Hill since Phil Ford’s in 1978, recognizing one of college basketball’s greatest ever and a player who had no business ever making it to senior night in an era of early departures to the NBA. In many ways this felt more like a senior night for me, since we all knew it was not only Tyler’s, Danny Green’s and Bobby Frasor’s final game at the Dean Dome, but also Lawson’s and Wayne Ellington’s. This was the final time we watched the players who together represented the team we watched in person for three years as students, and that thought overshadowed a game that we never once thought was in doubt. Unlike the previous Duke game that year, I watched it with Shannon standing next to me, until a few weeks ago the only Duke game for which that was true. Like the win in Durham a few weeks earlier, this game finished in anticlimactic fashion with anxiousness for the next phase of the season to begin. But after Carolina stormed through the tournament in a way that even exceeded our hopes, they solidified their legacy as one of the greatest teams ever and cemented this game as the most memorable Duke game of my four years at UNC.