Seems Like Yesterday
It's really hard to believe that the basketball season is over, for the Tar Heels at least. It seems like yesterday that UNC fans were counting the days until Midnight Madness signaled the beginning of what was thought to be an outstanding year for the Heels. It seems appropriate to look back on the year and, more importantly, glance ahead for what may be waiting for us down the road.
Coach Williams tried to tell us that this year's team had some major weaknesses, but if you were like me, you gave lip service to his warnings but deep inside felt that the team would magically transform into world beaters now that we had a new coach, an inside presence, and numerous players with an additional year of experience. In addition, it was felt that the overall environment had improved dramatically and all these factors would combine to make us a threat to compete for the national championship. Oh, we would have denied it or qualified it if confronted directly with the question of whether we had what it takes to be competitive nationally but privately, I think a lot of us felt that with a little luck we might be cutting the nets down in San Antonio. I'm one of those dreamers you've heard about.
Looking back, we should have listened more closely to what Coach Williams was saying. It is nearly impossible for UNC fans to control our expectations after spending more than 30 years (some of us) under Coach Smith. While there were disappointments along the way, we grew accustomed to winning and winning big. We visualized an immediate return to center stage of the basketball world and gave little thought to the fact that it might take some time.
I don't mean what I have said to indicate that I think this past season was a failure. Maybe a disappointment for some but certainly not a failure. The 8-20 season gave me a new humility and I now treasure every morsel the Heels hand me. In many ways, it was a very good year and for that I am most appreciative. The wins over Illinois and Connecticut were great. Who would have thought that we would beat the Deacons in Winston-Salem? A sweep of State was nice and we gave Duke two good games both of which could have gone either way. On the other side of the ledger, however, were disappointing losses at Maryland, Clemson, Virginia and Florida State. The Georgia Tech game in Atlanta was the only game during the year that I felt like we were truly beaten. I don't want to discuss the game at Clemson because if I do, my blood pressure will undoubtedly rise to a dangerous level. I personally think we caused our own downfall by continuing to employ the double team when it was not working.
But there were two qualities of this year's Carolina team that I had trouble adjusting to. First, we couldn't seem to withstand success. Almost every time we took a substantial lead, we would either blow it and lose or lose the lead and have to make a comeback. Normally, I like to see Carolina blaze out to a substantial lead from the outset of the game, but it reached the point where I was uncomfortable when we did this because I knew it would not last. Strangely, I started hoping for a close score at halftime.
The second thing that baffled me about this year's team was the frequent need to be "jacked up" by Coach Williams because they were playing with no intensity. This may be something of a carry over from Coach Smith's style of coaching because that where Coach Williams learned his trade. Coach Smith always believed in self motivation and it is one of the few things that I have disagreed with DES over. I am reading his new book which explains some of his principals as they relate to other aspects of life, and it is hard for me to see how DES cannot accept the fact that a coach has to motivate. Self motivation sounds good but my experience has shown me that it doesn't always work. Now everyone can immediately start e-mailing me because I dared disagree with DES. It will be nice to hear from you, I'm sure.
Next year looks very promising, but I hope talk of an ACC championship and a national championship is held to a minimum. We don't really know yet who will answer the call at Midnight Madness. Coach Williams says he expects everyone back, but I don't know if that includes Grant and Sanders or not. Both of these gentlemen may be wonderful individuals and brilliant students ,but I have trouble seeing how they fit into future plans for the team. I never have been able to figure out the scholarship numbers to begin with and now we have the Jameson Curry thing to wrestle with. I don't see how Curry will ever wear a Carolina uniform if what I hear is true, but I've been wrong before. Williams sounds like the real deal but he only weighs 220 and that raises questions about his ability to bang. Smith sounds like Vince Carter reincarnated and should bring some old fashion excitement to the Dean Dome. Thomas looks solid at point and Miller has received good comments and may help the team. One year of experience under the Williams system should be a plus also.
So farewell, UNC team of 2004. The team is gone, but the individuals should be back along with some valuable additions. Things should be better next year. I'm almost over the Texas game, and I find myself already counting the days before Midnight Madness or as they call it now I think, Late Night With Coach Williams. I also find myself trying to control expectations for next year, but you know how that goes. I guess it just comes with the territory.