Basketball Season Wrapup

Well folks, it's finally over. The longest season in my lifetime was just concluded and, even though I dread it somewhat, I think it is appropriate for me to try and interpret what happened during the 01-02 season.

First let me say that I have recognized for some time that we Carolina basketball fans had gotten spoiled. Notice I include myself in this group. It was as though we felt it was our birthright to excel and rarely did anyone give much thought to if and when it might end. As the old saying goes, all good things must come to an end but, frankly speaking, I have never understood that saying. Why should good things come to an end more than bad things? But this is not the time for philosophical meanderings.

It's amusing to me that some Carolina fans have said to me that they knew we were going to be bad this year. It's amusing because I surely didn't hear much talk along these lines before the season started. Oh, there were some expressions of lowered expectations but I didn't hear anybody say they expected the disaster we experienced.

The first warning signs came in the exhibition game with EA Sports when we lost by 32 points. I didn't pay too much attention to the score because we had been about even in the first half and I chalked the final outcome up as being "one of those things." I didn't see the game so I was bewildered at how we could have collapsed so completely in the second half. I later learned that it was primarily our 3 point defense which has plagued us since I can remember. It's almost like it is a Carolina tradition. We assume that opposing players will somehow forget how to shoot a 3 pointer and we are willing to take our chances that they will miss the shot. I think it is time that we reexamine that approach to the game.

The next hint of what was to come was with Hampton but I tried to explain that away by saying that Hampton had an excellent team and I pointed to their upset of Iowa State in last year's NCAA playoffs to bolster my position.

The second game was against Davidson and I finally was able to see that one at a local sports bar but I wished I had stayed home. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. We looked disorganized, lifeless and absolutely at a loss as to how to play against a zone defense. At this point, I was beginning to modify my expectations for this team but I still held out hope for a turnaround.

I won't go through each game on the schedule and I don't know exactly at what point I realized that we were not a very good team. It was difficult to come to this realization because we had always done something in the past when it looked like we were going to have a bad year to turn things around. I sensed that we were not going to be able to do it this time. Injuries to Lang and Capel certainly didn't help things and I must admit that I was disappointed in the play of the three freshmen. All three were highly recruited but they didn't seem to be improving as I thought they would.

Probably the worst realization came when we played the better teams in the ACC and were not even in the ball games I had always thought that if Carolina had a drop off in performance, it would be a gradual thing and something would be done to rectify the situation before it got too bad. I recognized that the drop off could be sudden but I rationalized my way out of that one by saying to myself, "Maybe it won't happen until I have checked out of this planet." Wrong. It was here and each fan had to develop his or her own way with coping with what was happening. I started telling people that I wish I could be frozen and awakened when the season was over. I found myself keeping a running account of how many games were left on the schedule because I had difficulty seeing us winning very many games before the season ended. At Clemson, at home with Fla. State, Ga. Tech and Clemson again gave me a little hope but I knew I shouldn't deceive myself. These teams were bottom feeders in the ACC and everybody knew it. I almost prayed ( I don't believe in prayer for wins in athletic contests) for one upset to give me hope for the future but it was not to be.

I don't even want to get into what was wrong and/or how it happened. Most of you have your own thoughts on these issues or you have heard others expound on them endlessly. I'm sure you grew tired of the jokes the sports commentators were making about Carolina and each time I would hear comments of disrespect, I would grit my teeth and say to myself, "Remember that one." for possible future use.

Surprisingly enough, there were a few real positives to come out of the season and I will embrace them with pride until the Blue- White game starts me on another cycle of Carolina basketball next season.

For one thing, I was extremely proud of the support the Carolina fans continued to give the team even after it was obvious there was not going to be any magical turnaround. The standing ovations given the team when they left the floor after home losses made my heart feel good. What other team in the country could draw almost 22,000 fans for a game with the number 1 team in the rankings when a solid "whoopin" was almost assured? How about 16,000 for Maryland, a top 5 team. I don't think we drew less than 13,000 for any game and, in my opinion, that's pretty doggoned good.

Another positive was that I don't feel that the team ever stopped trying. It would have been easy to do and I want to express my thanks to the players for going out on the floor night after night only to receive another disappointment. If I could have relieved them of some of the pain involved, I would have gladly done so.

The most important thing to come out of the season just concluded is that Carolina people now have a renewed enthusiasm for UNC basketball and I don't believe we will forget what happened this year for a long time to come. Stated differently. I think we have a new appreciation for the level of achievement we have enjoyed for so many years and we aren't about to become spoiled again anytime soon.

There is a danger, of course, that we will put too much pressure on the incoming freshmen even though we all say we won't. An example of how much interest there is in Raymond Felton was the message board activity this past Tuesday night when Felton played in the Roundball Classic in Chicago. When it became obvious that most people were not going to be able to watch the game on tv due to special equipment requirements, several posters started giving a running account of the game on uncbasketball.com. At the end of the night the thread had gotten 15,000 hits and by noon the next day it had reached 29,500. It ultimately received 30,500 hits and the thread is still alive. How many Carolina fans do you think will be watching the McDonalds game on April 4th and three players in particular.

So cheer up folks. Somehow we made it through the season and better things are ahead. As Coach Doherty has said that opponents should enjoy it while they can because the hammer is coming down and coming down soon. It can't be too soon for me.