If you want the inside story on Michael Jordan’s practice habits, what is was like to work for Coach Smith or just to learn anything about UNC athletics then you can look no further than to UNC’s own Mark Isley. Isley has been involved with UNC athletics in one capacity or another for close to thirty years and Haley from the MandMsportshow had a chance to talk with his mentor.
MandMsportshow: You have worked for UNC basketball as a Student, and later with Carolina Basketball School, and you now are working for the University on Game days? What did/do you enjoy about each one and are you still working in any capacity for UNC Athletics?
Isley: Being a manager, the thing I enjoyed the most was just the experience. Being in practices every day, game day prep, the actual games, getting that behind-the-scenes look like being in the locker room at halftime, the travel, those types of things. Also, getting to know the guys as people and being accepted by them as friends. When they use the term “Carolina family”, it’s real. I have made friendships with a lot of guys and ladies who were not players or managers during my years. For example, Phil Ford became a good friend of mine, even though we were several years apart. My post-student work at camp and at the scorer’s table helped develop that friendship. We are all bonded by the experience.
For basketball camp, I developed a lot of great friendships, most of them the managers, which I still have today. The thing I enjoyed the most was getting to see those friends for those 3 weeks, many of which I would not see the other 49. One of those was Robert Greene, who was head coach at Arlington High School in Texas. He was in charge of the little Tar Heels. He passed away from leukemia a few years ago. He was a great guy. After a hard day at camp, we would sit around the office and just tell stories and laugh. It was hard work, but we had a great time. I remember one time Dante Calabria coming up and we ended up having a water gun fight.
Today, I am the official scorer for basketball games and work as a spotter for the PA announcer for the football games. I don’t even look at that as work. Again, what I enjoy the most is seeing my friends, especially at basketball games. I also enjoy getting to eat in the media rooms!!!
MandMsportshow: You were a manager MJ’s final season. What do you remember about him as a player, but more importantly as a person behind the scenes?
Isley: As a player, I remember him being the competitive athlete you always heard or read about. Nobody outworked him in practice. He never took plays off, either. One memory I have that illustrates this was one day after practice when the team was running sprints. Coach Smith had a reward system in place called “plus points.” You got plus points for things like drawing charges, diving on the floor for loose balls, making good plays, etc. Players could then “cash in” their plus points at the end of practice and get out of running. I never remember Michael using plus points. This particular practice, Coach Smith had them doing 6 crossings in 30 seconds. Everybody used their plus points but Michael and a JV walk on, who did not have enough plus points to use. The other player kept missing the time, so he had to keep running. Michael kept re-running the sprints, never taking is plus points once. He kept bending over, grabbing his shorts, encouraging his teammate to run harder, but never took the easy way out.
Away from the court, he was just as competitive. There was a Ms. Pac Man game and a pool table in the basement of Granville South, where the team stayed. If you set the high score on Ms. Pac man, he would try to beat it. If you beat him at pool, you didn’t leave the table until he got even. He was also very particular and practical. It was common to go by his room and see him ironing or vacuuming. On the road, we used to get the team a late night snack from the hotel . This usually consisted of milk, apples, bananas, etc. Michael would always take the apples and thump them for freshness before he picked one.
He also had a mischievous sense of humor. That 1984 game at Maryland was also my first flight. Another manager and I drove Coach Guthridge’s car to Washington so he could go recruiting. We were allowed to fly back with the team, since it was a charter flight. After we took off, Michael snuck up behind me, leaned over and made a sound similar to throwing up. He also always treated the manager with respect and as friends.