Monday, November 14, 2011

More Than a Memory

When trying to think of the best, most clever way to start this post, I was stumped.

How do you summarize a game that is unprecedented? How do you briefly describe what it's like to witness a tipoff that is surrounded by open waters and troops by the thousands? How can you recap a game that is so much more than just a game?

This was a setting unlike any other with a large portion of the 8,000 plus in attendance being described as the "greatest team in America". A team that was not clad in Carolina blue or Spartan green, but a team that fights for something more than a trip to the Final Four. A team that is always fighting for the red, white and blue and never has an off season. A team that cheered on the Michigan State Spartans and the North Carolina Tar Heels from temporary stands atop the USS Carl Vinson.

North Carolina claimed the victory 67-55 on the 100,000-ton floating airport, with the President and the First Lady of the United States sitting on the first row at center court. 127 college basketball games played throughout the country Friday night and only one took place on an aircraft carrier with the Commander in Chief who was, literally, front and center.

For the game, Michigan State shot for an unimpressive 30.6% with the Heels shooting 47%, which could leave some wondering how the final score was so close. There are not many teams that pull down more boards than the squad in the light blue, but the Spartans outrebounded the Tar Heels 49-34, with 16 more offensive rebounds. Dan Shulman said it best when he said "Michigan's State's best shot was from a missed one." Both teams shot poorly from behind the arc with Carolina shooting 4 of 12 and Michigan State making only 2 of 20.

The ACC Preseason Player of the year, Harrison Barnes, led all scorers with 17 points, while John Henson had a career-high nine blocked shots. Michigan State's Draymond Green had a career-high 18 rebounds and led the Spartans with 13 points.

When the game and obligatory picture taking was over, players from both teams removed their jerseys, made their way from center court to the Wounded Warriors and proceeded to do something we may never witness again; they gave the jerseys to the first soldier they encountered. 

This was a moment of reality. A moment to realize why this trip to San Diego held value outside of basketball game. It was a moment of realizing that those men and women that these players had never met before this week, have fought for them. For us.

And in that moment, James Michael McAdoo at 18 years old, realized that he wanted to go home with more than a victory and a few pictures.
"I gave my jersey to a soldier named Joe," he said. "I told him my name and talked to him for as long as I could. I got the opportunity to sign it for him and make it personal, because it's not just us playing a game. We were able to build some relationships with people who do so much for us.

"Since we've been in San Diego, people from the military are always telling us, 'Thank you,' for an autograph or for a picture. My response is always, 'No, thank you.' These are people who put their lives on the line just so we have the opportunity to do what we do, and to be able to be part of this is something I will never forget."
I don't think any of us will. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Recognizing Today

In less than 8 hours, an idea that was more often than not scoffed at, will become a reality.

The USS Carl Vinson, an active aircraft carrier that weighs 95,000 tons and reaches just under 1,100 feet in length, has had its flight deck transformed into a makeshift stadium in 10 days. Seating for 7,000 people, which will include 4,000 troops and President Obama, has been constructed, along with two large video boards, both of which are located behind the goals.

When junior power forward John Henson was asked if the video boards could pose a problem, he replied optimistically by saying, "It was almost like you could watch yourself while you shoot [free throws], which is going to be kind of weird. But hopefully you can focus on the backboard and the rim and it will be fine."

Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams agrees that though it's an "unusual environment", both teams are familiar with playing "big-sized stages". Aside from the oddly placed video boards, changes in wind, temperature and light as the game progresses, will be elements that neither squad has experience with or has had to face in any other high profile game.

However, North Carolina has the edge in experience despite playing on a makeshift basketball court. The Tar Heels return their entire starting lineup that made it the Elite Eight last season, while the Spartans return only two players to start more than 5 games last season and have seven players who have never played a minute.

Since returning to North Carolina, Roy Williams is undefeated (5-0) against Michigan State. A record that includes a 13-point win in the 2005 Final Four and 14-point win in the 2009 national championship game. And though he recognizes the fact that the game played tonight is one that counts in the standings, he also recognizes this is an experience unlike any other that deserves to be enjoyed.

"This is a celebration," Williams said. "The basketball game, from the tipoff till the final horn, we're going to be working our tails off about the game. But every single second prior to it and as soon as the game's final horn is over with, we're thinking about hopefully putting a smile on some people's faces who represent our country and serve our country."

And the Spartans head coach, Tom Izzo, is also attempting to master the same balancing act.

"It's bigger than a game. It's bigger than North Carolina vs. Michigan State. It’s a dream come true for us because in a small, small way, we're giving a little bit back. We're recognizing the people that deserve to be recognized instead of just the athletes."

In addition to the thousands of troops and the Commander in Chief, Earvin "Magic" Johnson (Michigan State, 1977-1979) and James Worthy (North Carolina, 1979-1982) will be honorary captains for their alma maters.

Tipoff is set for 4:20 p.m. PST and midway through the first half, we will be reminded that just because an active military ship can play host to a historical basketball game and all that that entails, it is still an active military ship. And at sunset, the colors will be retired and the flag lowered. 
Because today is a day to remember those that have fought for what those stars and stripes represent and to honor and celebrate each of them.  
"It's unbelievable," said Harrison Barnes. "What they do and how much time they give is incredible. All the credit goes to them. [The game] is less about Michigan State and more about a tribute to what they do."


Thursday, November 10, 2011

This Game

When college basketball players think of the “once in a lifetime” experience, it usually involves the cutting of nets and the hoisting of trophies, not playing on the deck of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. But for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels and the Michigan State Spartans, a once in a lifetime experience will also be history making when they tip off on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson for the inaugural Carrier Classic.
This is a game of logistical nightmares and weather concerns. It is a game that will inevitably produce lifelong memories and sense of eternal pride. This is a game of first times and only times. It is a game that is meant to honor the men and women that lay their lives on the line day in and day out.

It is a game that will prove to be unforgettable to all those involved.

All of that to say, it is just a game. Win or lose, these players and coaches will leave San Diego, return to their respective states and continue the 2011-2012 season. But for the several thousand sailors and soldiers that will be in attendance, it is game that is meant to bring honor and to recognize the sacrifices they have made and continue to make. 

While this game represents so much more than what the final score will reflect, these teams also recognize the opportunity that lays before them. For Michigan State, it is a chance to kick off their season by beating the undisputed top-ranked and most talented team in college basketball. And for North Carolina, it opens the door for history to repeat itself; the 2005 and 2009 national title teams each traveled across the country to open up their seasons and each played Michigan State during the season and came away victorious...

And when the final buzzer echos throughout the San Diego Bay, a trophy built by the same company that builds aircraft carriers, will have a new home in Chapel Hill or East Lansing.

But this is not a game about trophies or final scores or top ranked teams.

This is a game to say thank you and a chance to remember that the biggest battles are not fought on the hardwoods.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

5 Things

5. Kentucky
The last match up between these two historical powerhouses resulted in the Wildcats getting a berth to the Final Four and the Tar Heels watching their chance slip through their fingers. Here we are, five months later and the game scheduled for December 3rd is looming large.

John Calipari's squad will be bringing in four, highly talented and touted freshmen, but that doesn't change the fact they lost 3 key members, Brandon Knight, Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins, to the NBA draft. History is siding with North Carolina with the Tar Heels walking away victorious 22 times in 34 meetings. Aside from returning their entire starting lineup, Carolina's bench will feature the fresh and talented faces of James Michael McAdoo and PJ Hairston .

This is not the same team that Kentucky faced and sent home in New Jersey on March 27, 2011. I have a feeling that this game is going to be one of the best of the season. Mark your calendar.

4. 9 Consecutive Home Games 
This is worth noting simply because it's a first. Nine home games in a row is unprecedented with the previous record of eight happening over seven decades ago in 1938. And the undefeated 1957 National Champions played eight games total in the intimate confines of Woollen Gymnasium.

The Tar Heels will host a total of 18 home games this upcoming season with the nine kicking off against Evansville on December 6 and wrapping up with Miami on January 10 before hitting the road for back-to-back conference games.

3. Big 3

"...I thought all three of those big guys (Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes and John Henson) would go pro last year and they all stayed. I've got problems. It's a long way to jump off that ship." Michigan State Head Coach, Tom Izzo when discussing the Carrier Classic.
Barnes, Henson and Zeller combined for 1,594 points last season and confirmation of their return, skyrocketed the Tar Heels to the top of the pre-season favorites. Now, after a summer of pickup games and the bitter taste of defeat, these three return in hopes of leading their team to New Orleans for a chance to tend to some unfinished business...

...a shot at a National title.   

2. Duke

Tobacco Road seems a lot shorter and more treacherous at least twice a year. No matter the season, record or predictions, this game is not only one to watch if you deck yourself out in light blue or royal blue; it's one to watch if you can't get enough of historic and storied rivalries. 

And if that alone isn't enough consider this...
  • Two of the last three National Championships were won by these powerhouses
  • Combined rosters feature a total of 12 McDonald's All-American's  
  • The past two number one recruits in the Nation in Harrison Barnes (UNC) and Austin Rivers (Duke) call these programs home.       
The regular season was split, but the Blue Devils had the final word and waltzed into a conference championship with a 17-point margin of victory.

This is never just another game and this is not just another rivalry.

This is Carolina-Duke.

1. Michigan State
This game is never one to overlook and this season’s match up taking place on November 11th in San Diego, is no different. The Spartans have something no other team can say they have; Tom Izzo. I have a great deal of respect for this coach and in my opinion, he’s one of the all time best. But that fact pales in comparison of why this game has been the talk of college basketball since the beginning of last season. For the first time in history a college basketball game will take place on the deck of a docked, active aircraft carrier.

Want to take a moment and read that again?

The game is taking place appropriately on Veterans Day and no outside ticket sales will take place. A basketball court seating approximately 7,000 fans will be constructed on the flight deck and in the case of rain, the game will take place below the deck.


These five things are purely my opinion and I have no doubt that there are a multitude of others out there. The point is, despite the many things that can be drawn from the recent release of the University of North Carolina Men's basketball schedule, these are the five that resonate in my mind as key reasons to keep an eye on the Tar Heels this upcoming season.

Friday, August 19, 2011

What is More Than March?

I realize that the web address "More Than March" is a head-scratcher if you don't know what it means. I wish I could tell you that once I explain where I got it from, it will all make sense. But I'm hesitant to do that because I know that once I lay the meaning out there, my sanity will no longer be a question. Because you will know that when it comes to college basketball, I have none.

Eh. Such is life.

On March 15th of this year I wrote these words;
Some folks may think that March Madness doesn't begin until conference tournaments or even Selection Sunday.

These folks, would be wrong.

This is a process that begins never stops. It is continuous. College basketball may end for some in early April, but for many, the lack of analysts and brackets doesn't mean the end has arrived.

I am one of those people that start counting the weeks until "midnight madness". I read too many articles and know too many numbers that in the end will get me nowhere in the real world. But I do it. I cannot explain it, but like ESPN says, "it's not crazy, it's sports".

However, I do recognize that one has to possess a certain level of insanity to love sports. But with that said, I go back to the subject at hand; March Madness. As I said before, I love and hate this time of year. Part of the reason I hate I blame purely on the level of insanity I possess. I love college basketball all the time. Not just throughout the month of March and it irrationally bugs me that once brackets come out, "fans" and "experts" just start popping out...please realize that, yes, I do know it's irrational. 
This has always been the case. It's comically sad to me to hear people doing brackets based off of mascots, team colors or whatever irrelevant reason makes sense to them and them alone. There is more to college basketball then what takes place between mid-March and the beginning of April. College basketball is an ongoing process. Maybe not for fans, but for coaches and players, they keep going long after Dick Vitale and the cameras are gone. This is a sport that gets my blood pumping and my heart racing just talking about it to another living being.

Who am I kidding? That's happening right now typing these very words as I listen to the slow defeat of the Carolina Panthers. Summer months are painful unless you love baseball. But football is here which means we're one step closer to the start of college basketball.

So if you had questioned the meaning behind the name, now you know...

It's so much more than March.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

An Introduction of Sorts

I'm not sure when it started. There was no clear cut date or event or moment that provides that answer. It's an obsession that has never wavered or faded. It is something has caused me to take ESPN's mantra of "it's not crazy, it's sports" as my own.

Basketball, more specifically college basketball and even more specifically, the basketball that take place at the University of North Carolina, is a way of life for me. Seasons come and go; the names on the back of the jerseys change, but the obsession remains the same. I have often been told that I borderline on the unhealthy side of my love for the Tar Heels, but I figure if you're going to love, there is no need to do it halfway. I'll be honest and tell you that I have shed tears over losses, victories and I do not see those irrational displays of emotion fading anytime soon.

The reason I started this blog was to provide a medium or outlet for, at times, my insane passion for this college team. My personal blog, A Carolina Love, has served that purpose more than once, but it seems that the time has come for it to have its own place in the blogging world. We’re approximately 86 days from tipping off for the 2011-2012 basketball season and as fast as life goes by, I have a feeling the next 2,064 hours are going to crawl.

When the five starters announced their return, the North Carolina Tar Heels became an instant favorite for the 2012 National Championship. Now, I for one do not like to count my chickens before they’re hatched, so I’m not weighing in on that unearned prediction. The talent is there and there is no doubt about that, but things happen. Back up guard, Leslie McDonald, can confirm that after tearing his ACL during a summer Pro-Am game. Life happens; injuries sideline you; family matters bring you home. And it’s for those handful of reasons alone I’m not banking on these pre-season predictions alone to determine the outcome of this upcoming season. Now, while trying to be realistic, I am fully aware of the immense amount of potential that resides within this current roster. And it is up to the guys that put on those jerseys night in and night out to make those predictions a reality.

Winning and losing both result from team effort and whether or not it's there. I believe that the loss to Kentucky in the Elite 8 was not the way this team wanted to end it's season. It was a season of ups and downs, twists and turns that not even the most experienced sports analysts could have predicted. Yet, somehow, through all of that, this youthful, inexperienced squad was one of the last eight in the 2011 NCAA tournament.  When conference play first began, this team had lost half as many games as they played. But by March 5th, 14 games were in the victory column for the 2010-2011 Tar Heels.

I realize that football season has officially started and I'm happy for that. But in my heart of hearts, I'm still ticking off the days until I can say that college basketball has officially started.

And though the next 2,000 hours may go by slowly, they are going by surely and tip-off will be here before you know it.

Come back, visit and stay tuned, because it's only going to get better from this point forward.