Category Archives: UNC

A Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day

Blue is just another word for sad

-Me, over and over again, while I beat my head against a wall

Here’s a question: when did we as a society start to think that our sturdy, boxy cars weren’t good enough, and that what we really needed were bubbly spaceships made out of plastic. Here, this is what will keep you safe: a multi-ton death machine built to crumble around you instead of protect you! When did we replace functional, metal bumpers with sheets of plastic that can’t withstand any contact with another vehicle?

I hit a car. I hit an unoccupied, perfectly still vehicle inside a parking garage before the UNC-ECU game. Name the one car you don’t want to hit if you have a choice and I hit it. I hit a Lexus SUV in a parking garage and I was naïve enough to think that nothing would happen in the game that could suck worse.

You experience a complex mélange of emotions when you hit a car and there’s no one in it. What you should do (leave a note, we are a society etc. honesty is the best policy etc. lying never helped anyone except for politicians and CEOs etc.) is in direct opposition to what you could do, which would be to just drive away. It’s less about getting away with having made a mistake, and more about being able to do things in a vacuum. Like being home sick from school but you start to feel better by the afternoon, and you can run around the house naked or play video games and it’s entirely up to you whether anyone finds out what you’ve done, bad or benign. Like existing in another universe for a hot minute.

I did the honorable thing, though, I left a note under a windshield wiper and I parked right next to the car, but if I had known the way the game would turn out I would have driven to another spot, and then past that spot, and then out of Chapel Hill, and then right into Jordan Lake.

During the third quarter, I found myself wondering what would happen if Larry Fedora did that, simply led the Tar Heels off of the field and out of the stadium, mid-play. The ECU team would have to leave too, right? What would happen? If I have the option of walking away from my own mistakes, can’t Bryn Renner also walk away from his car-crash playing? They didn’t, and I didn’t, and the worst part of sitting through the drubbing Carolina was handed was that I couldn’t leave early, because I had to find out how much it was going to cost me to fix this guy’s bumper.

So I sat there, and I bathed in the boozy arrogance coming off of the ECU fans around me (the folks behind me, I swear if I’d wanted to I could have lit their breath on fire). A guy stood up whenever the Pirates did anything remotely good, wearing an outfit he was way too old for, and just waved his arms, screaming. It was the worst.

The problems with UNC’s defense seem to be that they’re running some kind of made-up scheme, they aren’t fast enough to get to where they need to be, and when they finally do get to where they need to be they somehow don’t know how to tackle. (The problems with the offense seem made up: someone has stolen Renner’s ability to throw a football. Eric Ebron insists on dropping one easy pass a game, like it’s in his contract along with a bowl of green M&M’s.  The two most promising freshman on the team are both receivers, one is three feet tall and the other is named Bug. Nothing makes sense and I hate everything. There’s holding on every single play.)

My favorite backyard football play was made up by a friend of mine, who called it “Leaves.” When you run Leaves, the receivers sprint as fast as they can down the field, then turn around and sprint back, and the quarterback hits whichever one is open. Any group of humans could run Leaves ten times against the Tar Heels and score on 5 of their tries. Logan Thomas has picked this defense apart as of a day before the writing of this. Brandon Connette will pick this defense apart. So will whoever plays quarterback for Pitt, so will whoever plays quarterback for Old Dominion. This seems like just reverse-jinxing but it’s actual, legitimate despair: UNC can’t beat Duke. Duke’s offense is too good for this defense to handle. That’s a real sentence I just typed.

This is what it’s like to love UNC football, which can’t love you back and will eat you alive. You spend 90 percent of the time worrying about everything going to Hell and the remaining 10 percent of the time in Hell. The worst I’ve ever felt as a sports fan was after the Duke basketball game in March. The mini-breakdown I had that night culminated with a mental rundown of all of my regrets while I listened to Celtic Woman sing “O Holy Night” and drank beer until I fell asleep. This ECU game was close.

It felt like an episode of the Twilight Zone. At one point, the announcer shamed a student after she missed on her first field goal attempt for free chicken biscuits for life or some such, by saying “come on, it’s military appreciation day,” as if to say “get it together, you slob. People are dying all over the world and you can’t even knock an extra point in? Do you hate America?” The hype video before the 4th quarter only serves to remind people that there was a time when UNC football players knew how to hit the opposing team hard enough to affect them or stop them in some way, an idea wholly foreign to the group we trot out every week. Inside my head, I kept screaming for Rod Sterling to come out of the shadows and explain to me what lesson I had just learned so I could turn the TV off. I wanted someone to tell me that there was no creature on the wing, but all I saw was that grown man in cargo shorts and a cowboy hat making elaborate and infuriating first-down gestures every single time a run up the middle resulted in a 15 yard gain for the Pirates.

What hurts the most is that this was supposed to be The Year. We had a proven quarterback and a year of the new system under our belt, and a stable of running backs that was supposed to be at least reliable in the absence of Saint Giovanni. An ACC schedule without Florida State or Clemson that peaked in difficulty with the first game and then dropped off considerably. Even the most jaded fan could have looked at that schedule at the beginning of the year and seen 9 wins. But then again this was also supposed to be the year when I was responsible enough to not hit a parked car.

So I sat there in the parking garage and waited for whoever drove the Lexus to come and see the silly wreckage I’d perpetrated on its bumper, and when he finally did he looked at me and said the only true thing we ever came up with as a civilization: ‘shit happens.’

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Breaking Down (the most terrifying aspect of) Thursday’s Cackalacky Border War

Humans, the finest of all seasons is almost officially upon us. If you look closely, there are some leaves beginning to change, I wore a long-sleeved shirt the other day without immediately suffering heat stroke, and actual meaningful football games begin this Thursday at PM6, when North Carolina travels southward, into a den of garnet deviants who fight birds for sport.

UNC again finds themselves situated in a role of football prominence, opening the season in prime-time national television against a highly ranked SEC opponent for the second time in 4 years. The Cackalacky Border War has the potential to be, at the very least, a great deal of fun, pitting the demented genius Steve Spurrier against the younger, probably just as demented Larry Fedora[1], and the blazing Fed Spread against a very, very stout Defense.

Lots of eyeballs will be on this game, even outside of our fair state and the one below us. Fans across the country will have their eyes wide-open and glued to this game for the same reason that I will have mine covered: we are terrified of what Jadeveon Clowney, Gamecock’s defensive end/level-6 Kaiju, is going to do.

Because it could be anything. We’ve all been inundated with that clip from the Michigan game, to the point where we understand that Clowney is some kind of superhuman missile-person who can’t be stopped from getting into the backfield. If you told me that he would record 5 sacks, I’d believe you, and if you also told me that he would walk onto the field to WWE Superstar The Undertaker’s theme music and pop a football with his bare hands, I’d believe that too.

We tend, though, as a society of football fans, to think of Clowney as a separate being from the other players on the field, but he’s not. He’s an unstoppable force, sure, but to prove that he needs movable objects, and with those men lie my concerns. So without further ado…

 

Who Has The Most to Fear from The Clownpocalypse?

 5. James Hurst

Hurst bottoms out the list, which seems odd at first glance, since he’ll be the gentleman saddled with the most Clowney responsibility, and won’t have the luxury of some kind of exo-suit to help him (guys, Pacific Rim is really good). But here’s why he’s so low: no one expects anyone to be able to block Jadeveon, and the majority of people watching this game will have no idea how good Hurst actually is (really really really good is how good). All Hurst has to do is play to the level that he’s proven he’s capable of, and keep Clowney under some semblance of control for even the smallest majority of the game, and he will have exceeded the expectations of most of the country. He’ll have help, of course, as it seems reasonable to double-team the guy, and one thing that gets lost in the concussive grandeur of that play against Michigan is that Clowney is a mortal, blockable human being. His impact on that game was pretty minimal up until that point, and only a missed assignment let him get into the backfield untouched.

 4. UNC’s committee of running backs

Universally beloved tailback Giovanni Bernard’s departure leaves some size-infinity shoes to be filled, and that unenviable task will fall on A.J. Blue, Romar Morris, and freshman Khris Francis (who positively stole the show in the spring game). Blue is a bruiser, Morris brings more flash to the table, and Francis showed flashes in the spring game of that same kind of patient hyper-awareness that made Gio so good, so the best case scenario for UNC is that they’ll always have one of three fresh, differently skilled backs to rotate into the game. The problem with that is three separate bodies for Jadeveon Clowney to separate from their heads.

These guys have all probably seen the Michigan clip as many times as we have (and realistically, I’ve seen it 20 times without even searching for it; that’s how ubiquitous it was) if not more, given its particular relevance to them.[2]

Regardless, these are the three bodies that Clowney is most likely to collide with after getting a head of steam, and for that they all edge out Hurst on our list.

However…

 3. UNC Fans

Physical pain heals. As the great Shane “Footsteps” Falco has said, “pain heals, chicks dig scars, glory lasts forever.” Maybe these guys get their bells rung, maybe they get the wind knocked out of them, but they’re young, and some time in an ice bath is going to placate 80% of what happens on a football field.

On the other hand, a state full of people will be watching this game, yearning for some kind of sign from the real Carolina that’ll signify actual football relevance, and by virtue of that yearning we take players and turn them into our heroes, unloading our hopes and dreams into them.

Now, by all accounts, Jadeveon Clowney is a humble, easygoing guy who rightly equates twitter with trouble and keeps out of the limelight (one conversation with Jay-Z notwithstanding) but because of the way stories and the human brain work, UNC fans will have no choice but to see him as a villain. If he puts a hit on anyone that takes them off the field for even, like, two weeks, he’ll occupy the same space as Bernard Pollard in Patriots fans’ minds, and he’ll seep into our nightmares.

I’ll put it this way, once, in 2011, I watched South Carolina play Arkansas, a team I am entirely apathetic toward, and I was scared of Clowney for two weeks after. I can’t imagine what I’ll feel when he’s charging towards…

 2. Bryn Renner

Renner, after a hit against Wake Forest that had him looking like the most concussed man on Earth, spent a lot of time last season finding creative new ways to get hit in the head every week. When he’s operating at full capacity, I honestly believe he’s the second best quarterback in the ACC (and not just because I’m hugely biased. If I were just hugely biased I would say that he’s better than Tahj Boyd, which is only true when Boyd is off his game). After South Carolina, UNC has a very forgiving schedule. They navigate the ACC without Clemson or Florida State, and are in the best position they’ve been in since the Mack Brown days to win 9 or 10 games. This can happen with a healthy Bryn Renner, but being the target for a transcendent, physics-defying, singularly talented defensive end is not the best way to stay healthy.

1. South Carolina Fans

I have this friend with a lot of theories, who is a USC fan and believes in what he calls the Chicken Curse. The Chicken Curse[3] is, as you’d expect, the malevolent force by which the University of South Carolina Football Gamecocks find themselves on the cusp, in recent years, of great success only to have it snatched away by evil forces, or Florida. The curse injured Marcus Lattimore twice, and I think there are more than a few in Gamecock nation who fear that Clowney will be the latest casualty, and that’s a special kind of acute psychic agony, and that trumps any fear that I or Bryn Renner or Larry Fedora have.

I won’t, even jokingly, wish any physical harm on a football player who doesn’t play for State, but I would have no problem with a manifestation of the curse that keeps Clowney hovering 6-10 feet off the ground for 4 hours starting Thursday at 6 (on ESPN).


[1] I don’t believe that Fedora ever speaks in an even, mellow tone. Between his initial press conference, seeing him on the sidelines, and the basketball games he’s popped up at, I think Larry is like Nic Cage in that all of his dialogue is either screamed or whispered. I also imagine him with a stopwatch at all times, watching people performing slow activities with the same mix of bewilderment and disgust that John Calipari has for players over the age of 20.

[2] If I’m Larry Fedora, I institute a ban on that clip in June. I install keyboard monitors on all of my running backs’ laptops. Either that or I loop it over and over again in the locker room until it loses all of its power, like when you say the word “room” over and over again and it just turns into a sound without meaning that you’re making.

[3] Not that you care, but my favorite active sports curse is the Curse of the Billy Goat currently setting teeth to their gnashing and garments to their rending in Chicago, Illinois, USA, because this is what the guy with the titular goat actually said: “them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”

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The Sad Tar Heel Fan’s Guide to P.J. Basketball-Gate

Last year, P.J. Hairston established himself as a supernova bright spot on a UNC Basketball team that spent the first half of the season oscillating between disappointing and infuriating. Over the course of the season, as Roy Williams transitioned into a style of basketball that played to his team’s strengths, The Black Wolverine went from reliable bench player to easily the most beloved of the starting five. He wrung drop after drop of goodwill and enthusiasm out of the fickle Sham-Wows that are Carolina fans’ souls, and drew, in particular, some borderline-psychotic affection from this guy right here.

Over the past four weeks, however, we may have learned that Neil deGrasse Tyson was right all along: supernovas happen when a star dies in a terrible explosion of monumental cosmic destructiveness.

To be fair, in a vacuum, PJ’s pitfalls are relatively tame, especially compared to the other athletic scandals that we are currently entrenched in. Johnny Football wins a crazy-off with P.J. B-Ball in a landslide. Good ol’ J. Heisman has put hands on a coach and picked actual fights with heated rivals on their turf, whereas P.J.B.B. got caught speeding on a stretch of highway that every single North Carolinian has broken 80mph on. (Seriously, that portion of 85 near Salisbury might be the most boring stretch of highway outside of the Dakotas). I also remain unconvinced that the pot wasn’t in that car because whenever The Black Wolverine drives through Durham, teenagers shout “PJ’s coming!” and toss their drugs out of their windows at him.

Unfortunately for Mr. Hairston, he doesn’t have the luxury of committing crimes in Texas, where things like rule-following and sobriety are considered signs of liberal femininity (legally, Texas’ state bird is “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and bars have a fight quota they have to meet or risk being shut down by the cops), nor does he have the luxury of misbehaving in a vacuum (which doesn’t exist in nature). Instead, he has to contend with the microscope that’s already focused on Chapel Hill, thanks in large part to a coach whose name rhymes with Mutch Mavis and an AFAM department that might have just been a random number generator programmed by the same scientists who engineered Julius Peppers.

Needless to say, the possible loss of UNC’s best 3-point shooter would be pretty terrible by itself, but add to that the fact that he’s the emotional center of the team and a tenacious defender, and you come up with something that, for a number of reasons, should leave fans of UNC basketball heartbroken.

I made the case here that because of of his impressive stats but often infuriating actual play, James Michael McAdoo was college basketball’s first fully tangible athlete. If you never actually saw him play, but only read the numbers in the paper the next day, you’d think he was the best player on the team. PJ isn’t the opposite of that, exactly, because he also had a pretty impressive statistical season, but the things he brought to the game beyond his ability to shoot the 3 made a huge difference for the team last year. As has been noted, he defended tenaciously, threw his body around with reckless abandon, and fired up everyone around him. There was a palpable shift in the team’s attitude from when PJ wasn’t on the court to when he was. In short, he was tangible and intangible at the exact same time, like some kind of basketball Schrodinger’s cat or that cute X-Girl played by Ellen Page. And to lose Ellen Page from the team would be a cause for great distress, to say the least.

P.J. seemed to find his shot after a summer under the tutelage of Hubert Davis, who came on in May 2012 as a shooting coach and assistant. If Leslie MacDonald (at just south of PJ’s 3 point percentage on a little over half as many attempts, also batting 1.000 on phones purchased from the gentleman who rented the car P.J. was driving in Durham) can keep developing similarly (and stay. Out. Of. Trouble.), he can be a viable threat beyond the arc, sure, but can he play the same kind of defense as Hairston, or occupy a role of emotional leadership?

The potential is there for next year to be very successful one for Carolina. A more mature Marcus Paige means steadier play and fewer turnovers, and Kennedy Meeks (and the possibly viable outside shooting of Leslie MacDonald) will take pressure off of McAdoo and allow him more space to work in (I’m pretty hard on James Michael here, but even I’ll admit that a big part of his problem last year was that defenses could key on him). The ceiling on this team, with PJ, is somewhere in the same ballpark as really really good bordering on great, but even without him it’s a collection of remarkable talent and potential.

We’ll have to wait and find out what the verdict is for P.J. (from Roy Williams, his actual judge, not the pitiable state Judge whose authority is merely legal, and who’s dropped the drug-related charge against Hairston) but what’s going to make this set of circumstances particularly sticky for UNC fan’s craws is how tame his actions are compared to certain other area delinquents.

It also can’t go unsaid: if P.J. somehow remains on the team, the signs in the student section of Cameron Indoor will be the stuff of nightmares.

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The Sad Tarheel Fan’s Guide to the Andrew Wiggins Decision

Welcome, those of you whose taste in Cackalacky athletics (Cackala-thletics?) runs a lighter shade of blue, to the first installment of the Sad Tarheel Fan’s guide. I was hoping to write one of these after the UNC-Duke game on [DATE REDACTED OUT OF CRIPPLING SHAME], but I found myself unable to even remember that event directly, let alone sit down and write some kind of reflection on it. Even now, some months removed from the travesty, I can only think around it, and not directly about it. It’s like the girl in “Jurassic Park” looking at the Velociraptor’s reflection in a frying pan, I can only bear to focus on the dim idea of something so vicious and terrifying, not what it really looks like or the specific ways it can kill me.

Anywho, 14 May marked the latest pseudo-disappointment in the 2013 life cycle of the UNC fan, when the most athletically impressive Canadian this side of Chris Jericho (alternate cultural reference option #1: “the hottest Canadian this side of Carly Rae Jepsen,” alternate cultural reference option #2: “the most sought-after Canadian export this side of Cuban cigars”), Andrew Wiggins, elected to take his talents to a location over 800 miles from the nearest beach.

The list of reasons to be sad about this is obvious: there is a talented young player of basketball who instead of going to UNC to play basketball has chosen to play basketball at a place that isn’t UNC, etc.

Here is the list of reasons why we should be okay with it:

 

1. The last time a high-profile scoring forward came to UNC

We don’t need to re-re-re-re-rehash Harrison Barnes’ UNC career here (which ranged from underwhelming to exactly whelming), but suffice it to say that between the second half of his first year and the first half of his second year he was able to string together pretty consistently good basketball. The man had a great nickname and sold wonderful shirts, and provided fans with some pretty nice moments, but he never became the singular talent we were all led to believe he would become. This is what’s known as a cautionary tale. We owe it to ourselves to wait until at least a couple of months into next season before deciding whether or not to be retroactively sad about Andrew Wiggins choosing Kansas. Sure, he could be the next transcendent star, but he could also be the next Black Falcon.

 

2. The lineup is pretty spectacular without him, if I do say so myself

For real, though. Barring some radical status-quo shift, the 2013 Heels are going to look something like: Paige, Hairston, McAdoo, Meeks, and some rotation of Bryce Johnson and Leslie McDonald, depending on what kind of game Daggum Roy is trying to play. Paige grew tremendously over the course of last season, and we’ve already been over how awesome PJ Hairston is. The big difference maker this year, I think, is going to be Meeks, (join me in a footnote if you will[1]) who will come in as a presence inside to take some pressure off of James Michael to allow him to do what he did so well two years ago: catch defenses off-guard while they’re paying attention to something else.[2]

 

3. The narrative. The narrative!

If there’s one thing sports fans love, it’s taking a small sample size and jumping to ridiculous conclusions based on superficial implications of said narrative. Case in point: all of the “Roy Williams has a Kansas problem” stuff after this most recent NCAA tournament. Now, I’m old enough to remember Dean Smith, so I’m not fanatically devoted to Roy but the idea that Kansas holds some kind of Kryptonite is jibber-jabber of a high degree. The most recent defeat came largely at the hands of a 7-foot Senior who Carolina really had no capability to defend. Before that, Stillman White admirably attempted to lead a team who’d just lost its emotional center in his first career start, and the Black Falcon forgot to pack his wings. In 2008, the Kansas team UNC lost to turned out to be the best team in the country. If it happens, say, four or five more times, then we can start talking about some kind of specific mojo-loss that plagues Roy when he trots out against his old team, but not until then.

(For a usably large sample size, see: Dean Smith and Coach K played 38 times over the course of the former’s career at UNC, and the good Dean won 24 of those encounters, from which you can pretty much only draw one reasonable conclusion).

The point of all this being: how awesome would it be if the next annual tournament selection committee-engineered matchup between UNC and Kansas ended with Andew Wiggins in a losing effort looking across the court at a UNC team that he could have been a part of? You get your schadenfreude, your revenge, and Roy Williams gets the monkey off his back (even if it doesn’t belong there, yet, in the first place).

 

4. There’s Young Talent Needs Developing

This kind of dovetails with point 2. The glut of young, raw talent last year turned out to be a sort of disadvantage early in the season. Roy Williams was forced to rotate a wide cast of unproven players to search for a viable lineup and to test individual ability. Brice Johnson, Desmond Hubert, Joel James, and even Jackson Simmons all showed flashes of brilliance but were plagued also by mistakes. With four of the starting five all but set for next year, that fifth slot is the perfect opportunity to rotate the young, talented players that UNC already has to get them minutes and experience.

 

5. Count Your Blessings

Guys, there are people who have to live in, like, Nebraska, where they don’t even allow basketball. They have the hoops and everything but they use them for quarterback drills and to make fun of, and to shuck enormous ears of corn. Be thankful that we (and I have to assume that if you’re reading this you live in this area, and value college basketball, or more probably are a member of my family[3]) live or care about an area where the idea of a Canadian basketball wunderkind coming to ply his trade is even a remote possibility. Speaking of which, he’s Canadian, And because of this, there’s going to come a point in the year when all he wants to do is go to Hurricanes games anyway, and get fat on little pieces of circular ham, and it’s only a matter of time before the story breaks about him missing practice because he’s joined the Mounties. We can’t abide another Mountie, people.

 

6. That Said, No Matter How Badly We React, We’ll Always Be More Reasonable Than the fans in the United States of Kentucky

     Self-explainatory.

 


[1] You’ll hear a lot about a certain type of player who doesn’t wow you with statistics but provides what fans and sportswriters have come to call “intangibles.” Last season, James Michael McAdoo was the exact opposite: he had consistently good games by any statistical metric, but still managed one or two moments per game that made us all wonder if he had the flu, or if his talent had been stolen by the Monstars. I submit that 2012 J.M.M. was college basketball’s only entirely tangible player.

[2] Another exciting thing about Meeks is that his highlight videos have, like, no dunks in them. It’s all soft-handed turnaround finesse stuff, as in: basketball that requires more than the ability to jump.

[3] Or, most probably, are Shane Ryan himself, the Willy Wonka to the RTP Chocolate Factory that is Tobacco Road Blues, evaluating whether or not this piece is fit for consumption or should be inflated and discarded like Augustus Gloop.

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You Merely Adopted the Dark, P.J. Hairston Was Born In It

The best part of any movie ever is that scene in the cemetery at the end of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Every aspect of film cooperates to deliver an inarguable three-minute snippet of pure genius: Tuco knows the location of the graveyard, but not the name on the headstone under which is buried a fortune in Confederate gold. Clint Eastwood knows the name, but up until this point did not know where the graveyard was. Every event in the film has been leading inexorably up to this point, and the greatest film score in history is playing behind it.

Similarly, the best part of college basketball is that scene at the end of the ACC regular season when Duke and UNC play, after the Wolfpack has faded back into regional obscurity (watch that clip again: symbolically, perhaps, a dog scurries away at 0:43). Every moment of the season has led us here, and various sundry other clichés. The stories, which have woven together like fine tapestries all year, finally take their place on the wall above the hearth of the 2012-13 season, etc. etc. bar-none the Finest Rivalry in Sports etc. etc.

Which all can and will be discussed by folks with better working knowledge of basketball and a more complete understanding of Tobacco Road history, so I’m going to focus on taking a bright spot on this years Carolina team and making it just a little bit brighter. We’re finally going to give P.J. Hairston what he deserves: a monochromatic animal nickname!

In 2010, Harrison Barnes rolled into Chapel Hill  surrounded by a Tasmanian Devil tornado of hype, bearing the “Black Falcon” moniker. The story goes that he wanted a nom de guerre along the lines of Jordan’s “Black Cat” and Kobe’s “Black Mamba,” and someone who works for ESPN obliged him (the part about him wanting said nickname might make it invalid, though, based on my understanding of the rules of nicknaming).

In January of 2011, the creator and proprietor of this very website, the benevolent Odin to Tobacco Road Blues’ Asgard, dubbed Ryan Kelly “The White Raven,” which put him (intentionally or not) in binary opposition to Barnes, because Kelly had gone to Ravenscroft, a Raleigh school with a similarly passerine mascot.

Which brings us to now. With our Black Falcon gone, Duke’s White Raven stands as the only animal-man in the triangle, exploring the duality of light and dark, good and evil.

P.J. Hairston’s rise to popularity and overall excellence was predicted on this very website, and it is now time to bestow upon him such a nickname, to let him know he has arrived.

Firstly, is P.J. a bird? The answer is no. Does he soar? Sure, but he plays gritty, he plays low to the ground, he spends as much time sliding on the hardwood as he does gliding to the basket. P.J. plays yeoman’s basketball. He plays hurt and gets concussions, and absolutely he sinks those long three-balls, but he’ll rebound with players twice his height as well.

Secondly, does a White Raven even exist in nature? The answer is yes. The white-necked raven is indigenous to the mountainous regions of Southern Africa. It is a scavenging bird of prey, a scoundrel of the air. Most reasonable people dislike the white-necked raven.

Thirdly, does this real-life white raven have any natural predators, perhaps a non-avian one that could serve as a nice basis for Hairston’s very own nickname? Why yes, and thank you kindly for asking such a specific and leading question. The white-necked raven faces great danger from an animal called a Marten, which invades its nest and feasts upon the raven’s eggs. The Marten is a small but ferocious mammal, a close cousin to the badger as well as to the most accurate animal descriptor for Mr. Hairston: the wolverine.

So is he a wolverine of the light or a wolverine of the shadows? Is he Chapel Hill’s White Knight or is he Dean Dome Batman? I’ll answer that question with another question: when the White Raven is flying around, riding the thermals upward into the sky, what does he fear? Ryan Kelly will score lots of points on Saturday, I don’t think anyone has doubts about that. He’ll score lots of points and play phenomenal basketball and Duke will be the complete, excellent, terrifying unit that they were at the beginning of the season. But P.J. Hairston will do work, he’ll hit threes but he’ll also dive over scorers tables and scrap around under the paint and steal the ball from Seth Curry and get fouled about 17 times by Mason Plumlee, and he’ll exhibit great quantities of what they call grit. It might not be enough to win the Tar Heels the game, but at some point P.J. Hairston is going to sneak into the White Raven’s nest and eat some eggs.

P.J. Hairston is in the starting lineup now because he excelled in the shadows, and by becoming an idea he forced a mythologically obstinate man to change the way he coaches basketball.

He is the hero that UNC deserves and needs. A silent guardian. A watchful protector.

The Black Wolverine.

(Goosebumps, right? I got goosebumps)

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UNC Postseason Hopes: Free Fallin’

December 11th, 2012. UNC’s men’s basketball team is, according to Joe Lunardi of ESPN.com, going to be a 5th seed in the NCAA tournament.

Nearly a month, and a couple losses to the likes of Texas and the UVA “Good God could they please play any faster?” Cavaliers later, the Heels had fallen all the way down to a 10th seed. And this past Tuesday, they fell again to an 11th seed.

All things considered, it was one of the better bits of news regarding UNC basketball in the past few months.

For most of this season now, the specter of yet another NIT appearance has loomed over UNC. So to hear we aren’t a NIT team (yet) is reassuring.

Still, the mere fact that UNC is in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the second time in four years indicates something is wrong with the program.[1] One bad season in college basketball is, well, just one bad season. But two in four years? That’s a trend, and an alarming one at that.

Of course, UNC could catch fire midway through the ACC season, end up winning the ACC tournament and make it all the way to the Final Four or close,[2] making this entire column seem ridiculous.

At this point, however, I think it’s clear that there’s something broken in this program, and Roy is going to have to make some changes, to his in-game strategy, his recruiting process, or both.[3]

Otherwise, UNC fans are going to be left with nothing to do but ironically chant “NIT! NIT!”[4] for the second time in four years.


[1] The fact that those two times will just so happen to have occurred during my four years as a student here is really just the cherry on top.

[2] Similar to what happened in the 2010-2011 season, although I don’t see any Kendall Marshall caliber players on UNC’s team this year just waiting to take over.

[3] The problem here is that changing strategies has never been a strong suit of Roy’s as a coach.

[4] Not that UNC fans don’t love doing things ironically.

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Eight Only Mostly Baseless Predictions for the Rest of the 2012 UNC Basketball Season

A month is just enough time for me to begin disguising non-empirical and kneejerk opinions as thoughtful observations, so here goes…

1. James Michael McAdoo will play great basketball all year, but because of who his is and where he plays and when he plays there this will be a great disappointment to everyone.

J.M.M. entered this season as the latest Tar Heel to have unreasonable expectations thrust upon him, which thrusting we were somehow all ok with even after what happened with our expectations re: Harrison Barnes.

We justified it thusly: 1. We had seen McAdoo play actual college basketball

2. We do not learn from our mistakes.

This year, McAdoo has looked dominant at times, serviceable at others (he accomplished periods of both looks against Indiana, in addition to a third, “like his hands had been frozen in Carbonite,” which better never show up again), averaging out to great, but never inhumanly good, which is what we all felt like we were justified in expecting. I am not blameless in this, either: I have found myself more than once wondering if he had the flu while he cruised to a double-double right in front of me.

McAdoo will be one of the many, many great basketball players to not be the national player of the year, but because he won’t have played like one of the Monstars from “Space Jam,” entitled UNC fans like myself will still look back and think about what might (could, should) have been.

2. James Michael McAdoo will play at an outrageously high level during the ACC and NCAA tournaments and will move on to the NBA.

We’ll call this an inverse-Barnes, who melted during last year’s NCAA tournament, but went pro anyway before anyone could realize that this was an indication of what his game is like without an elite point guard there creating his shots for him, rather than a fluke.

I have nothing to base this on besides his excellent play in the same circumstances last year, but I predict that J.M.M. will erupt in late April/early March. With the emergence of Joel James and Brice James as forces in the frontcourt, and next year’s arrival of soft-handed big man/snuggle bear Kennedy Meeks, he’ll declare for the draft this year rather than let a smaller role diminish his draft stock.

3. P.J. Hairston will not become J.J. Redick, but will be the most beloved Tar Heel at the end of the year.

J.J. was the dominant villain during my formative years as a Tar Heel fan, so my memories of him and the statistics of his actual performance might not match up. In my mind, he shot like 94% from beyond the arc, and would, rather than run the court after playing defense (“playing defense”), blink briefly out of reality and only reappear when a pass was thrown to the spot of the court where he was destined to make his next shot from. Whatever the numbers actually were, he was exactly 100% at shooting cold knives into my heart, and I’ve been waiting and waiting on a Carolina player to duplicate his exact skill set.

After a year and a month of saying “when a few more of these shots start falling, Peaches (my nickname for Hairston, it will catch on if we let it) is going to be a terror,” I’m realizing that he might not be that player. That said, Peaches has done at least one unquantifiable and awesome thing in every outing (the halftime buzzer beater, a play against UAB where he straight bossed a fellow around near half-court to receive a pass, he seems also to be legitimately interested in playing defense), and there’s no indication that this behavior will stop.

He’s also had some fantastic plays driving to the basket, and is becoming this team’s emotional epicenter. He is developing himself into a complete player, not simply an oft-errant sniper. It’s really exciting and I expect Peaches to be eliciting the loudest Dean Dome cheers by the end of the year. Sadly, though, it won’t be because he’s draining threes at a rate and frequency that justify introducing him over Garbage’s “Only Happy When it Rains.”

4. P.J. Hairston and J.P. Tokoto will sadly not establish a sufficient enough relationship to justify my “PJJP Palindrome Parejas” nickname that I really wanted to bust out.

Just something I’d been looking forward to all summer, not a big deal.

5. Brice Johnson will be the ACC Rookie of the year, or if not, there will be a legitimate case to be made that he deserves it.

The glut of young, unproven talent in Chapel Hill this year is Johnson’s biggest obstacle here. On a shallower team he’d be getting more minutes, and we’d all be speaking about him in hushed tones, silently working out what we’d be willing to give up to the Lord in a bargain that would keep him in powder blue for the next three years.

Once every game he does something so brilliant that all the colors in the world get brighter all of a sudden. His .630 is the highest field goal percentage for players averaging at least 14 minutes per game, and he’s got a higher average PPG than Dexter Strickland, who has the benefit of an average of ten more minutes per game. Granted, a lot of Dexter’s time is coming at point guard, a position not known for lighting up the scoreboard in Daggum Roy’s system, but still. He’s also becoming Marcus Paige’s favorite dish target when they’re in at the same time.

By the end of this season we will have stopped thinking of Johnson as a hyper-talented freshman and will begin to think of him as the future of Carolina basketball. Dovetailing with this…

6. Brice Johnson will begin next season with unreasonable expectations thrust upon him, and the grand cycle of hubris and entitlement will continue unbroken

Obviously.

7. UNC will win a game they have no business winning because of their outside shooting.

I have a friend who is excellent at reverse-jinxing Duke to greatness. His favorite thing to say about last year’s Duke team was that he had little confidence in them since they could win or lose any game they played, because they relied so much on outside shooting, and then I was in his kitchen, cursing his name and his family and smashing my head against his wall trying to concuss myself after Austin Rivers’ shot while he giggled or something, or was high-fiving Satan in the corner, or whatever it is Duke fans do to celebrate making the world a worse place.

I feel essentially the same way about the UNC this year, and say it as often as I can, which I guess makes me a hypocrite.

Leading candidates for this are against this year’s thoroughly terrifying Duke team at Cameron, and a game against a higher seed in the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, this is a coin that inevitably flips both ways, so…

8. UNC will lose a game they have no business losing because of their outside shooting.

I don’t want to talk about it now, and I won’t want to talk about it then, but it will happen, and probably it will be Clemson, because that would be the absolute worst.

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Tar Heel Basketball Preview: Gray Clouds over Carolina Blue Skies

I suppose that in a blog post like this, the lead is where I will write about how UNC is “young, but talented,” and how they could get it together to make a run in the NCAA tournament, how as one the premiere basketball programs in the country it will thus always be in the national title hunt. I could even mention that James Michael McAdoo is projected to be a top NBA Draft pick.

But I can’t. I just can’t. The truth is, I’m already in mourning for this year’s UNC squad’s national title hopes. I’ve been in mourning ever since Kendall and the Gang declared for the NBA Draft last year.[1]

Everyone in my family who has gone to UNC has seen the Tar Heels win a national championship in their tenure; the third degree burns that come from singing yourself while jumping over fires on Franklin Street are practically a rite of passage in my household. So the fact that the Tar Heels have virtually no shot at winning a title this year is disappointing, to put it mildly. Being ranked behind N.C. State (I mean, N.C. State) in early preseason polls just adds insult to injury.

Some hopelessly optimistic UNC fans are probably thinking that in this kind of year for college basketball, where the sport is so wide open, anybody can win it. But if I’m being brutally honest (which is difficult as a sports fan), there’s just not a lot to get excited about on this year’s UNC roster. At best, this is mostly a roster of “could-be” players. James Michael McAdoo could live up to his draft hype and be one of the best players in the country this year. Or he could be another Ed Davis/Marvin Williams type, who shows a ton of promise as a freshman that he never lives up to. Brice Johnson or Joel James could turn out to be the next out-of-nowhere freshman phenoms like Tyler Hansbrough, but realistically, probably won’t be. And Marcus Paige could be one of the top point guards in the country,[2] or he could struggle to master Roy William’s complex system as a freshman.

On top of all these issues, there’s a larger, unibrow shaped rain cloud hanging over the entire future of UNC basketball. As Chuck Klosterman so brilliantly pointed out last year, Kentucky’s national championship has changed college basketball, and not for the better. In the past, when UNC lost a ton of players to the NBA, it wasn’t a death sentence because there would always be some highly touted freshman ready to step in. Fans could comfort themselves in the shelter of a “rebuilding year,” where young stars-to-be work out the kinks in their games and blossom into players who will be the foundations of their teams for at least the next one or two seasons. But there are really aren’t rebuilding years in college basketball anymore, because men like John Calipari have realized you can skip the slow process of building and rebuilding, and just reload with one-and-done-NBA-stars-to-be every year. Before last year, those who didn’t like John Calipari’s recruiting methods (myself included) could comfort themselves by saying that one-and-done players don’t win championships, you still have to have three-and-four-year guys like Tyler Hansbrough or Kyle Singler to win it all.

However, if Calipari keeps winning championships, basketball programs like UNC could find themselves with a tough choice: start going after one-and-done players and abandon all pretense of “student-athletes”[3] but win championships, or stick with the three-and-four-year guys who will never be able to stand toe-to-toe with teams stacked with future NBA stars. The problem is, as much as I’d like to see my beloved Tar Heels win another title, I’d like it a lot less if it meant dropping the comforting illusion of college athletes remaining “student-athletes.”

All told, the future of UNC basketball is as bleak as I can remember it being since I started seriously following the sport. Oh well, at least the Bobcats will have another top draft pick to look forward to.


[1] As an aside, I always thought Kendall, at least should have stayed. He’s too slow on defense and can’t score enough to succeed in the NBA. Sadly, so far his playing time in Phoenix indicates his coaches might feel the same way.

[2] Of the three scenarios I mentioned, this is actually the one I’m most confident about.

[3] An admittedly flimsy concept in College Athletics

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Loss and the Ethics of Rivalry, or, Putting a Postitive Spin On Being Told Repeatedly to Go to Hell

The most brutal thing I’ve ever heard anyone say to anyone else was said by a girl to a boy in my tenth grade math class. “I don’t even hate you,” she said back then, “because hatred is a kind of love. I’m indifferent about you.” I won’t dignify the question, of whether or not that boy was me, with a response.[1]

I’ve been proclaiming my status as a future Tar Heel Dead for about as long as I’ve been eating solid food. So I hate Duke, yes, but I realized startlingly how close that hatred was to love sometime in the third quarter of this past battle for the Victory Bell (note to the confused: sometimes Duke and UNC play each other in the sport with the eggish-shaped ball instead of the spherical one). I had always thought of Duke fans in the same way that I imagine Superman probably thinks about Bizarro: as warped reflections of my own strengths and weaknesses, whose values would probably align with my own if they’d only been born on the right planet. Our thoughts on Tyler Hansbrough or Coach K probably couldn’t be more different, for example, but at least we’d both place a basically equivalent value on college basketball. Case in point: I hate seeing Duke lose to teams who aren’t UNC. In a way it reflects poorly on the school I devote so much emotional bandwidth to[2], to see their biggest rival fail to defeat an outsider.

Which is why it was not that surprising to me when I realized that, in terms of narrative payoff and an understanding of athletic victory as a reward for one team’s expenditure of superior effort, Duke had to win. I did not want Duke to win, I merely realized that they should. It was nauseating.

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The Power of Perspective: From Hater to Fan

A few months ago, I wrote a piece about Harrison Barnes, right after he and Carolina flamed out in the NCAA tournament following Kendall Marshall’s injury.  My article, a tongue-in-cheek bit about Barnes’ infatuation with his “brand” as well as the lack of awareness he showed by discussing this so publicly, was pretty harsh on the player whom I exclusively referred to as “The Black Falcon.”  I portrayed Barnes as a business major who thought of his basketball as little more than a hobby, and although the NCAA may want fans to believe something similar, I’m sure it wasn’t an accurate illustration of his situation.

Although facetious and intended to be light-hearted, the column’s thesis wasn’t far from my true sentiments.  As a Duke fan, I considered Barnes wildly overrated–but this was a product of the hype-driven college recruiting process and the media mania surrounding ACC (i.e. Duke and Carolina) basketball.  Barnes, for the most part, didn’t bring about any of this hoopla onto himself*–he wasn’t the one naming himself as an NCAA Preseason All-American as a freshman.  The raised expectations for Barnes were a byproduct of his prodigious talent and analysts’ overzealous projections, nothing more.

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