Friday, September 4, 2009

UNC celebration more than a game

CHAPEL HILL -- For a moment Friday night, the Four Corners offense returned to North Carolina.

The fact that it was being run by 2009 Naismith Award winner Ty Lawson – and against 1978 National Player of the Year Phil Ford, who was coaching the opposite team – was just another memory to add to 100 years worth in Tar Heel blue.

"It's kind of a good play – a lot of space and all that,'' Lawson said after his Blue Team lost to White, 113-92. "I see why it worked back then."

Although the event was billed as UNC's "Professional Alumni Game," it really marked the ultimate family reunion at the Smith Center.

Yes, there was a game featuring 19 of Carolina's current professional players. But more than earning any bragging rights, the night was about kicking off the Tar Heels' year-long celebration of the century anniversary of Carolina basketball.

Which meant commemorating the past, enjoying the present, and looking forward to the future.

"I'm feeling goose bumps already,'' 2005 Final Four MVP Sean May, who led the Blue team with 21 points, said before tipoff.

Which was understandable.

There was soon-to-be-inducted Hall-of-Famer Michael Jordan sitting with former coaches Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge, plus current UNC coach Roy Williams and Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown, at the scorer's table.

There was Carolina Panthers all-pro defensive end Julius Peppers – who played both football and basketball at UNC — sitting on the bench, decked out in one of the 100th anniversary uniforms specially designed by Nike, even though he couldn't play.

There were Raymond Felton, Brendan Haywood, Marvin Williams, Antawn Jamison and Jerry Stackhouse, starting for the White Team; and Vince Carter, Jawad Williams, Dante Calabria, Sean May and Ed Cota starting for the Blue Team.

(Which couldn't have been easy choices, considering the likes of Rashad McCants, Lawson, Jeff McInnis and Danny Green came off the bench.)

Light moments were in abundance: Just before tipoff, Green (a starter on the '09 title team) performed his patented "Jump Around" dance, and former teammate Mike Copeland came out of the stands to do the accompanying shirt-pluck. Not to be outdone, Blue Team guard Shammond Williams (who played on the '97 and '98 Final Four teams) came off his bench to show off his moves, with his former teammate, Makhtar Ndiaye coming out of the stands to do some copycat shirt-plucking of his own.

"Shammond surprised me,'' Green said after he led the White team, and all scorers, with 22 points. "I didn't think he had those kind of moves."

Poignant moments will be remembered, too: Side by side in the first half, Bobby Frasor and Stackhouse stood up in tandem at their bench, poi nting at the assist man after one of their teammates scored.

It just goes to show that some habits never change in Chapel Hill, no matter the graduating year of the player.

"I've heard guys who have won national championships for other schools ask what it's like to be part of the Carolina 'family' – because it's not just a group of guys, it's a family,'' former UNC player Buzz Peterson, now head coach at Appalachian State, said before the game."…Tonight shows what that's all about."

The 2009 national championship banner was unveiled at halftime to the roar of the sellout crowd, and another banner commemorating UNC's nine Naismith Hall-of-Famers – including Jordan, who will be inducted next weekend -- was unfurled during the second half. Proceeds from the event were donated to the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Among those also in attendance: Four-time All-America Tyler Hansbrough (who was resting a shin injury), plus former players Ademola Okulaja, Doug Moe, Hubert Davis, Donald Williams, Serge Zwikker and George Lynch. John Kuester, Ford, Dave Hanners, George Karl and Pat Sullivan all served as bench coaches. Multiple recruits – including Harrison Barnes, the top prospect in for the freshman class of 2010 – were on the sidelines.

And they all enjoyed the show as Carter threw down some familiar athletic dunks, Green hit 3-pointer after 3-pointer, and Lawson brought back the Four Corners offense, at least for one play.

"I had to look at the score, because [my team] was up, but they were still running it,'' said a grinning Ford, who was the maistro of that offense in his day. "That was funny … and it was great to see it again. Another good memory."

-- Robbi Pickeral


Anonymous said...

what a travesty