My wife loves ice cream. I’m constantly amazed at her incredible ability to enjoy this dairy delight at almost any moment. Had a bad day at work? Nothing a scoop of mint chocolate chip can’t cure. Need a boost before a four mile run? Try two spoonfuls of cookies and cream. Even when she’s “so full that she can’t eat another bite” of dinner, she somehow summons the strength to make just a bit more room for a little Moose Tracks with syrup.
While I don’t share her ice cream cravings, I can at least appreciate the intensity of her love. It’s just that for me, the object of my hunger is a little less sugary.
My ice cream is Carolina Basketball.
For as long as I can remember, it’s been this way. I guess that’s what happens when you are the son of two Tar Heels who met – where else – on Franklin Street itself. Almost 25 years ago I was Tar Heel born, on the same day that a young man named Michael Jordan played his first game in light blue. What a year to begin on this lifelong obsession – in March of 1982 I had to be one of a handful of infants celebrating Dean’s first title on Franklin St.
Over the years I was fed a steady diet of Heels hoops – heaping helpings of Jeff Lebo 3’s and Pete Chilcutt inside only made me hungrier for more. What a delight it was to hear about the teams of the past. While learning the requisite 3 R’s in school, I was educated as well on the Four Corners offense and eight points in seventeen seconds – without the 3 point line!
By the time 1989 rolled around, I was sufficiently hooked, and was old enough to understand and appreciate the ebb and flow of a season. It’s the year I can first remember really hating someone for taking away my ice cream. The culprit, of course, was Glen Rice and Michigan – who coolly dispatched my Heels from the Big Dance’s Sweet Sixteen.
Horror. Anguish. Despair like no other. How dare you Glen Rice. How dare you crush my dreams with such cold-heartened abandon. It turned out Glen was not alone – year after year villains in v-necks and baggy shorts would take away my hopes and dreams and leave me starving until the following November. The calendar of my life, at least in my mind, could be ordered by who had put the final nail in the Tar Heel basketball coffin. 1992 – that was Jimmy Jackson, which I saw live and in person. 1994, Danya Abrams and his ruthless Eagles from Boston College. Don’t get me started on Miles Simon or Andre Miller. Or the shattered backboard from Texas Tech’s Darvin Ham.
In spite of the heartbreak year after year, there was always a sense of excitement when November rolled around. Maybe this would be the year, like in 1993, when it all came together for a majestic ride through March. It was all worth it for those special years – all the misery of dreams deferred seemed to fade into oblivion with the simple snipping of the nets. During the 90’s we were often so close – 5 times during the decade we were one of basketball’s Final Four, yet were only able to finish the deal against Michigan’s Fab Five.
At the turn of the century, I could hardly wait to be immersed in the excitement – finally a student at the school I’d long loved. With new coach Matt Doherty at the reins, and young phenom Joseph Forte, the sky was the limit.
And then it all came crashing down. Everything I’d grown accustomed to: 20 win seasons, sweet sixteens, and above all else a buttoned up program that exuded patience and class. All of a sudden that history became a thing of the past. Instead we were left with 8 wins against 20 losses – a ratio that was impossibly unimaginable to stomach. My ice cream no longer tasted quite so nice.
But then Roy came home, and reminded us all of how sweet things could be – perhaps even sweeter after the bitter taste of misery. In his second year back, with his immensely talented yet mercurial team, Roy found a way to bring back all the magic. And like 1982 and 1993 I was on Franklin again to marvel in the moment.
And now it’s time to begin a new year, and the expectations for this years’ team are at a fever pitch. Duke is down, the Heels are loaded, and already folks are talking about the Georgia Dome in early April and a chance to cut down those nets one more time. I have to admit that while as excited as ever about this year’s team, I have yet to see one second of the team in action.
I hear the gossip from Midnight with Roy – how Ty Lawson is possibly as fast as Felton (is that possible) and how Brandan Wright’s arms are positively Perkins-esque; about how Frasor and Ginyard look like steady veterans, and how Hansbrough is bigger and badder than ever.
This team is as deep as any I remember. But like anything, the depth comes with a price. It’s mind-boggling to consider the playing time permutations – ol’ Roy is good, but can he possibly keep 11+ players happy? One thing’s for certain, we’ll enjoy seeing him try – and with expectations high once again, only a deep run will satisfy.
It all starts tonight, against poor Sacred Heart, and the little kid in me is hungrier than ever. Sadly, the game’s only on ESPNU, so I’ll have to settle for Woody’s description of the action. That’s OK – like ice cream through the radio waves, I’ll be glad to gobble it up.
Hark the Sound.
UPDATE: A great response from a friend and fellow UNC alum can be found here.