Tag Archives: NCAA Tournament

NCAA announces discrimination-free process for college championship sites

The sports world continues to react to House Bill 2 in North Carolina, with the NCAA now asking each regional site to provide a discrimination-free zone for the NCAA Tournament and other championships. This directly affects Greensboro and Charlotte, which are set to be regional hosts in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

“The higher education community is a diverse mix of people from different racial, ethnic, religious and sexual orientation backgrounds,” NCAA board chairman and Kansas State president Kirk Schulz said in a statement. “So it is important that we assure that (the) community – including our student-athletes and fans – will always enjoy the experience of competing and watching at NCAA championships without concerns of discrimination.”

The announcement comes as a response not only to HB2 getting passed in North Carolina, but a Mississippi law that allows government workers, religious groups and some private businesses to deny services to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people due to religious beliefs that takes effect on July 1.

Since 2001, the NCAA has banned cities that fly the Confederate battle flag or use “abusive or offensive” Native American imagery or mascots from hosting regionals.

Along with the statement from Schulz, the NCAA also said it will require sites to provide “an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination.” The NCAA Board of Governors adopted an anti-discrimination measure earlier in the day at a meeting in Indianapolis.

North Carolina has hosted an NCAA Tournament game 13 times in the last 16 years, but HB2 might mar those numbers. If Greensboro and Charlotte are  stripped of their chance to host March Madness, it would be just the latest major event to depart from NC.

National backlash is nothing new to North Carolina with businesses straying from the state and musicians from Nick Jonas to Bruce Springsteen canceling shows. The NBA has also said the 2017 All-Star Game could be removed from Charlotte, citing “problematic” aspects of HB2 .

Losing the NCAA Tournament would mean huge monetary losses for Greensboro. The 2014 tournament games in Raleigh brought in an estimated $4.2 million generated and 17,720 visitors. Formerly known as “Tournament Town” as ACC Tournament host five times from 2010-2015, the ACC will not return to Greensboro Coliseum again until 2020. If the NCAA Tournament leaves due to discrimination laws would be a huge blow to the city and state.

Given the fact that both Duke and North Carolina have typically played close to home during the opening rounds, not having a host site in the state would hurt both schools. UNC played at PNC Arena in Raleigh during the first and second rounds this year and Duke is expected to compete for a top-two seed, potentially landing in Greensboro, in 2017.

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A basketball atmosphere in a football stadium

HOUSTON — I didn’t think watching college basketball in a football mega-arena would be memorable — at least not in the way I wanted it to be.

In a giant, cavernous building with more bad seats than good seats, how could there be any kind of electric atmosphere?

Much like the city of Houston and the entire state of Texas, the NRG Center is a sprawling structure. It wasn’t intended for basketball, and yet, that’s just where 74,340 people saw one of the most incredible game-winners in the history of the NCAA Tournament.

I knew no matter who played or what happened, covering a national championship would be an indescribable experience.

But in such a large, cold venue, I didn’t think I’d find half the atmosphere that I’ve felt sitting courtside at Cameron Indoor or in the auxiliary press seating at Michigan State’s Breslin Center or on top of the risers in the Smith Center.

No way could a building that impersonal foster that kind of relationship between the fans, the players and the game.

But from the minute the first note of the hair-raising national anthem was sung and the paratroopers from Afterburner Inc. rappelled down ropes hanging above the baseline and the indoor fireworks went off, I knew I was wrong.

It was a setting far from intimate but every time UNC hit a 3-pointer or Villanova pounded in another shot, the crowd roared and you couldn’t help but get enveloped in sound.

My seat in the end zone of the football field was securely bolted down to the ground, and yet, as Villanova went up by double-digits in the second half, it shook with the jumping and the screaming of everyone around me.

Before the game started, I complained that my vantage point of more than 100 feet from behind the baseline and past the rows of Carolina blue-clad students would keep me from feeling involved in the game, that I would miss everything happening on the court.

And sure, sometimes I couldn’t see who got the rebound on the far end of the floor, but I was fully engulfed in every single second played Monday night.

A lot of things are described as jaw-dropping.

Jaw-droppingly large prices, a jaw-droppingly large engagement ring, jaw dropping finishes.

I didn’t realize how often that phrase is misused and overstated until I experienced the first truly jaw dropping moment of my life, when my mouth reflexively opened and my jaw locked into place.

That happened with 4.7 seconds left.

4.2 seconds later, the second jaw-dropping moment of my life happened.

I couldn’t think. The confetti burst from the sky and the fireworks went off before I could even process what had just happened.

Seconds earlier I was preparing for overtime, hastily rewriting one of the three drafts I had prepared for a buzzer game story and drafting a snarky tweet about one more tipoff to this college basketball season.

Then, it was over.

The finality of the moment seemed impossible, unfathomable. For a minute, the score hadn’t been updated and I thought that maybe it hadn’t happened. Maybe we would get five more minutes in this season.

But as the players dog-piled Kris Jenkins and the Tar Heels walked slowly back to the sideline, I knew it was really over.

I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to my first national championship game, the perfectly improbable ending to a chaotically unpredictable month.

And now, if anyone needs me, I’ll be napping for the next week.

Tar Heels loose ahead of national championship

HOUSTON — Roy Williams twitched in surprise as he turned his head at Sunday’s final press conference before Monday’s national championship game.

Another press conference, another uninvited guest — the same guest that always seems to find his way into the spotlight — stealing the show.

But at this point, it shouldn’t have come as any shock that Theo Pinson found his way on to the dais at the last pregame press conference of the NCAA Tournament.

“He turned his head, and it was probably one of his nightmares to see my face,” Pinson said, regaling reporters in the locker room afterwards with the story of his latest hijinks.

If the first press conference crashing before the Elite Eight win against Notre Dame was off the cuff, this one was most certainly premeditated.

It’s a tradition, part of a series of superstitions that these fun-loving Tar Heels refuse to shake ahead of the biggest game of their careers thus far.

“Theo, I’m pretty sure he did that because last weekend he did that and it worked well for us,” senior Marcus Paige said. “We don’t like to disrupt what’s working. The past couple weekends we’ve kept the same dinner routines. The first night we’ll go to a nice steakhouse and then after we play, and then on this day on the previous weekends, we’ve gone to a more laid back restaurant and just kind of had a more casual dinner. We’re doing that again. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Hopefully this rhythm that we’re in will help us.”

From right, North Carolina forward Justin Jackson (44) and guard Marcus Paige (5) watch as guard Joel Berry II (2) jokes around during a press conference before the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship at the NRG Stadium in Houston, TX on Sunday, April 3, 2016. (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)
From right, North Carolina forward Justin Jackson (44) and guard Marcus Paige (5) watch as guard Joel Berry II (2) jokes around during a press conference before the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship at the NRG Stadium in Houston, TX on Sunday, April 3, 2016. (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)

The looseness has been well-documented. From Pinson’s antics to Williams’ dance moves and April Fools’ pranks, this UNC team is perhaps one of the most laid back squads to make it this far under Williams.

Usually, Williams prefers radio silence on bus trips between the arenas and hotels, but recently, the coach has gone soft in his ways, and earlier this week he passed the auxiliary cord around to his players to DJ the drive. It’s just another one of the ways the coach, who said he used to “coach with fear,” has adjusted to his teams over the years.

“He’s been doing the dabbing,” sophomore point guard Joel Berry II said. “He’s been jumping around with us. He’s been dancing with us. On the bus on the way back to the hotel usually coach doesn’t let guys play music on the bus, but he encouraged us to take our phones to the front of the bus and put it on the aux cord and were just all in there singing and dancing.

“It just goes to show that he’s going into this loose. I think he’s enjoying this process as well. And through these years, there’s different ways you have to coach different teams. I think the way he has coached this team has been unbelievable. We’re a team that likes to joke around and have fun. He’s adjusted to that really well. I think he’s handled it really well. He just changed his way really well as well. I think it’s bringing him a little joy knowing that there’s still hope in coaching college basketball. I think he’s done a great job of that.”

North Carolina forward Brice Johnson (11) reacts as head coach Roy Williams talks about his height during a press conference before the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship at the NRG Stadium in Houston, TX on Sunday, April 3, 2016. (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)
North Carolina forward Brice Johnson (11) reacts as head coach Roy Williams talks about his height during a press conference before the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship at the NRG Stadium in Houston, TX on Sunday, April 3, 2016. (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)

On the other side of the court, No. 2-seed Villanova is taking a more serious approach, having learned that looseness doesn’t always win championships in a game against the Tar Heels seven years ago.

UNC trounced the Wildcats 83-69 in the Final Four en route to the 2009 national championship game. Ty Lawson’s 22 points along with 20 from Wayne Ellington and 18 points and 11 rebounds by Tyler Hansbrough pushed the Tar Heels past Villanova and onto an eventual title.

Remembering the sheer determination of that UNC team, Villanova coach Jay Wright has implemented a tight regimen for his players to keep them focused throughout the tournament.

“You could just see the focus in Carolina,” Wright said Friday. “You could see our guys were just playing a game. I knew. It was about 10 minutes into the game. I knew. I was like, ‘I didn’t get these guys ready.’ ”

So this time around, Wright is making plenty sure his guys are ready to face North Carolina (33-6) on an even bigger stage.

Since beating Oklahoma 95-51 Saturday night, the Wildcats (34-5) have continued to stay in the zone, still consuming basketball at a constant clip.

“We watched the game between North Carolina and Syracuse last night,” Darryl Reynolds said. “We ate, we slept. We watched the game back at the hotel. Just try to digest the (Oklahoma) game but also kind of put that aside because we have a game ahead of us.”

Like any team preparing for a game of this magnitude, the Tar Heels will definitely be doing the same game-planning and practicing, but in staying true to themselves, there’s definitely going to be a little fun mixed in with the hard work.

“I think it’s going to be a long, long 48 hours or whatever it is,” Paige said after the win against Syracuse. “You’ve got to enjoy it. Luckily our team is probably the most loose, most relaxed fun team to be around. So we’ll find time, find ways to kill time. Hang out and play video games. Relax, shoot some pool at the hotel. I’ve got to win some of those games, some of those ping pong games too.”

“We’ll relax and then as the game gets closer, we’ve got to really focus in. There’s only two teams left playing in the country. No reason for us not to have our best performance Monday night.”

WATCH: Paige can get UP

HOUSTON — Step aside Brice Johnson and Isaiah Hicks. 6-foot-1 guard Marcus Paige has hops too, and dang good ones at that. He threw this between the legs windmill dunk down at UNC’s open practice Friday afternoon at NRG Stadium. That one likely isn’t happening during a game, but goodness gracious, it was impressive.

Cuse star, Duke transfer Gbinije not focusing on missed chances

HOUSTON — Syracuse senior Michael Gbinije doesn’t think about what-ifs or what-could-have-beens. Had he stuck to his initial commitment out of high school, he would already have a national championship with Duke. He would already have the ring, banners and trophies Syracuse is chasing this weekend in the Final Four.

But sitting in the locker room at NRG Stadium with his Syracuse teammates, Gbinije isn’t thinking about what could’ve happened if he stayed at Duke and didn’t transfer following his freshman season.

“I had a lot of people tell me, ‘hey, if you would’ve stayed at Duke, you’d be a national champion right now,’” Gbinije said. “And that could be true. It may not. At that point, transferring was just a better decision for me. I hear comments like that but only I know how I would’ve felt in that situation and I’m still glad I decided to transfer.”

Syracuse forward Michael Gbinije (0) speaks the media prior to an NCAA Final Four game at the NRG Stadium in Houston, TX on Thursday, March 31, 2016. (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)
Syracuse forward Michael Gbinije (0) speaks the media prior to an NCAA Final Four game at the NRG Stadium in Houston, TX on Thursday, March 31, 2016. (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)

There’s no value to looking back. Gbinije can’t change the past, and why would he? He’s the most consistent player Jim Boeheim has right now, averaging a team-best 17.6 points and helping the No. 10-seed Syracuse turn into a big-name Cinderella during their run to the Final Four.

The 6-foot-7 forward played sparingly in his only season at Duke, averaging less than two points per game.

“I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted out of high school,” Gbinije said. “I wasn’t ready out of high school. I think sitting and not playing a lot that freshman year just opened up things for me. It made me realize what I need to work on and what I want out of a program.”

When Gbinije decided to leave the Blue Devils in spring 2012, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski didn’t place any restrictions on the transfer, allowing him to land at Syracuse, which was set to join the ACC for the 2013-14 season.

“We wish Michael the best of luck and we will support him through his impending transfer,” Krzyzewski said in a 2012 release. “He’s a talented player with a solid future ahead of him.”

According to ACC rules, players who transfer within conference programs must both sit out a year and lose a year of eligibility. But because Syracuse wasn’t yet in the ACC when he transferred, Gbinije was able to play all three remaining seasons of eligibility for the Orange in the ACC.

With Syracuse self-imposing a postseason ban for 2015 as a result of an NCAA investigation into alleged violations within the program, Gbinije sat at home watching his former Blue Devils teammates Marshall Plumlee and Quinn Cook help Duke win the national title against Wisconsin.

While he and his Syracuse teammates lack the experience of playing in the Final Four, Gbinije is utilizing his resources and checking in with his old friends to get a preview of the madness.

“I’m glad you reminded me,” Gbinije said, “I need to text Marshall. So as soon as all of this is over, I’m going to make sure I hit him up, just to get a feel, see what his experience was like. Maybe I can learn from that. He’s finished now, so I’ve got to wish him congrats on his career.”

And after this weekend, perhaps Plumlee will return the favor and send back a congratulatory message of his own.

Players weigh in: who should sing ‘One Shining Moment’ this year?

HOUSTON — Good news everybody, the Turner executives have heard our cries and have reinstated Luther Vandross as the One Shining Moment artist of record.

After casually mentioning during a conference call March 29 that a new artist would be recording the wonderfully hokey and cheesy song for this year’s tournament, Turner Sports avoided a major crisis and reassured the public that Vandross is still the centerpiece of the final tournament video montage.

A 2003 recording of his vocals will accompany the all-encompassing NCAA Tournament highlight montage at the end of the national title game on TBS. But, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the song, NE-YO is recording his own version to be used for team-centric highlights on the Team Stream coverage on TNT and Tru-TV.

Everybody wins.

For the last 29 years, the song originally written and recorded by David Barrett has accompanied a tournament highlight reel following the end of the national championship.

Teddy Pendergrass also recorded his own version for a couple of tournaments, but Vandross, who died in 2005, took over in 2003 and has been a March Madness staple ever since — except for 2010 when CBS bestowed the honor to Jennifer Hudson. It didn’t go over so well, and Vandross’ version returned the following year.

Luther Vandross is One Shining Moment and One Shining Moment is Luther Vandross.

When news got out that Vandross may not be doing One Shining Moment this year, the players at the Final Four were pretty distraught. Though they were pretty upset that Vandross might be snubbed, they had a few replacements in mind.

Syracuse’s Michael Gbinije and Tyler Robertson suggested that the song be totally revamped by Lil Wayne.

“Lil Wayne, that’s interesting,” Robertson said. “I would want to see that too. That’d be different. Lil Wayne, that’d be funny.”

Orange freshman Franklin Howard is on board with Lil Wayne and also tossed Future into the mix. Seeing as the Atlanta rapper already recorded a song called March Madness, a One Shining Moment remake isn’t THAT out of the question.

Fellow Syracuse freshman Doyin Akintobi-Adeyeye went with some local power and said he’d like Houston native Beyonce to put her own mark on the song. And if she showed up to sing the song live after the National Championship? Even better.

“I’d be very happy but I couldn’t show it in front of my teammates because I don’t want them to know,” Akintobi-Adeyeye said. “At some point I’d hopefully be able to meet her, and say, ‘thank you so much’ or say, ‘how you doing? My name is Doyin.’”

UNC’s Stilman White supports a Rihanna or Taylor Swift taking the reins while teammate Justin Coleman would love a Chris Brown-Drake duet.

But not everybody was on board with picking Vandross’ replacement. There’s only one King of the Bedroom (court?). No need to fix what’s not broken, ya know?

“I don’t think I would get rid of Luther,” UNC freshman Kenny Williams said. “He’s a great singer. It’s just a tribute to him. I would just stick with Luther.”

Tar Heel junior Kennedy Meeks agreed.

“That is disrespectful,” said Meeks, shaking his head and leaning over to interrupt teammate Brice Johnson’s own line of questioning to tell him the bad news.

“How is he not (singing this year)? I don’t want to hear that. I don’t know what I’ll do, but I’d much rather hear Luther Vandross.”

Don’t worry guys, crisis averted. We’ll be singing right along with y’all and Vandross after the title game April 4.

Marcus Paige keeps it poppin’

HOUSTON — Marcus Paige has been asked a lot of questions in his four years at North Carolina — about his prolific second halfs, his relationship with teammate Brice Johnson, his previous shooting woes and his recent resurgence.

But Thursday morning, I threw him a bit of a curveball during the first day of Final Four availability at the NRG Center and asked about popcorn.

It’s not completely random, I promise.

Leaving a press conference in Chapel Hill before the regional round of the NCAA Tournament in Philadelphia, Paige joked about ties between his home state of Iowa and his love of popcorn.

He might’ve been kidding, but it’s only natural that Paige might like to pop a couple kernels occasionally. Iowa is the top producer of corn in the United States, and according to the state’s agriculture department, Iowa farmers harvested 13.3 million acres of the crop in 2014.

And because I’m a popcorn fanatic, I wanted to know the degree of Paige’s devotion to the snack.

Turns out, he’s a pretty big fan, too.

“My two weaknesses are double-stuffed oreos and popcorn,” Paige said. I don’t know how it started or why.”

Sometimes when he’s sitting in his room in Chapel Hill, Johnson sniffs a smell wafting up through the house he shares with Paige and a couple of their friends.

It’s a strong one that snakes its way through their house frequently, most often late at night.

Johnson shakes his head. It’s just Paige downstairs, popping another bag of Butter Lovers popcorn.

“It’s something I notice all the time,” Johnson said. “Every time I look, he’s got it. Sometimes i’ll be sitting in my room and I’ll just smell butter. And I’m like, I already know who it is. Marcus is eating popcorn. That’s his favorite snack. It’s what he likes to do at night.”

Most of the time he just throws a bag in the microwave and a couple of minutes later: heaven.

But sometimes, Paige switches it up and pulls out a pot, some oil and a bag of kernels for a stovetop special.

“It’s easy to just pop a little butter lovers in the microwave for two minutes,” he said. “When I’m at home, I sometimes make stovetop popcorn.

“My mom (taught me). You just put it on the stove and then it pops. It’s one of the simpler things. I’m not very good at cooking.”

There’s a joke here about Paige’s 3-point cooking on the court being better than his skills in the kitchen, but I’ll spare you.

Meeks leaving tights at home for Final Four trip

CHAPEL HILL — When Kennedy Meeks packs his bags for No. 1 North Carolina’s Final Four trip to Houston, there’s one thing he’s definitely leaving behind — his white tights.

Meeks has worn a white pair of athletic tights underneath his uniform for most of the season. But in trying to shake off a funk, Meeks changed up his normal game day garb and went tights-less in the Sweet 16 win against Indiana.

Before the Indiana game, teammate Marcus Paige told reporters that all it would take for Meeks to be an impact player was a good matchup. And with a physical battle in the paint combined with switching up his uniform and shoes, Meeks finally played the kind of game he’s capable of playing.

Against FGCU and Providence teams that played smaller and faster players in the post, Meeks played a combined 21 minutes and scored just six points. But against an Indiana team that played more physically, Meeks flourished in the post

The change worked and Meeks scored 15 points — his first game in double figures since 12 at Duke March 5 — and grabbed nine rebounds in the 101-86 win.

Against Notre Dame in the Elite Eight matchup Sunday, it looked like Meeks wouldn’t be able to continue on his hot streak as he played just four minutes and didn’t take a single shot in the first half.

But after the break, Meeks erupted in the opening minutes of the second-half, keying his team to an 8-2 run in the first five minutes.

He finished with 10 points to give him back-to-back double digit scoring games for the first time since scoring 10 and 12 against Syracuse and Duke respectively.

“I said to Kennedy and Isaiah — and Brice — three of our four turnovers in the first half were our big guys and being silly,” coach Roy Williams said after the Notre Dame win. “Kennedy just lost the ball. Brice just lost the ball and Isaiah charges a guy. That’s three of our four turnovers. I said I want to play you guys but you’ve got to be effective. I thought Kennedy really was around the basket. Scared me at one time because it looked like Demetrius rolled his ankle badly, but he bounced right back. Kennedy was a big force during that time period.”

During halftime of that game, Meeks worked with strength and conditioning coach Jonas Sahratian to throw an eight-pound medicine ball.

Since injuring his knee and missing seven games from Dec. 16 to Jan. 4, he’s worked with the medicine ball frequently before and during games, including before he scored 23 points against N.C. State.

“(The medicine ball) just helps me a little bit on my explosiveness,” Meeks said. “I think I’ve been doing a great job with Jonas as far as weight lifting and getting my body back to where it needs to be after the injury. It’s been a hard journey, but I’m glad that we’re in — and I’m in the position that I’m in — and the team is in the position that we’re in.”

With his resurgence in the last two games, it looks like Meeks will be swapping out his tights for a medicine ball in his Houston luggage.

“The tights are gone,” Meek said, laughing. “They’re never coming back.”

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


Pinson earns a seat at the press conference

PHILADELPHIA — After giving North Carolina six points and a whole lot of hustle off the bench in the team’s 88-74 East Regional Final against Notre Dame, Theo Pinson finally earned a spot at the press conference — nametag and all.

Saturday afternoon, Pinson crashed the starting five’s press conference, earning his place in the viral newscycle as he strode across the stage asking where his chair and nametag were placed.

Sunday night, UNC’s larger-than-life sophomore was all smiles as he was invited to walk across the dais to his seat next to coach Roy Williams.

Before he sat down, he held his phone up high, nearly touching the lights positioned to shine on the foursome and took a selfie.

Once he sat down, Pinson wasn’t done documenting the occasion quite yet, pausing to take a couple selfies with Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson.

Coach Roy Williams even joined in with the jokester, switching his and Pinson’s name plates while Pinson nearly took a sip of his coach’s water and then snapped a photo of his coach making his opening statement.

“We invited Theo because we knew he was going to invite himself,” Williams said. “So we might as well make it legit and let him come.”

It took a couple minutes for a question to be directed Pinson’s way, but once Brett Friedlander of the Wilmington Star News shot one his way, Pinson grabbed the microphone with both hands and was ready to roll.

Pinson, who played 23 minutes in Sunday’s win, answered a couple questions, but his enthusiasm dwindled as the conference went on and the questions continued to come.

The Greensboro native said he’d be ok if he wasn’t invited to another press conference — he’d just crash it again.

When his time was finally up, Pinson grabbed his paper nameplate from Williams, promising to hang it on his dorm room door.