UNC Basketball Thrives off Tradition

A couple of years ago, I came across a screensaver that has many past basketball players from the University of North Carolina. What I love about this screensaver is the caption at the bottom at the bottom, “TRADITION IS EXCELLENCE CONTINUED. CAROLINA BASKETBALL IS TRADITION.”You can notice this screensaver as the current background for my Twitter page. As a lifelong Carolina fan, I have seen numerous individuals don the basketball uniforms for the University of North Carolina. In addition, I have also become accustomed to the traditions that each team carries on year after year.

Mar 15, 2012; Greensboro, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams reacts during practice before the second round of the 2012 NCAA men

Here are the traditions that symbolize Carolina Basketball. A player who is injured wears a shirt and tie while sitting on the bench. Whenever UNC plays an away game, the entire team also wears suits. The basketball team had a business-like approach and/or clean-cut image when visiting another university. During warm-ups, the basketball team has a certain drill that they do before every game. Usually, the ball is passed several times during a game before a shot is taken; unless a player has an open shot, of course. This tradition was more prevalent during the Dean Smith era. Every senior on the basketball team starts during the last regular season home game. They play for several minutes. It doesn’t matter who Carolina plays. During the Dean Smith era, seniority played a role in a player’s minutes on the court. This tradition is not as common today with Carolina. Usually, Coach Smith did not start freshmen. Phil Ford became the exception, then several others. No individual player is bigger than the team. A prime example of this tradition is the 1982 NCAA Championship team. Michael Jordan was the third option on that team. Although he hit the “big shot” during the win over Georgetown, Jordan was not the star of the team. It was a collective effort. Also, usually the starters on UNC’s teams have point averages that are close in proximity. During blowout wins, the bench (better known as “Blue Steel”) plays the last few minutes. This gesture is a sign of respect to our opponents. Carolina is not into running the up the score on opponents either. However, some schools have no problem embarrassing their opponents. You can probably guess which teams these are. The 2009 National Championship game is a prime example of how much Carolina respects their opponent. Not to come across as arrogant, but Carolina could have beaten Michigan State by 30 or 40 points. In fact, Carolina beat Michigan State by 35 points in December of that season in the same place the championship was played. Roy let up on Michigan State halfway through the second half of the game. Blue Steel also saw several minutes of action.

In the past few years, Tar Heel Nation has witnessed the emergence of new traditions at Carolina. When players’ names are being announced before the tip-off, the starters do a certain “handshake” gesture with one of the members of Blue Steel. I have no idea who started, but I do know that Mike Copeland made this popular. There is a video where Copeland explains the various Carolina handshakes of players such as Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Deon Thompson, and Tywon Lawson.  Late Night with Roy is the first official practice for the men’s basketball team at UNC. Although this is nothing new, the event has become bigger than a usual practice. Now, it actually has an actual title. While Dean Smith was UNC’s coach, the first official practice did not become an event until the early 90s. Around this time, ESPN would show live excerpts from the first official practices of major powerhouses such as Carolina, Duke, Kansas, and Kentucky.

During the past few years prior to any home game’s tip-off, House of Pain’s “Jump Around” song blasts throughout the arena. Danny Green started the tradition of dancing to “Jump Around” in 2008. After Danny graduated from UNC, Leslie McDonald carried on the tradition. One of the highlights of next season is seeing this tradition come back into the fold at home basketball games.

The newest tradition is the basketball players having pick-up games at the basketball courts located across from Cobb dormitory. This tradition started during the spring of 2011 with that season’s basketball team. You can watch clips of numerous pick-up games on YouTube and other various websites on the Internet.

In some ways, traditions can be redundant and meaningless. At Carolina, this is not the case. Traditions set UNC’s basketball program apart from others. Traditions help define UNC basketball’s persona and image. Tradition is “that thing” that embodies UNC. This is one of many reasons (and believe me, there are A LOT) why I love UNC. I started out as a fan, and ended becoming an alum. I appreciate Coach Roy Williams for maintaining the essence of Carolina basketball, and continuing the traditions. I also thank UNC’s basketball players for embracing Carolina Basketball traditions and creating new ones that include the fans and student body. The next time you watch the North Carolina Tar Heels basketball team play a game, think about the numerous things that embody UNC Basketball. Tar Heel born…