Well technically, I am referring to the 1999-2000 season when the party wasn’t over until (whoops out of time) the 2000 Final Four. Picture it: Friday, March 24, Granville Towers, Chapel Hill, NC Spring Semester 2000. I was celebrating my 19thbirthday and a Tar Heel victory over Tennessee that put us into the elite 8 of the NCAA tournament. My best friend from high school was visiting me from Western Carolina University in Cullowhee. This would be a mere anecdote except for an article from WCU’s student newspaper that I stumbled upon during her visit. The newspaper included a sports column written shortly after the NCAA tournament pairings of what was then of course a field of 64. The WCU author had gone into a diatribe about how UNC with their 18-13 record had no business being in the tournament, and he guaranteed a walloping and early Tar Heel exit in the first round.
This may have marked the first time in my life that I penned an invective response to someone who dared criticize my beloved Tar Heels. At the time I read the article, the Heels were about to defy all critics and go to the Final Four with that 18-13 record. I wrote a letter that pretty much told the author he should shove it. I’m 99.9% positive my retort never made it to said writer’s desk, but he was not the only person that year who felt that the Tar Heels were in the tournament because of their name only.
This was a Tar Heel team at the turn of the century (jeez that makes us all seem old doesn’t it) that was coached by Bill Guthridge in what would be his final season as Head Coach. It was also a young, Tar Heel team with Freshmen by the names of Julius Peppers and Joseph Forte. Jason Capel and Kris Lang were Sophomores and Brendan Heywood was a Junior. What the 1999-2000 team had that this Tar Heel squad desperately needs was seasoned point guard in senior, Ed Cota. However, last century’s team shared a lot of the same growing pains as the current Tar Heel squad. They lost the ACC/Big-Ten Challenge to the eventual National Champion, Michigan State. They also went on a 4 game losing streak in January (a skid that I hope this year’s team can avoid). They lost to Duke twice and went out in the first round to Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament.
That being said, as we all well know, March is when it matters. And in March 2000, the 18-13 Tar Heels went on a tear that included wins against Missouri, Stanford, Tennessee and Tulsa and eventually lost to a very talented Florida squad in the Final Four. By the way Duke didn’t make it to the Final Four that year with a team that went 15-1 in the ACC and included Jason Williams and Shane Battier. Granted, the 1999-2000 Tar Heels had Cota at the point and Haywood at center. However, the point of this history lesson is don’t ever make the mistake of a novice, bitter sports journalist from Cullowhee and count the Tar Heels out. If I were Coach Williams I would remind them of that season, and how they made all the nay-sayers eat crow and swallow their tongues.
Right now it is painful to watch the Tar Heels play basketball primarily because you know they are talented and capable of dominating a game. But, remember these past two ACC losses were not blow-outs and games we should have and could have won. All is not lost, and there are glimmers of hope and improvement each game. I am currently in a 31 year relationship with UNC Tar Heel basketball, and I’m not going to bail just because they don’t look as good as they used to. They’re trying. They’re your spouse who is trying to cut down on his or her calories and look better. But just like weight loss, it won’t happen for the Tar Heels overnight. Here’s hoping that they reach their goal by the time Spring Break and swimsuit season roll around.