I think several things when I watch the North Carolina Tar Heels play basketball these days.
Very few of them are good.
Then again, I manage my way through the games, hopeful that I may see the sparks of the future, of what is yet to come, and what may one day be.
Thinking long-term here. March is but a memory, and has nothing to do with foresight.
But, like I said, I manage. Because I can remember one all-important thought, and it gets me through things like three-game losing streaks and uninspired ACC play.
For instance, when I watch them bring the ball up the floor, I sometimes shudder at how often the trombone player in the band has a better chance at receiving an overhead pass when the Heels are trying to break the press than any of the actual North Carolina basketball players. This happens a lot, what with the 2009-10 team averaging a killer 16.5 turnovers a game, up four ticks from last season’s national title team.
But that’s exactly what gets me through: I remember the Heels won it all last season. So I move on.
And then I see Deon Thompson waving fanatically for the ball in the low post.
Oh, wait a minute. Actually, I don’t see that. Hardly ever, anyway. I usually see Thompson 10-12 feet from the bucket, unable to back his defender down to receive any entry pass on the low block. And with the aforementioned ball-control problem, wasting one of those glorious halfcourt possessions by waiting for a soft frontcourt player like Thompson or Ed Davis or Tyler Zeller (before he was hurt) waving for the ball out of position grows tiresome. So are the fadeaway jump shots the once-perceived “best frontcourt in the nation” keeps throwing up. It should be a rule or something — big guys don’t fade.
But then I remember last year, when Tyler Hansbrough would demand the ball in a tight spot, aware he would probably get hacked, but comfortable to win the game from 15 feet away at the line if he had to. He would probably only need to take one foul shot anyway after muscling in the bucket.
And so when I see the Heels try to make the extra pass around the perimeter among a bunch of guys who don’t ever seem all that excited to shoot, even though the team’s shooting percentage is exactly the same as last year and the 3-point percentage is only 2 points less than a year ago, I hang in there.
Because, well, you know, North Carolina won the national title just last year.
And so when nobody seems to take on a vocal leadership role on the floor, even though Marcus Ginyard has been a starter almost since he arrived in Chapel Hill five years ago, and the same can basically be said of Thompson, I barely even notice.
After all, the Tar Heels were 34-4 and… well, you know the rest.
And when North Carolina loses to College of Charleston and a slew of ranked teams, and probably to N.C. State on Tuesday, I march right along to the beat of that persistent drumline banging around in my head:
North Carolina Tar Heels, the 2008-09 National Champions.
Call timeouts to coax a young team through a tight spot or not, I don’t care. Call a TO to calm your inexperienced team down when they are matched up against a more veteran opponent, or don’t. It doesn’t matter.
Because North Carolina won the title last year.
Even North Carolina basketball is due a rebuilding year, and this hasn’t been all bad. It’s certainly better than what’s going on in Pawley’s Pavilion these days.
And so there is a refrain that will carry myself and other UNC fans through this season, which is quickly being lost because of so many factors: youth, inexperience, injuries and NBA defections.
We can sigh, recall the good ol’ days like they were yesterday (which isn’t hard, since they happened only a year ago) and ponder what may lie ahead of the mighty program. It’s easy to take comfort in the growing pains of a talented but young team when the program is coming off its second national championship in five years.
Unless Duke wins the national title this year.