Sunday, January 29, 2012

Young coaches retain UNC pride, but focus on new mission

Driving west down I-40 somewhere between Hillsborough and Mebane on Thursday night, it felt like I was going the wrong way. It felt like all of the college basketball fans in North Carolina were driving toward Chapel Hill to watch the UNC-N.C. State game, while I was driving to the Greensboro Coliseum to watch UNC Greensboro face Appalachian State.

I was going there to write the column that appears in Sunday's paper about two former Tar Heel players, Wes Miller and Jason Capel, who are now two of the three youngest coaches in Division I basketball.

I'm told that a raucous 21,000 fans showed up at the Smith Center that night, while the crowd at the Greensboro Coliseum was mostly friends and family, sort of like the old 8-9 game at the ACC Tournament.

Both games started at 7 p.m., and naturally I was interested in what was going on in Chapel Hill. I followed it intermittently online while watching my game.

When the two games were over, I felt I had made the right decision.

UNCG and Appalachian State went to overtime partly because of a coach's error you'll have to read the story to believe. No mention of the Tar Heels' game was ever made at the Greensboro Coliseum that night. No announcement of out-of-town scores. No score updates on the video board. Nothing.

Afterward, I was curious about how closely the two UNC alums still followed the Tar Heels.

Capel said that since becoming a head coach, he hasn't had time to follow his alma mater as closely as he once did. He waited until he boarded the team bus for the ride home to Boone to turn on his cell phone and check the UNC score because "I was pretty confident they won."

When he saw that UNC had defeated N.C. State 74-55, he teased his assistant coach, Justin Gainey, a former Wolfpack guard.

"I gave Justin a little hard time," Capel says. "He's a State guy, and I wanted to let him know that his Pack got beat."

Miller also admitted that he doesn't follow the Tar Heels as ardently as he once did, even saying that had his team not been playing opposite the UNC game, he probably would have been watching tape of an upcoming opponent instead.

But like Capel, Miller revealed his Carolina pride when I spoke to him about an hour after his Spartans had beaten Appalachian State, and I asked him if he knew the UNC score.

"No," Miller said. "Did they win?" I told him yes. "Yeah," he said, pumping his fist. "How much did they win by?" I told him it was a comfortable 19-point victory. A proud smile creased Miller's face and he said, "That's the way it should be."

- Tim Crothers