All posts by Shawn Krest

Panthers add another ‘hog molly’ in first round

The Carolina Panthers added to their defense in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, but not at the position everyone expected.

The Panthers lost Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman to free agency after taking the franchise tag off of him a week earlier.

General manager Dave Gettleman, didn’t attempt to replace Norman in the first round. Instead of adding a defensive back, the Panthers drafted defensive tackle Vernon Butler of Louisiana Tech.


Butler is the highest drafted Louisiana Tech player since 1999, when receiver Troy Edwards went to the Steelers at 13. He’s a 6-4, 323-pounder with a seven-foot wingspan.

Butler is one of the most versatile defensive linemen in this year’s Draft. He can play both inside spots and also played end in college. He made first-team All CUSA and was on the watch lists for the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy.

Despite playing outside the Power Five conferences in college, Butler was a highly sought-after recruit. He turned down offers from Ole Miss and Mississippi State to attend Louisiana Tech.

It was a surprise that Butler fell to the Panthers in the 30th position. He told the Detroit Free Press that the Lions had promised him they’d choose him if he was still available when they picked at 16. Instead, Detroit took offensive tackle Taylor Decker.

“We’re really kind of shocked he was there,” Gettleman said. “Reminds me of my first draft, when Star fell. The kid is really talented. I’m not sure why he fell.”

Plenty of other teams were interested in taking the Panthers’ spot. Gettleman said he received calls from seven teams looking to trade into the spot.

“We had a bunch of teams calling us,” Gettleman said, “but the value was too good. This kid is big. He’s powerful. He’s athletic. He’s got all the stuff.”


On the surface, the pick appears to be a case of the Panthers ignoring needs and adding to a position that already has two established starters. Gettleman’s first two draft picks as Panthers GM were Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short.

However, dating back to his days with the Giants, Gettleman has been a proponent of improving the secondary by adding to the front seven. Putting more pressure on the opposing quarterback helps relieve pressure on the defensive backfield, Gettleman believes.

“It makes people on the back end better,” Gettleman said prior to the draft, when asked about improving the defensive line. “I’ve been with teams that have big-time fronts and seen the value of that.”

Butler will join the Panthers’ rotation on the interior of the defensive line, spelling Lotulelei and Short. He’ll likely replace free agent Dwan Edwards, who, along with Kyle Love, were the top reserves at defensive tackle for the Panthers last season.

With Lotulelei and Short approaching free agency, Butler could also be an insurance policy, just in case negotiations on extensions for the 2013 draftees fall through.

Butler said his specialty is stopping the run, but “I’m looking to make plays in the backfield every time I get out of my stance.” He had 10 tackles for loss and a career-best four sacks as a senior last year.

“This kind of potential and ability for growth, you get excited about,” coach Ron Rivera said. “He can be a guy who can impact from the inside, and the quickest way to the quarterback is through the A (inside) gaps.”


B — The Panthers had bigger needs than defensive tackle depth, but teams generally don’t go wrong choosing the best player available. It’s tough to argue that Butler was that. Gettleman said he was the top player on the team’s draft board.

The Panthers will address other needs in later rounds —  Gettleman all but promised that the team would draft a corner before the weekend was over. In the meantime, they added another “hog molly” to one of the league’s stiffest front lines.

Defending champs, West Coast trips highlight Panthers’ schedule

super bowl

The NFL released its 2016 schedule on Thursday, April 14, and the Panthers will have their work cut out for them as they look to defend the NFC title and return to the Super Bowl. Carolina plays five 2015 playoff teams, including four division winners, and nine teams with a .500 or better record last season.

Here’s a look at what you need to know about the 2016 Panthers’ schedule.

Not Cam-era shy: The Panthers will set a franchise record with five primetime games this season. Carolina has two Thursday games, two Monday Night games and a Sunday Night contest.

“It’s exciting for our players to compete on a national stage,” head coach Ron Rivera said in a statement released by the team. “We have earned the right to be in the spotlight and we have to take advantage of it.”

Three of the primetime showdowns are on the road. Carolina opens the season in the traditional Thursday Night Super Bowl rematch against Denver on September 8. The Panthers then have two primetime games on the road in a three-week stretch in December. Carolina plays a Sunday night game at Seattle on December 4, the seventh time the two teams have played in the last five years. Two weeks later, the Panthers play a Monday Night game at Washington.

Carolina’s two home primetime games are against divisional opponents. The Panthers host Tampa Bay on Monday Night Football, October 10 and New Orleans in a Thursday night game on November 17.

Being good means scheduling pain: In addition to the primetime games, Carolina has three 4:05 or 4:25 starts, meaning that just half of the Panthers’ schedule consists of traditional 1:00 kickoffs.

Carolina also has three short weeks, all against divisional opponents. The Thursday game against New Orleans comes four days after the Panthers host the Chiefs. Carolina plays a Saturday game against Atlanta after playing Monday night at Washington, for a five-day turnaround, and Carolina travels to New Orleans after the Monday night game against Tampa.

Carolina is on the West Coast (at Oakland) for Thanksgiving weekend and has games on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. For holiday-planning purposes, the only home game of the three is December 24, against Atlanta.

More balanced divisional slate: Last year, the Panthers didn’t play Atlanta until Week 14, then played the Falcons twice in three weeks. The second game resulted in Carolina’s first loss of the season.

This year, Carolina has a more natural layout to its divisional games. The Panthers play all three NFC South opponents in consecutive weeks in October.  There are then five weeks before a rematch, against the Saints, November 17. The other two divisional games close out the regular season.

Immediately after the first trip through the NFC South, Carolina has its bye. The bye week comes close to the midpoint of the season—in Week Seven, the weekend of October 23. That’s two weeks later than last season’s bye and five weeks earlier than the 2014 bye.

Going back to Cali: The Panthers will pack on the frequent flier miles this season. Not only do the Panthers have three trips to the West Coast, but they come in a five-week span. The grueling road work starts on November 6, when Carolina plays its first-ever game in Los Angeles, against the newly-relocated Rams. After two home games, Carolina heads to Oakland on November 27 and to Seattle the following week.

This is the first time Carolina has had three West Coast swings in a season, and the first time the Panthers have had more than one since 2008. In fact, from 2005 to 2012, the Panthers had a total of three regular-season trips to the West Coast, a figure they match this year.

Carolina also has its first trip to Denver since 2004. That was also the last time Carolina had two West Coast trips in a three-week span.

Postseason rematches: In addition to the Super Bowl rematch against Denver to open the year, Carolina plays NFC Championship Game foe Arizona, at home on October 30. The Panthers also play Seattle and San Francisco, meaning that Carolina’s opponents in its last eight playoff games are all on the team’s 2016 schedule.

The last team the Panthers played in the postseason who isn’t on this year’s slate is the Chicago Bears, who lost to Carolina in 2005.  Carolina also has a preseason game against New England, its foe in its first Super Bowl appearance, in 2004.

The rundown: Carolina’s opponents had a combined record of 131-125 (.512) last season. The home schedule features opponents with a 65-63 (.508) combined record.

“Every season presents challenges, and we are excited to get back to work,” Rivera said.




Thursday Aug 11 @ Baltimore Ravens 7:30 pm Panthers/TWC

Saturday Aug 20 @ Tennessee Titans 3:00 pm Panthers/TWC

Friday Aug 26 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 7:30 pm Panthers/TWC

Thursday Sept 1 PITTSBURGH STEELERS 7:30 pm Panthers/TWC


Thursday Sept 8 @ Denver Broncos 8:30 pm NBC

Sunday Sept 18 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 1:00 pm FOX

Sunday Sept 25 MINNESOTA VIKINGS 1:00 pm FOX

Sunday Oct 2 @ Atlanta Falcons 1:00 pm FOX


Sunday Oct 16 @ New Orleans Saints 1:00 pm* FOX

Sunday Oct 23 BYE

Sunday Oct 30 ARIZONA CARDINALS 4:25 pm* FOX

Sunday Nov 6 @ Los Angeles Rams 4:05 pm* FOX

Sunday Nov 13 KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 1:00 pm* CBS


Sunday Nov 27 @ Oakland Raiders 4:25 pm* CBS

Sunday Dec 4 @ Seattle Seahawks 8:30 pm* NBC

Sunday Dec 11 SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 1:00 pm* FOX

Monday Dec 19 @ Washington Redskins 8:30 pm ESPN

Saturday Dec 24 ATLANTA FALCONS 1:00 pm* FOX

Sunday Jan 1 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1:00 pm* FOX

John Thompson previews the National Championship game

j thompson

If you thought Roy Williams was cranky this week, spend a few minutes with Big John Thompson.

The former Georgetown coach held court at the Basketball Hall of Fame announcement, talking about his former player, Allen Iverson, who was selected for the Hall. In typical Thompson fashion, he ranged through topics far and wide and didn’t pull any punches.

“Coach,” said one reporter, “Rollie Massamino said …”

That was as far as he got. “Rollie is full of s**t,” Thompson answered.

Another reporter began a question by mentioning that Thompson was known for coaching big men.

“Yeah,” Thompson interrupted. “Well that’s a bunch of bulls**t too. That’s why Patrick (Ewing) can’t get a job. That’s what happens to guys that are tall. When you’re over 6-10, people say you’re just a big man coach. You get that label. The perception is that the big guys are not the guys that are thinking on the basketball court. Forget about race, that’s the perception. How many big guys are in the Hall of Fame for coaching? Go count them. I told Ralph Sampson and Patrick, ‘If you get a job, do not get the label of big man coach.’ That’s why I used to kick the a** of my guards in practice. You’re going to get all the jobs anyway.”

Thompson credited former UNC coach Dean Smith for helping to get athletic directors to look past the bias against big men, as well as the bias against African Americans. Smith was neither, but he was willing to speak out on Thompson’s behalf. “He paved the way for me,” Thompson said.

AI thompsonThen it was back to grumpy John as he discussed Iverson.

“He wasn’t perfect,” Thompson said of the shooting guard’s stormy career, on and off the court. “But I knew a lot of perfect people who weren’t worth a God d**m on the basketball court. His shortcomings were more on display than anyone else’s, while most of us like to camouflage a lot of ours.”

“You see kids, particularly black kids, with their hats on backwards and holes in their shoes and all that s**t, trying to make believe like they’re from the ghetto,” Thompson said. “When all the time, their parents are rich as hell. It works, because people see a black kid and assume he’s poor. That’s bulls**t. Allen was the real thing. He came from abject poverty.”

Iverson’s willingness to stand alone, despite the criticism, is something that gained Thompson’s respect, perhaps because the old coach sees a lot of himself in the player.

“That’s the thing that you like about him and hate about him at the same time,” he said. “He’s not somebody who cares a lot about getting validated. He came with the braids and the tattoos. He really changed sports. Now if you want to be different, you have to put on a coat and tie.”

Thompson was asked to preview tonight’s national championship game, and he responded with good-spirited gruffness.

“I’m mad at both teams, to tell you the truth,” he said. “Everybody asks me about Villanova (in 1985) all the time, but hell, we went there three times. Carolina beat us one time in the (1982) final game and Villanova beat us in the other one. So I tell people I hope both of them lose.”

Thompson finally gave a breakdown of the Wildcats and Tar Heels, from a coaching perspective.

“Both of those guys are my friends,” he said of Nova’s Jay Wright and Carolina’s Roy Williams. “Jay, I envy the hell out of Jay. I can’t understand how a guy coaches like that and comes away looking as good as he does. He’s all perfect and neat.”

“He does a very good job with those kids,” Thompson continued on Wright. “Ideally, what you want to see in a team, as a coach, he has done. When you see those kids play, they play with one another.”

Thompson is equally impressed with Williams, for reasons that are polar opposite of his respect for Wright.

“What both of these guys have done is phenomenal in different ways,” he said. “You look at that Villanova team, and you’ve got to ask how many of those guys are pros?”

Always a coach, Thompson waits for an answer. “None,” is ventured forth.

“That’s the phenomenal thing that Jay has done,” he said. “Now, you look at the Carolina team, and you ask how many of THOSE guys are going to be pros. (A lot.) And you’ve got to say that THAT’S phenomenal.”

“Talented people want to express themselves individually,” Thompson said of Carolina. “People will look at Carolina’s team and say, ‘Well, hell, I could coach that talent.’ That’s bulls**t. Ask the pros. They’ve got great players on pro teams, but they can’t get them to play as a cohesive unit. So what Roy has done to get that kind of player to play unselfishly, to give up something, is phenomenal.”

So who wins? The good college players who play as a team or the future pros who play as a team?

“I thought at the beginning, that Carolina was going to crush them and everybody they played,” Thompson said. “You look at them and say, ‘They’re going to crush them.’ But now, Villanova is scaring everybody. They’re the guys you look at and say, ‘Why the hell are they still playing like that?’ That’s a tribute to those kids. They play tough, and they play hard.”

Thompson never actually gave a prediction for the game, but by the time that oversight sinks in, he’s off on another topic.

“Today, if a kid gets 30 points, even if his team lost, that kid is happy. You see him doing that little dance and smacking their hands. They can’t learn a play, but they can do all those handshakes…”

Tomball don’t lie


The first weekend in April was a big one for the city of Tomball, Texas as the entire city dropped everything for one big event.

After all, the German Fest only happens once a year.

tomball7“There’s a downtown,” UNC sophomore swing man Justin Jackson said of his hometown, “but you can snap your fingers, and you’re already through it.”

Not on German Fest weekend. The traffic was lined up 10 deep as pedestrians drifted across Farm to Market Road.

One thing is clear, despite the easy narrative, Justin Jackson is not returning to his hometown for the Final Four. Calling Tomball a part of Houston is like saying someone from Siler City, Mebane or Garner is playing in his hometown at the Dean Dome.

Tomball, who boasts its population of 10,753 on the sign at the town limits—along with a “take THAT, Flint” sign touting its “Superior Public Water System”—is much farther from Houston than the odometer indicates.

This quiet unassuming town produced a player who matches its personality, at least off the court. He’s earnest and thoughtful, speaking in a slow, deep drawl that almost sounds like a Brooklyn accent at times.

Much like his play on the court in his two years at Carolina, each of which featured a prolonged shooting slump early in the season, Jackson sometimes overthinks things in interviews, trying too hard to be perfect when answering questions.

“It’s a little city,” Jackson says of his home town, “but it’s not too big.”

“I’ve been to a Texans game,” he says of his history at NRG Stadium. “Have I been to a Texans game? I think I might’ve been to one Texans game.”

“I’ve made that trek plenty of times,” Jackson says of going to Houston. “My home-school team—which I’m sure that’ll stir up a whole lot of jokes—had to practice at a high school toward downtown Houston. So yeah. Obviously, Houston’s huge anyway, so you’ve got to drive a distance to go anywhere.”

Nothing about Tomball is huge, but there’s still plenty of driving, as cars fill every inch of grass and dirt surrounding the main road through town. Everyone has come to German Fest.

tomball rrWith a little patience, a parking spot could be found in the gravel next to the railroad tracks. Back in the day, Tomball was known for its railroad station. The location and landscape of the town—close to the coast, not too hilly—made it an ideal spot for a train stop.

While BNSF freight trains still run through Tomball from time to time, it appears that the railroad has faded as the backbone for the local economy over the last 100 years.

tomball3Driving the 35 miles from downtown Houston to Tomball, an outsider entering from the east, on Farm to Market Road literally approaches town on the wrong side of the tracks. Boarded up stores and restaurants litter both sides of the highway, as well as plenty of industrial warehouses with “For Lease” signs out front.

tomball oldtownInside Tomball town limits, however, things pick up. Signs welcoming visitors to Old Town Tomball neighbor the train tracks on both sides of the street, and the area is a thriving cluster of antique shops, and stores whose names include “vintage” or “heritage”.

There’s Ricca’s Shoes and Boots, and Charlotte’s Saddlery (which features both English and Western Tack).

tomball2The group of stores in a plaza called Relics by the Railroad include a tea room (called The Whistle Stop, of course), a group of gift stores and something called the Burlap Ranch.

It’s here, in this three-block section of town that relies on a nostalgia-based economy, that the German Fest is located. There are rides for the kids, a polka band and plenty of brats and kraut at a variety of German food tomball5booths (including one called Schnitzels and Giggles).

Ignoring the people in lederhosen, one thing becomes apparent from the people attending German Fest. There are plenty of Astros and Texans gear. Texas A&M is well represented on the hats and shirts of attendees, but there’s nothing representing the college choice of town’s most-famous son.

After a prolonged hunt, one man, at a booth selling baked goods, is wearing a Carolina t-shirt. It turns out he’s a vendor who came to Tomball’s German Fest from another part of Texas. He wore the shirt thinking it would pander to the locals.

There are no Carolina signs in local shop windows, no restaurants advertising viewing parties for UNC’s Final Four games.

“Honestly I don’t think many people know who I am, which I don’t really mind,” Jackson said earlier in the week. “Being home schooled, I think that closed me off a little bit. But who knows? Maybe people know me now.”

Leaving Old Town Tomball for Tomball proper, the boutiques give way to a more town-like group of local businesses.

tomball bowlThe letter T must take up a majority of the Tomball yellow pages, because it seems that every locally-owned store features the town name. There’s Tomball Pet Resort and Tomball Acupuncture.  Tomball Moving and Storage, as well as Tomball Pool and Spa.

The fixation on the town name is interesting, since it’s based on a typo. Originally named Peck, the city was renamed in honor of local congressman Tom Ball in 1907. At some point, two words became one, and the name stuck.

tomball fire

One store has a rack of phone books out front, free for the taking. It’s the type of oddity that is common to small towns. Someone thought it was a good idea at some point, and we’ve done it that way ever since.

It’s a trusting and naïve gesture, one that likely seems perfectly normal to people that live in Tomball. Jackson, who got duped out of his game jersey in Washington D.C. prior to an ACC Tournament start, wouldn’t bat an eye.

The directory gives the answer to one question—there are 112 businesses and organizations in town that begin with the word Tomball.

tomball6Traveling west on Farm to Market Road, the local businesses are replaced by chains. Jackson said that his one hope in returning to Houston was that the team would get to eat at Whataburger, a Texas chain restaurant, at some point during the week. As of Saturday’s national semifinals postgame, the Tar Heels hadn’t made it there.

tomball hayhutFields of longhorn cattle signify that Tomball has passed, but a few miles down the road, a right turn leads into a housing development. People are out mowing their lawns, and joggers wave at strangers in passing cars.

Every house seems to have a flagpole, and the Lone Star flag is below Old Glory on each. Ducks wander near a pond that looks manmade.

tomball geese

One house stands out from the rest. It’s not because of the full-size basketball court in the back. That’s not visible from the road. No, the place stands out, because it has the only acknowledgement that someone from town is playing in the Final Four on German Fest weekend.

A blue banner hands above the front porch, and a pair of Tar Heel signs adorn the front door of the Jackson house—Jackson’s alma mater.

tomball banner

He won’t get to see it this week.

“It’s not going back home, it’s going to the Final Four to play basketball,” coach Roy Williams said when asked about Jackson’s homecoming before leaving Chapel Hill.

“I don’t think I’m going to make it up there,” Jackson said, plain-spoken and straightforward as always–Tomball to the core. “We’ve got Final Four stuff.”


UNC soccer player Nico Melo ready for Final Four stage

Melo (in blue) following the on-court rehearsal for the anthem (Shawn Krest photo)
Melo (in blue) following the on-court rehearsal for the anthem (Shawn Krest photo)

Guns n Roses just announced the dates and venues of their reunion tour, and the list includes NRG Stadium in Houston.

It’s the first time that the full lineup of GnR will play together on tour since the early 1990s. The final leg of that tour, more than 20 years ago, included the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill.

When Axl, Slash and the gang take the stage at NRG on August 5, they’ll become just the second act to sing at both the Dean Dome and the home of the Houston Texans.

The first? UNC men’s soccer player Nico Melo.

Melo is part of a quartet of student athletes—one from each school playing in the Final Four—who will sing the national anthem before the national semifinals on Saturday night.

Hard as it is to believe, this will be just the second time Melo has sung in public.

“I’ve been singing by myself a lot,” Melo said. “Mostly in the shower, but never in front of audiences.”

His first public performance was April 20 of last year, when he sang at the Rammy’s.

“It’s an awards show they have for student athletes at Carolina,” he explained. With David October, a teammate on the UNC soccer team, playing keyboards, Melo sat on a stool on the Dean Dome playing ourt and belted out John Legend’s Ordinary People in a performance that earned rave reviews.

Melo (right) and October performing at the Rammy's (GoHeels)
Melo (right) and October performing at the Rammy’s (GoHeels)

October earned an invitation to join a band on the spot. Melo had to wait a year to get his reward for bringing down the house at the Rammy’s.

The NCAA has a tradition of inviting athletes from each Final Four school to sing the anthem, so this March, each school still in the running for a berth in Houston was asked to submit its candidate.

“They decided to send me,” Melo said, “because of last year’s performance at the Rammy’s.”

That was it. No contest among aspiring singers in the different Tar Heel sports programs. In fact, Melo didn’t even know he was the choice until after the Tar Heels cut down the nets in Philadelphia last Sunday.

“I had no idea,” he said. “I got calls from a couple people asking me, ‘Are you going to do it?’ I was like, ‘Do what?’ I thought they were asking if I was going to do the Rammy’s again.”

“No,” he recalled his friends saying, “the Final Four! That’s how I found out. That was the day after we made it, so … Monday?”

In other words, five days ago. Needless to say, it’s been a hectic week for the redshirt senior midfielder.

“It’s been insane,” he said. “I’ve gotten to see everything—how it’s all set up here. It’s been an awesome awesome experience.”

Melo’s parents will be watching him from home. His sister, Natalie, who played on the Columbia University women’s team, is joining him in Houston for the performance.

Melo will be performing with Syracuse men’s track athlete Chevis Armstead II, Villanova women’s basketball player Karlie Crispin and Oklahoma volleyball player Madison Ward. The group met on Thursday and got to work.

“We’ve been rehearsing for the last three days,” Melo said. “We’re ready. We’re definitely ready.”

Obviously, this will be the biggest audience anyone in the group has performed before. “There were maybe 2,000 people at the Rammy’s,” Melo said. “This has been totally multiplied, today.”

Despite that, Melo is confident that he’ll be able to handle the nerves. “I think the nerves are gone,” he said. “We’ve been practicing. We sound great. We’ll be fine.”

Plus, he’s used to performing in front of crowds. However, he’s not sure that performing as an athlete will prepare him for facing the crowd tonight.

“I’m not saying it’ll be harder. I’ll say different,” he said. “I’ve done soccer publicly at a pretty high level, in front of a lot of people, but this is singing. It’s personal to me.”

“It’s definitely going to be fun,” he added.


Good things ahead for Duke, Carolina McDonald’s All-Americans

Duke and North Carolina were well-represented in this year’s McDonald’s High School All-American Game in Chicago.

Blue Devils’ signee Frank Jackson won co-MVP of the game and was the slam dunk champion. Jayson Tatum, who scored 18 points, is also headed to Duke.

Meanwhile, North Carolina’s Tony Bradley scored 11 points in the game.

What’s in store for the three players now? A total of 141 McDonald’s All-Americans have gone to Duke or UNC before Jackson, Tatum and Bradley. They scored a total of 143,918 points in college, or an average of 1,021 points per McDonald’s All-American.

That doesn’t mean that the three graduating seniors are guaranteed a successful career. Here’s a look at the McDonald’s All-Americans who scored the fewest points at Duke:

Player              Duke Points

Eric Boateng               14

Joey Beard                  21

Michael Thompson      27

Chase Jeter                  62 (so far)

And here are the McDonald’s alumni who did the least with the Tar Heels:

Player              UNC Points

Neil Fingleton             0

David Wear                 79

Vasco Evtimov           105

Travis Wear                 111

Clearly, transfer is the main reason that a player didn’t score well with the Heels or Devils. Overall, the odds are low that Jackson, Bradley or Tatum will transfer during their college years. A total of 15 Duke and Carolina McDonald’s players chose to transfer, giving them 10.6 percent odds of transferring. Duke (12.7%) has a slightly higher McDonald’s transfer rate than Carolina (8.6%).

The three incoming freshmen are more than twice as likely to leave early for the NBA Draft. Duke and Carolina have had 39 McDonald’s All-Americans give up some college eligibility, which is better than one-in-four odds (27.7%). Carolina (34.3%) is more likely to have players leave early than Duke (21.1%).

Of the 141 McDonald’s All-Americans at the two schools, nearly half (69, or 48.9%) scored more than 1,000 points in college. Eleven (7.8%) scored 2,000. More than half (55%) of the Carolina players and 42% of Duke players scored 1,000.

Two in five McDonald’s signees ended up winning a national title at Duke (43.7%) or Carolina (37.1%), and exactly the same number ended up being selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. Just under half (47.1%) of Carolina McDonald’s players became first-rounders, while 33.8% of Duke’s signees did.

While the odds in favor of the three incoming freshmen, it’s worth noting that the McDonald’s selection process is far from an exact science. Shelden Williams (1,928 points) and Rick Fox (1,703 points) were the Duke and Carolina players who scored the most collegiate points after being snubbed by the McDonald’s game.


Nothing but net: Carolina teamwork extends to postgame

They used special scissors with a gold blade, and one after another, the Tar Heels learned what it felt like to cut down the nets that had just taken them to a Final Four.

Most of the coaches knew the feeling. Roy Williams had climbed that ladder before.

“It is really special,” he said. “And that’s the reason I even know how many times we’ve done it. This is my eighth time in 28 years as a head coach.”

Assistant Steve Robinson has been on Williams’ staff for 20 of those 28 years and has strands from seven Regional Finals nets.

Assistant Hubert Davis climbed the ladder in 1991, as a player for the Tar Heels. Sean May had the experience in 2005.

Among the Tar Heels in uniform in Philadelphia on Sunday, only Kennedy Meeks had experienced what it felt like to cut down the second-to-last net of the year. As he took the scissors and trimmed away a piece of the home net, he experienced a sense of déjà vu.

That’s because he’d just done the same thing at the other end of the floor, not five minutes earlier.

The 2015-16 Tar Heels are a loose bunch, crashing press conferences and giggling as they’ve stormed through the postseason. But Meeks wasn’t clowning around as he took a second-helping at the net on Sunday night. Instead, it was the culmination of a selfless player-to-player-to-player hockey assist that would have made Dean Smith proud.

“It wasn’t for me,” Meeks said of the second strand he clipped from the Wells Fargo Center nets. “I got it for Luke. He didn’t get one. So I went and got one for him.”

That would be freshman Luke Maye. The forward didn’t play in the Regional Final win over Notre Dame, but he seemed capable of climbing a ladder on his own. In fact, when the Tar Heels took down the first net, on the visitors’ end of the floor, he was in line several players behind Meeks.

So why didn’t Maye get a turn with the scissors.

“I got to cut a strand,” Maye said.

Clearly, something was fishy around the budding controversy. Just where did the extra strand end up, and why?

Netgate originated two weeks earlier, when the Tar Heels cut down the nets at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., following their ACC Tournament title.

After each member of the team got a piece, the second net hung from a few slim strands. Coach Williams sent his scholarship seniors—Paige, Brice Johnson and Joel James—up the ladder to finish the job.

There was a supply and demand problem: Three seniors and only two nets.

The first net was already around the neck of senior Marcus Paige. A three-year captain, there was no question that Paige would get one.

Johnson and James looked at each other after cutting the second net, but that one was just as much of a no-brainer. The team’s leading scorer and rebounder, Johnson had turned in one of the best seasons in school history. He cut the last strand and wore the net like a necklace.

James was left out. The huge ACC tournament sign that had been mounted to the backboard would have to serve as a substitute for the senior center’s trophy case.

James’ bulky souvenir led to an outbreak of sign stealing, as the Tar Heel players stripped the Verizon Center of any and all ACC Tournament signage, bringing them back to Chapel Hill to divide among themselves.

Last week, in the NCAA opening weekend in Raleigh, James peeled a giant logo sticker from the wall of the PNC Center to join his ACC sign in a collection of oversized signage.

“I’ve been trying to look around and see what I can take,” James said, while sitting in the locker room in Philadelphia.

He pointed to a dog eared decal on the wall that he’d clearly tried to peel away already. “Those sticky signs are a hassle. They ball up and stick to themselves. So I’m not sure what I’ll take yet.”

When the Tar Heels finished off the Fighting Irish to advance to their first Final Four since 2009, James had his chance to get a more manageable memento.

Whoever was in charge of counting strands on the first net and lining up the players accordingly—assuming there was such a person—had a costly miscalculation, however, and James found himself third in line at net number one, which was hanging by just one strand.

Maye was at the head of the line and took the scissors. He started toward the ladder, then turned and offered the scissors to the upperclassman. James deferred, waving Maye toward the basket.

Maye climbed the ladder, but he had no intention of taking down the net. Instead, he clipped away a small strand from the part of the net already hanging free. He held it up for the crowd, then climbed down.

At that point, Coach Williams saw the situation and stepped in to resolve it. He stopped senior walk-on Toby Egbuna, who was next in line, and directed him to hand the scissors to James.

“Let Joel do it,” Williams said, and James climbed the ladder to finally get his net.

joel james cuttingEgbuna was first up the ladder on the other end of the court, getting his strand. That left Maye with a piece of the net far smaller than everyone else’s. Eventually, Meeks noticed the freshman’s bare Final Four hat, because Maye’s strand was too short to tie to the band in back of the hat, as the other players had done.

Maye refused to go up the ladder a second time, but Meeks wasn’t about to let the matter drop. He took it upon himself to cut Maye a strand.

The Tar Heel chain of generosity made sure that everyone got the keepsake they deserved. All the seniors had their nets. Everyone else on the team got a full strand. In typical Carolina fashion, however, getting anyone to take credit for the gesture would be like pulling teeth.

“I got a shorter strand at first, but then I ended up getting one,” Maye said, declining to mention his willingness to sacrifice to get James his net.

“I could care less about the net,” James said, when asked about it. “I was just glad to win the ACC Tournament before. Now, I’m glad to go to the Final Four.”

It turned out that Meeks was the only one willing to point the assist finger, crediting his teammates for their sacrifice and taking a tiny bit of credit for himself.

“I was just being a good friend,” he said.

joel james locker


Free wireless more than just a perk for NCAA players

Marshall Plumlee uses arena wireless to check his phone
Marshall Plumlee uses arena wireless to check his phone


Yale senior Justin Sears is glad that he has wireless in his hotel room in Providence, this week.

“I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix,” to tell you the truth, he said.

The 2016 Ivy League Player of the Year isn’t watching House of Cards in his room, though.

“I have to watch a movie for class,” he said. “I still need to finish that.”

While many observers probably think of movies in class as something that was done when there was a substitute teacher, Yale’s curriculum is a little different. “It’s for a class on genocide in Rwanda,” Sears said. “It kind of brings you down. I’ve been trying to avoid watching it until now.”

Sears isn’t the only one taking advantage of hotel wireless. Earlier this week, the NCAA announced that it was providing complementary wireless for all the student-athletes in this season’s NCAA tournament.

The self-congratulatory tweet earned plenty of snark on social media.

While it seems like a minor benefit, the fact is, many team hotels charge for wireless access in guest rooms, and, often, the fancier the hotel, the higher the charge.

Miami stayed a a Marriott Marquis in downtown Washington, D.C. for the ACC Tournament, and the wireless charge was $12.95 per night, $16.95 for high-speed wireless.

“Our coaches always try to make sure that we have wi-fi,” Sears said.

Despite the efforts of the Yale staff, the Bulldog players remember a few road trips where they were stranded in their hotel rooms, without wireless access.

Yale freshman Alex Copeland takes advantage of wireless in the locker room
Yale freshman Alex Copeland takes advantage of wireless in the locker room

“I remember one or two,” Sears said. “I paid for it. I think it was five dollars or something. So it wasn’t that big a deal, and I needed it.”

“I think most places we stay usually have free wi-fi,” said teammate Makai Mason. “When we don’t, we  just kind of have to make do with our phones.”

Yale is on spring break this week, but Mason has still put the hotel wireless to use.

“I’ve been doing a little homework,” he said. “We had some assignments over the break.”

“I was doing work a couple days ago to try to get ahead when we get back,” junior guard Anthony Dallier said. “I was starting a paper for one of my literature classes.”

Sam Downey also had a literature assignment he was working on between games. “We have a midterm essay due in four days for Race and Gender in American Literature. The assignment is called ‘The Diaries of an American Famer’, and we have to create a thesis statement that’s exactly 50 words. It shouldn’t be too difficult. Hopefully it doesn’t take too long.”

That’s not to imply that it’s all work and no play on the hotel wireless.

“I’ve been playing a lot of games,” Duke’s Grayson Allen said.

“When you’re in the ice bath, sometimes you throw up a little Netflix,” Plumlee added.

Then, of course, there’s keeping track of your mentions.  After the Makai Mason put up 31 points in the upset over Baylor, the wireless again came in handy for the sophomore guard. “Last night, I was in the room checking Facebook,” he said. “I kind of blew up after the game.”

Like Yale, Duke treats hotel wireless like a necessity, instead of a luxury. To a man, the team doesn’t remember a Blue Devils’ road trip where they couldn’t access the internet in their rooms.

“One way or another, our academic advisor would make sure that we were able to get our work done,”  Marshall Plumlee said. “If we didn’t have it, there would be a communal computer we could all work at. They weren’t going to let us shirk our studies.”

Players on Duke and Yale all agreed that the move to provide wireless is a wise one for the NCAA, but they were surprised it took so long.

“Now that the NCAA is taking that step, I think it’s a very considered step to take,” Plumlee said. “Now that the decision has been made, I can’t imagine it being any other way.”

“That’s huge,” Sears said of the NCAA’s decision. “I think it should be a requirement. We always have school work. I remember one of our opponents played us earlier this year, and they were tweeting about not having wi-fi. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t just required.”

Duke’s Matt Jones laughed when asked about the importance of wireless on the road.

“I’m on it right now!” he said.


Seahawks fight to the end

Coach Mike Krzyzewski left the Duke locker room, on his way to the podium, to discuss his Blue Devils’ 93-85 win over UNC-Wilmington in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.

As he walked through the bowels of Dunkin Donuts Arena, he passed the UNC-W contingent, returning to the locker room area following their stint at the podium.

Coach K turned back and caught up to junior guard Chris Flemmings and senior Craig Ponder. He spoke to the two players at length, congratulating them on their effort and wishing them luck.

“They’re really good,” Krzyzewski said, once he reached the podium. “They’re extremely well-coached, not just in strategy but in effort and togetherness. You could tell right away. We watched on tape and had a very good appreciation for them, but when you see them in person, you can actually see their belief in one another and their strength.”

The four-seed Blue Devils played against them on Thursday, and the Seahawks pushed the Blue Devils to the brink before falling.

The Seahawks led by as much as seven points in the first half and took a three-point lead to the break, but Wilmington was in no mood to take solace in a strong performance in a loss.

“They believe they’re going to win,” Krzyzewski said.

“I know a lot of people are surprised, but being up three and possibly could have been up six at halftime, you know, we expected that,” coach Kevin Keatts said. “Obviously we have a lot of respect for Coach K and the program that he’s built and the players on the team, but my guys expected to win the game. When I walked into the locker room at the end of the game, I knew the program was going in the right direction because nobody wanted a moral victory. Those guys were upset because we lost.”

Flemmings, a Cary, NC native, scored 18 points on 7-of-16 shooting. A day earlier, he spoke of growing up in a Duke household. “She’s been a Duke fan since before I was even born,” he said of his mother. “She was a longtime Duke fan, even when like Grant Hill and ballplayers like that were there.”

At game time, however, he as ready to take the Blue Devils down.

“We didn’t work hard all season to just give up just because of the name,” he said. “That’s kind of our team thing. We’re going to fight every game no matter who we’re playing.”

Ponder, who put up 22 against the Blue Devils and led the team with four assists, added, “Our motto is pretty much we don’t worry about the name on the back of our jerseys, and we don’t care about the name on the front of yours.”

True to form, the Seahawks kept battling, even after Duke pulled ahead by 12 late in the second half. In the final three minutes, UNC-W went on a 7-2 run to cut the Blue Devil lead to five, and the Seahawks had a look at a three-pointer that would have made it a two-point game.

The shot was off the mark, but the Seahawks earned every bit of respect that Duke’s Hall of Fame coach sent their way.

“It’s really beautiful to watch. It’s more beautiful if you don’t have to play against them,” Krzyzewski said.