got yips; seeking cure

2/17/10

I know there’s a cadre of blog readers on here who automatically tune out every time I start talking about the North Carolina men’s basketball team, and I totally get it. As I’ve said many times before, other people’s sports teams are at best a creepy experience for you to endure, and at worst, a testosterone-fueled game-day mob that can only end in date rape.

I even tried to explain to my therapist today why Carolina hoops has always been my magnetic north, but it always fails in translation. I usually leave it at this: “deflect personal glory, act like you’ve been here before, value your family, play hard, play smart and play together.” But even that can end up sounding like a motivational poster hastily taped to a conference room wall in a struggling company.

So many of you won’t understand the epic fall from excellence our program has suffered over the last year, nor will you care, and that’s fine. But we were supposed to be celebrating the centennial of UNC basketball this year, and it feels a little like America’s bicentennial: an epic calendar event that happened to fall in the year 1976, when the entire country was malaised, depressed, stuck in gas lines and wearing checkered polyester leisure suits.

Most college basketball fans would say “boo fucking hoo, you won the National Championship in 2005, not to mention last year, while schools like Illinois, Texas, Purdue, UMass and Memphis have NEVER won it” and yes, that’s true. But this year we’re seeing a historic collapse, the kind of “first to worst” showing that is leaving most of us fans – and there are thousands and thousands – wondering what the hell happened.

We were pre-season ranked in the Top 5, returned some important starters (despite losing most of our team to the NBA last year), and had a stellar-rated recruiting class. The old cliché was trotted out: “Carolina doesn’t rebuild, it reloads”. Now we’re beneath even rebuilding – we have to gut the floor plan, buy new material and start over. It’s getting hard to see how we win another game this year.

Excellence is decades in the making, but success teeters on the pinpoint edge, a breath of air on a hair’s breadth, felling it one way or the other. Look at the Olympics over the last couple of days – Lindsey Jacobellis (snowboardcross) and Lindsey Vonn (alpine skiing) are both excellent, but one caught an edge, and the other grabbed gold. Maybe the same could be said of our team this year.

Let’s throw in a few elements: We lose the most determined player in Carolina history. Our point guard tries too hard, then is too tentative. Our big man relies on a soft touch that turns soft. Our freshmen are a little shellshocked. We lose a game in Charleston that punctures our vanity, but also puts a slow leak in our confidence. Eighteen games in, we’re psychologically devastated, and then the real losing starts.

On Tuesday, we went to Georgia Tech and fell behind by 27 points in the second half. After the game, Adam Lucas summed it up best:

As [Deon] Thompson rounded a corner in the Alexander Memorial Coliseum labyrinth, he came upon [Roy] Williams. The big man, still clad in his uniform, said nothing. He just sank into his coach, with Williams wrapping his arms around Thompson and clapping him on the back several times. Both have been called upon to try and explain this season to the public, to tell us what’s going wrong, how it feels, or how they’re going to fix it. Both have been upbeat and resolute.

Now, though, they just hugged. Neither man said anything. There was nothing left to say.

All that’s left of our season is recrimination, rumors of rifts on the team, unfortunate tweets from players, message board frenzy, transfers, and a lot of folks like me wondering what happened to the winters we used to look forward to.

We’ve been in worse states before, I’ve had this blog long enough to have documented horrors from the Doherty era, getting waxed by 40 points, and wandering out into the snow. Then, as now, I post a picture of Michael Jordan dunking over Maryland in 1983, as a reminder that we thrive in an era of excellence, even if we live in a moment of failure.

0 thoughts on “got yips; seeking cure

  1. Salem

    “deflect personal glory, act like you’ve been here before, value your family, play hard, play smart and play together.”
    Nice. If I was going to have a motivation poster, that would be it.

    Reply
  2. Big Scott

    Man, I hope that Barnes and Bullock can really fill the basket up next year. We have no one on our team that can do that. I knew we were in trouble when I started hearing scandalous whispers that gradually morphed into generally accepted fact — “Will Graves is Carolina’s number one scoring threat.” To call that guy a streaky shooter is an insult to streaky shooters everywhere. OK, to be fair maybe Thompson is the number 1 threat, but if Graves is in your top 3, you’re in big trouble. There’s no one on this team that has both the game and the attitude to say, “Every time I get the ball, I’m gonna own you.” Either someone’s got to step it up in a hurry and develop that kind of game or it’s going to have to come from next year’s freshmen.
    And I hope that Kendall Marshall is the real deal because I’m not sure that Drew is ever going to be the answer at the point.
    The current perfect storm of injuries hasn’t helped either. We went from one of the biggest teams in the country to playing Graves at the 4 in about 3 or 4 weeks. Shouldn’t we get Cody Zeller by default since his brother seems destined to miss more games than he’s going to play for us?
    Man, this sucks.

    Reply
  3. Andy

    Ian – I’m probably one of the few blog readers that actually looks forward to when you post about the Heels.
    This year has sucked. No doubt. But maybe this is what was supposed to have happened in 2006? But we happened to get a freshman on that team that would go on to be one of the all time greats. That just didn’t happen this year. Being ranked in the top 4 preseason was ridiculous. I think that also came from Roy’s success in 2006 when he made so many media people look bad by doing what he did with that team. College basketball is largely driven these days by guard and wing play. And we knew this was going to be a weakness of this team going into the season. Due to several factors, this team is just made up of a weird collection of pieces that don’t fit together. Sure, there’s talent, but not in all the right places.
    I did this on your blog in 2005 (when I accurately predicted another national championship before the end of the decade) and I’ll do it again here. Carolina will be a Final Four team in 2012. I won’t go so far as to say that we’ll win it all that year. Not yet. But when that team is coming together and making its way through the tournament, we’ll look back at this year and talk about how it made them stronger and hungrier.
    Think back to the abyss of 8-20 and picture yourself going back in time to tell Jackie, Jawad and Melvin about that magical night coming to them in April 2005. That’s where we are right now. All will be well.
    Sincerely,
    Mr. Optimism

    Reply
  4. Paul G

    Yeah, it’s definitely got rough.
    I keep thinking that through all this adversity, someone will grab the reins and take over, giving us our storybook ending, but time and time and time again, no knight in shining armor comes to to our rescue, and so, here the Tar Heels sit, in a purgatorious (<– not a word) tower waiting to be freed.
    Well, at least we’ll all be drinking Diet March Zero in a few weeks. All the great games, no pesky stress from having to watch your own team in the tourney!

    Reply
  5. alvis

    I still hold out hope for some victories. And now that I live in Greensboro I imagine that tickets to the ACC tournament here are a greater possibility than normal…a tournament in which strange things have happened over the years.

    Reply
  6. littlerattyratratrat

    “If you live or die by winning or losing, you’re going to do an awful lot of dying.” Winning and losing are both tests of character, maybe for fans as much as for the players and coach. But it sure seems like a perfect-storm of a season for the Tar Heels. And it sure steals our joy.

    Reply
  7. Randy

    While this is not fun to watch, I agree with Andy. And being a long-time Chicago Cubs fan, the epitomy of lovable losers, one tough season from my Heels is survivable given that we are still National Champs until a new one is crowned in April and I enjoyed 4 great years with #50. Barnes and company will add talent and hopefully teamwork to this team and we will have a much better year next year.
    I also think we’ve got one or two more wins in this team before it is all over.

    Reply
  8. eric g.

    I’ve been living and dying Carolina hoops since I was a toddler in Chapel Hill in the early ’70s, and this has been the toughest year yet (save the 8-20 year). I think what has made it so tough is that this team could have been a lot better. The turnovers and lack of defense have been agonizing. But last year was sweet, and I’m sure we’ll return to real Carolina hoops next year. Let’s hope Tyler Zeller can get a full season in before his days on the Hill are over.

    Reply
  9. kjf

    time for some women’s hoops maybe? check out nebraska – could be their year to get into the women’s tourney. i’m just sayin’

    Reply
  10. bridget

    my sports year 2008(9):
    Steelers – superbowl champs
    Heels – ncaa champs
    BU hockey – ncaa champs
    Penguins – stanley cup
    my sports year 2009(10)
    Steelers – stopped playing in the middle of the season, didn’t even make playoffs
    Heels – documented
    BU hockey – 10-11 record right now
    Penguins – not doing to badly right now
    feast and famine.

    Reply

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