|Thousands of fans greet the UNC Men’s Basketball team at the Dean Smith Center on Tuesday afternoon. | Photo: Chris White|
I’ve been blessed to live through three NCAA Championship seasons for UNC. Those were some magical seasons.
2015-16 had its fair share of ups and downs. Carolina was ranked preseason No. 1 and started off strong. The Heels stubbed their toes a few times and many doubted they could even play at a consistently high level. However, Carolina amped up its play in the past month or so and reeled off great wins to earn ACC Regular Season and Tournament Championships. In the NCAA Tournament, the Heels breezed through to the Final Four, dismantling team after team along the way.
Then there was the title game. It will hurt for quite sometime. Losing the way Carolina did is going to be hard to forget. Heck, I’ll never forget it. But this one game shouldn’t define the incredible season the Heels had. This one game shouldn’t define the college careers of Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson and Joel James – who led a team that has gone through so much in the past four years. For a team that was questioned about its grit and toughness at nauseam this season, Carolina put everything on the line in Houston on Monday night. That’s all anyone should ask for.
I’m sitting outside the Smith Center as I write this, waiting for the team to arrive back from Houston. I’m actually one of the first fans here. Why? Because I know this memorable season is not defined by one game. If you’d asked me Monday night, I would have given you a different answer. But I can’t have that mentality. I must look at the big picture. Although this loss hurts more than any loss I’ve experienced as a fan, I wake up each and every day incredibly proud to be a Tar Heel. I can never thank my mom and her mom – my late grandmother – enough for influencing my choice in sports teams in a family that was split between Duke and UNC – with a touch of N.C. State thrown in. Sometimes it isn’t about the wins and losses. Just look at the photo I took above. The haters and naysayers can blab their mouths all they want but everyone at this event today got the big picture.
I may or may not see Carolina win another national title for the rest of my life but I’ll remember moments like this, albeit heartbreaking, just as often as the championships.