I went to the UNC-Rutgers game last night with two of my great friends and former roommates from college. It was awesome to be with Rob and Daniel, and for one night, it felt like we had never left.
We took the same back road shortcuts in to avoid the inevitable Dean Dome traffic. We snuck around the same parking attendants and found a great spot in Married Student Housing. As we walked up the stairs of Kenan-Flagler,
we swapped the same old stories and memories, ones that have been repeated hundreds of times but never seem to get old. While waiting to meet some friends, there were more “where is he now” moments and a general feeling that was never stated
but always understood: we had gone to the greatest University on the face of the planet, and it felt good to be back.
Inside the Dome, it felt good to watch a game with them again. The first half was filled with some absolutely horrendous bricks from Rutgers and good, but not great play from the Heels. But in between air balls and alley oops, there were enough inside jokes
and laughs from the past to make it a highly enjoyable experience. It didn’t matter that we’re spread all around the country now and that “the roommates” don’t get together as frequently as we’d all like to. We’ve so much history together that by simply sitting in
Dean’s Dome we were able to go home again. It’s like we had never left.
And then it hit me – it wasn’t just the conversation that was familiar. With every passing game, this year’s team reminds me more and more of 2004-2005.
I’m hardly the first to draw comparisons between the two – how can you not with such incredible talent filling both teams. But while it’s easy to think of how Ty is like Ray or whether Tyler could match up with May, the most telling thing for me is that this year’s team is starting to bear the mark of a Roy Williams team, just like the NCAA Champs did in 2005.
What’s remarkable is that it’s happened so quickly. Think back to the Gonzaga game – is there any doubt that the present day Heels would knock the socks off the team that lost in NYC? In the last few games, there has been a visible commitment to competing at the highest level on the defensive end. Rutgers was called for numerous 5 second violations and even failed once to bring the ball past halfcourt in the allotted 10 seconds. Even when UNC gets beat on dribble penetration, you can see a fire and desire to improve. The team seems to be soaking in every bit of whatever it is that Coach Williams is teaching in practice, and then applying it to the court against the opposition.
It’s important to remember that for all the inherent gifts and athletic abilities of the 2004-2005 team, they were nothing if not mercurial. Before they were cutting down the nets in St. Louis, they were the 2003-2004 Heels, a team that seemingly never bought in to Roy’s style and played without the discipline necessary to achieve greatness. It took close to a year for a team filled with the future 1st Round picks, but once they bought in, it was special.
That’s why it felt so good to see the progress that the current squad has made in such short time. Maybe it’s because the majority of the team is so young. Maybe it’s because they’re all Roy’s recruits. Regardless, there’s no doubt that the team is buying in, and with Coach Williams at the helm, that means greatness is right around the corner.
It’s certainly dangerous to put too much stock into early season wins, and there will undoubtedly be some bumps along the road. But this team is finding its identity, and for every Tar Heel fan out there, that’s an exciting thing.
We have, after all, seen it before.