“Going Home” to the Dean Dome

December 29, 2006

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.


UNC-FAU: Dean Dome Demolition

December 20, 2006

Poor Rex Walters.

Rex isn’t used to this. Not after a stellar college career that included Big-8 Championships, a Final Four, and individual accolades. Not after being a 1st round NBA Draft pick and completing a nine-year professional career.

Rex Walters is a competitor. So much so that Roy Williams categorized Walters as one of the 3 fiercest competitors he’s ever coached, along with two of the Carolina family’s favorite sons – Michael Jordan and Raymond Felton.

And so it had to feel so strangely uncomfortable Walters to be sharing a sideline with Williams and losing by 47 points.

At halftime.

Yet that was the reality for rookie head coach Rex Walters and his Florida Atlantic Owls. They came to the Dean E. Smith center on December 19, 2006 and ran into an aggressive and well-oiled Tar Heel machine. The Tar Heels were running on all cylinders last night, showing every bit of the fine tuning that no doubt has taken place during the recently completed exam period.

The result was an absolutely comprehensive victory for Carolina that showed, at least for one night, just how great this Tar Heel team may end up being.

The game was over almost before it started. Carolina stretched a 4-3 lead with a 30-2 run, and eventually led at halftime by a Smith Center record 47 points. During the first half demolition, every Tar Heel strength was shown off in almost hyperbolic fashion. Hansbrough seemed stronger, Wright longer, and Lawson faster than ever before. Carolina scored seemingly at will, using an impressive array of layups, dunks, and wide open jump shots.

But perhaps the most encouraging characteristic of the first stanza was UNC’s stifling defense. For a team with such immense physical talents, Carolina has struggled mightily at times in stopping the opposition. Yet in the first half against the Owls, Carolina played the kind of in-your-face D that could make even ol’ Roy smile.

The Heels forced 15 turnovers and held FAU to 24% shooting from the field in the first half, and along the way showcased the ability to tip, deflect, or at least obstruct almost every pass that Rex Walter’s team attempted to make. As a result, Florida Atlantic began to throw the ball all over the court and the Carolina unearthed a valuable secret: playing good defense can be pretty fun – especially when it leads to high-flying dunks and fast break points.

Alas, there was nothing that Coach Walters could do to stop the bleeding. He did the right things, calling timeouts and trying to teach his team in spite of the scoreboard. To his credit, Walters didn’t stomp and scream or show a hint of disappointment – he’s been taught far better than that.

On a night when his team was completely outclassed, Rex Walters showed that he’s not just a fierce competitor or proven winner. He’s also a man who’s learned to see the big picture and understands how to accept defeat with dignity and class.

And that, more than a 50 point win, will surely make Coach Williams very proud.


UNC Women’s Soccer: Champions Again

December 19, 2006

Earlier this month at SAS Soccer Park in Cary, the greatest dynasty in the history of college sports added another championship trophy to its impressive resume, as the University of North Carolina women’s soccer team won it’s 18th NCAA title in 25 years.  The architect of the dynasty, the one-of-a-kind Anson Dorrance, did a radio interview with local radio station 850 the Buzz recently, and a mp3 version is available here on their blog.

This year’s title run, which featured 27 consecutive wins to finish the season, was perhaps one of the most unlikely out of Dorrance’s many championships.  The team started the season with a loss, then never saw the wrong side of a scoreline for the rest of the season.  Much has been made of Roy Williams’ nascent starting lineup, and the UNC women’s lineup was littered with freshmen contributors – 6 of the 11 starters in the title game were first year players.  Combined with the leadership of gold-medal-winner Heather O’Reilly, this year’s team completed a run for the ages.

Eighteen out of twenty-five.  An absolutely stunning record for sure.   Take a moment and let it sink in.   18 out of 25.  It’s just silly, but amazingly true.


The Softer Side of Hansbrough

December 18, 2006

The win against UNC-Asheville was a yawner.  Surely it was good for the Heels to get out and play someone in different colored jerseys, after a boatload of practices in a row.  In what is likely to become a hallmark of this year’s Christmas season, Carolina rolled easily.

Game reports and opinions can be found here:

Tarheelblue.com

News and Observer 

Tar Heel Fan
An interesting look at Carolina’s favorite big man is found in the St. Louis Dispatch.

We know him as Psycho T.  The commander of the paint.  Pusher of SUVs.  Owner of the weight room.

And lover of pedicures?

Seriously.  Behind his mask of stocism so often displayed on the court, it seems that Tyler is more refined than many ever would have imagined.

Go behind the mask and see the real Tyler.

Yet even if “The Bluff” is essential to who Hansbrough is, even if he has brought it to Chapel Hill in the form of a current youtube.com curiosity called “Texas ping-pong” and by speaking of it frequently and fondly, Hansbrough’s world is changing around him.

Perhaps after this season, it will morph even more radically if he takes advantage of his surging NBA stock to become a multimillionaire.

Then again …

“Sometimes we talk about where we’re going to live next year,” teammate and roommate Bobby Frasor said. “I hope he keeps talking like that.”

From St. Louis Dispatch


Allen Iverson: Enigma of Enigmas

December 15, 2006

I’ve thought more about Allen Iverson this week than in the last five years combined.

A.I. wants out of Philly, and I have to say, I can’t blame him. Iverson is stuck in a hopeless situation in the City of Brotherly Love. And the worst part – he hasn’t ever gotten his fair share of praise for the way that he’s given everything for the past 10 years to the city and franchise.

Allen Iverson is everything I’m not. He wears tattoos. I wear golf shirts. A.I. made rap records. I write blog entries. He cusses, snears, and can be downright nasty. I look ridiculous trying to look tough. Iverson was blessed with every athletic gift possible, yet hates to practice. My genes didn’t offer such a perfect storm, and all I got to do was practice.

People love to hate on Iverson. They say he’s a cancer, a locker room nightmare who is selfish beyond belief. To most folks, Iverson is everything that’s wrong with today’s hip-hop, one-on-one, standing and watch NBA. They’ll point to his trade demand as just another example of greed from someone who’s had it all.

But there are others who have seen the other Iverson. I won’t even attempt to explain the enigmatic nature of one of our generation’s most compelling athletes – that’s been done here.

What I will say is this: Allen Iverson has made more money than I’ll ever see by playing the game he loves. And that’s the thing – I truly believe that he loves the game. That’s why he’s willing to go out and give his all, play hurt, put his body at risk, do everything humanly possible to win. In Philly, his best is no longer good enough. So he wants out, and who can blame him?
Allen Iverson wants one last chance to savor the sweet taste of victory. Wherever he ends up, there will be some magic left. And undoubtedly, A.I. will leave nothing in the tank while trying to reach his championshipo goal.

Complicated? Yes. But maybe we should all hope to be so complicated.


My two favorite Iverson clips.


NFL Picks: Week 15

December 15, 2006

The standings:

Zack: 9-7 (55-61-2)
Eller: 9-7 (55-61-2)

Tied up with 3 weeks to play…our ineptitude is contagious apparently.

Cowboys (-3.5) Over FALCONS
So Tony Romo isn’t perfect.  But we already knew that.  Atlanta does not want to rely on Vick’s throwing, but with Norwood and Dunn banged up, that’s looking like a serious possibility.  This one could get ugly.

Jets (+3) over VIKINGS
I see no reason why I should not take any team that’s getting points against Minnesota.

Browns (+11) over RAVENS
It’s too many points not to take.  Remember, this is the bitterness game – the Modell Bowl if you will.  And the Ravens have been playing pretty well lately, meaning it’s just about time for them to derail and either lose or barely scrape by with a win.

PATRIOTS (-11) over Texans
I almost took Houston.  But then I didn’t.  New England needs to bounce back in a big way, and I think they will, winning by two touchdowns.

Dolphins (+1) over BILLS
Miami will be a popular Super Bowl pick again next year.  The key will be to get a first half of 2007 that matches their nice end of year runs from this season and last year.

Redskins (+9.5) over SAINTS

New Orleans is too high right now for my liking.  I think they get a little comfortable after the thrashing they put on Big D.  Either that, or I’m completely wrong and they win by 40.

Jags (-3.5) over TITANS
Hard to pick against Vince Young right now.  But the Jags are coming on strong as one of the best teams in the AFC.  I love the duo in the backfield – Maurice Jones-Drew is awesome.

BEARS (-13.5) over Bucs

Even when Good Rex doesn’t exactly show up, the Bears are strong enough on D and special teams to win.   And against the Bucs, they should win big.

GIANTS (-5) over Eagles
The New York Football Giants take hold of the wild card chase in this game.  Jeff Garcia’s magic has to be running out by now.

Lions (+5) over PACKERS
NFC North (outside of Bears) = one sad division.

CARDINALS (+3) over Broncos
I’m starting to think that the Cardinals are not who we thought they were.

Chiefs (+9) over CHARGERS
Lamar Hunt passes away this week.  The Chiefs need a win desperately to stay alive for a playoff berth.  Larry Johnson wants to add his name to the LDT conversation as the “other” best back in the NFL.  I think this one is close, even if the Chiefs don’t win.

Rams (+2) over RAIDERS

Let me get this straight – the Raiders are giving points?

Bengals (+3.5) over COLTS
Hard to believe Indy was 9-0 just a few short weeks ago.  Ocho Cinco, Rudi Johnson, and Carson will be too much.  I just hope this game is like 55-51.  That would be awesome.

Steelers (EVEN) over PANTHERS

Picking against the Panthers seems to work.  I’ll keep doing it.


You thought Brandan Wright had long arms…

December 14, 2006

How about the world’s tallest man, 7-foot-9 inch Chinese herdsman Bao Xishun. He used his 41 and a half inch arms to pull plastic material out of a pair of sick dolphins’ stomachs.

Seriously. I couldn’t make this stuff up.