Sunday, November 23, 2008

Copeland leads Tar Heels to victory

LAHAINA, Hawaii — The Maui Invitational doesn't start until Monday. But thanks to the nimble fingers of senior Mike Copeland, North Carolina has already won the first game of the tournament.

The forward topped teammate Ty Lawson 35-30 Saturday night (Sunday morning EST) in the final of the EA Sports Maui Invitational videogame tournament at the Xbox 360 Players' Party. Playing EA Sports' NCAA Basketball '09, the Tar Heels beat out foes from the other seven teams participating in the Maui Invite to advance to their friendly head-to-head duel.

"I play all the time,'' Copeland said, "so I guess the key is just getting a lot of practice in."

The victory was sweet for Copeland because although he's played a lot of basketball via video games, he hasn't been able get much practice the court over the last few months after offseason knee surgery. He's been back in uniform the last two games, and said he should be able to participate in more contact practice after the Tar Heels return home from this trip.

"The knee's feeling good, it's getting strong,'' he said, holding the videogame tournament's crystal championship trophy. "… It's nice to win something, with my teammates cheering, because I haven't been playing."

Copeland and Lawson — who often face off during their spare time at home —were nominated by their teammates to represent UNC in the 16-player tournament, and neither disappointed. Lawson beat Chaminade's Shane Hanson, then Oregon's Teondre Williams to advance; Copeland topped Chaminade's Jamar Berry and Alabama's Mikhail Torrance in order to face Lawson.

UNC's coaches, players and managers circled the bank of televisions at the Sheraton to cheer on Copeland and Lawson as they were playing in the opening rounds. Some — including coach Roy Williams — walked back and forth between the TVs to watch the action on both.

"Since Coach is here, my strategy is defense, defense, defense,'' Lawson told the onlookers at one point.

During the final, teammates didn't choose a favorite, although they shouted out plenty of advice, including "Put Danny in!" when they were changing line-ups.

Copeland figures the victory will give him a few bragging rights over Lawson for a while. More important, the players hope it will perhaps be a precursor to more.

Said wing Danny Green: "Hopefully, we can play like Mike in the videogame and win [the tournament]."

— Robbi Pickeral