UNC Basketball: What it means to me to be a Tar Heel

Mar 11, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels cheerleaders celebrate after their game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the semi-finals of the ACC Conference tournament at Verizon Center. The Tar Heels won 78-47. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 11, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels cheerleaders celebrate after their game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the semi-finals of the ACC Conference tournament at Verizon Center. The Tar Heels won 78-47. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

Keeping It Heel writer Alec Lasley writes what being a Tar Heel means to him just days after another national championship

First off, let me start by saying I am actually a ‘Hoosier’.

Yes, you read that right. I am currently finishing up my senior year at Indiana University and have loved every second of my time in Bloomington.

Don’t be fooled though; my heart will always bleed Carolina Blue.

If you don’t believe me, ask my friends.

I wore my Carolina jersey around campus all day last year, days leading up to their Sweet 16 matchup with IU. I’m surprised I made it through that week without getting hurt.

I even wore my jersey to Assembly Hall this November when the Tar Heels played the Hoosiers here in Bloomington. I once again somehow made it through the game without getting too many boos and swear words tossed my way.

Okay, lets go back to where it all started.

When I was born back in 1995, two months removed from a Tar Heel’s Final Four appearance where they eventually lost to Arkansas, my dad held me for the first time and put a Carolina winter hat on my head.

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Since then, my life has revolved around Carolina athletics. My dad was a third generation Tar Heel graduating in 1979.

Still to this day he jokes and says that he is the reason “Mike” Jordan chose to play basketball at the greatest university on earth, as he arrived in Chapel Hill two years later in ’81.

Something tells me that there were some other reasons why he chose North Carolina, but I’ll let my dad believe that he was the reason.

I don’t remember much about the early years of Carolina basketball. Never saw the likes of Jordan, Worthy, Phil Ford, J.R. Reid, Sam Perkins, Ed Cota, Al Wood, Brad Daugherty, Charlie Scott, Billy Cunningham, Lennie Rosenbluth.

I never saw Dean Smith coach a game. I never saw the four corners offense. I never saw the first three NCAA Championships. I never saw the years that made my great-grandfather, my grandfather, and my dad such die-hard Tar Heels.

I didn’t understand it.

On my second birthday, I moved from Wisconsin to Kentucky. Not just anywhere in Kentucky, but Lexington. My family was surrounded by Wildcat fans everywhere. My dad even worked at the damn University of Kentucky!

This is where my absolute love for Carolina basketball started.

One of my very first memories of showing my Carolina pride was at school. I was probably 7 or 8 years old. Kentucky great, Sam Bowie, had a  daughter that went to my school. One day I was introduced to him and immediately said:  “Go Tar Heels!”. Since then, I have never been shy about showing my Carolina pride.

My mom went to N.C State for her first year of college. Went to school with David Thompson actually. Don’t worry though, she learned very quick that it wasn’t a good move to be in Raleigh.

She moved back home to Buffalo, NY to finish school.

My parents didn’t meet until many years after college. My dad made it known very early on in the relationship that Carolina basketball was something extremely special to him and if they were going to stay together, my mom would need to accept that. Here they are 25 years later, both die-hard Carolina fans.

My mom never had to become a Tar Heel.

She could’ve let my dad have his “alone” time when games came on. She never had to join in on cheering for a school that her soon to be husband went crazy over. But she did because she saw the investment, the love, the devotion, the pure joy and happiness when they won, and the utter disgust when they lost. She saw the amazing emotion that goes into cheering for the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Some of my most favorite moments have revolved around Carolina sports, specifically basketball related.

Let’s fast forward to the 2005 National Championship game now.

We now have Coach Roy Williams. We have some GREAT players. And this is the very first game that I have a vivid memory of watching. I remember sitting right in front of the TV wrapped up in a blanket with my parents next to me.

I was cheering pretty hard for a team that I loved, but didn’t know a lot of details about since I was still relatively young. My dad was a little less drastic in his constant change of emotion, unlike me.

Gosh I wanted them to win so bad, but I still didn’t know exactly why. Again, what was so great and different about this University?

I saw the pure joy and happiness coming from my dad after they won. I saw exactly what my mom saw in him some 15 years before. This is what I wanted to be a part of. I wanted to be a part of the family atmosphere that captured all Carolina fans.

One of my other favorite moments was back in the 2009 National Championship. By this time, my family and I had moved to Michigan and lived some 30 minutes outside of Detroit. So, of course, we were going to make a trip up to the Final Four festivities downtown.

Once we go there, still no intention of getting tickets, we were immediately drawn into the, once again, family atmosphere with Carolina fans. We thought, “How in the world could we not go to the Final Four?! There may not be another time where we get to watch them win a National Championship in person.”

Once we finally found tickets, it was cash only….. A little saddened by that fact, my MOM, the same woman who didn’t even go to Carolina, ran around all of downtown Detroit trying to get money out of ATM’s, but we wouldn’t be able to withdraw enough in the time frame needed to get the tickets.

My mom then turned to the Casino… She spent a great deal of time in the Casino explaining the situation with the employees and managers and we were finally able to get the money for the tickets. And damn was that the best two games of Carolina basketball I have ever seen.

I got to see them win a second National Championship in five years. And this time, IN PERSON!!

These last four years have been tough for me in some aspects. My grandfather would always wear his UNC graduation ring. ALWAYS.

He knew I liked the ring and also loved Carolina.  Before my grandfather passed away, he looked at me and said, “Alec, you will get this ring soon. But you have to promise me one thing… You go to the University of North Carolina for your education.” At that point in my life, I didn’t even think there was a possibility of me going somewhere else.

As time passed on and I came to the realization that my educational and career goals were going to lead me down a different path, I felt like I was not only letting my dad and grandfather down, but also disappointing them. Obviously,  I was not but I could never get over that, and it is still something that sticks with me today.

I watched every Carolina game with my parents throughout my life until I went off to college. It has been different the last four years without jumping for joy and getting upset with them. Nothing more difficult than last year.

I have never cried when it came to sports. I never understood why you would cry, after all it’s just a game right? For me, being a Tar Heel is a lifestyle. Carolina basketball is my life. I cried for the first time on April 4th last year.

I lied, I didn’t cry. I bawled. I just had my heart ripped out. That was our game to win. It was for Marcus. For Brice. It was supposed to be my third National Championship I would’ve seen in my 21 years alive. I have been happy and devastated after games before, but this was different.

We got redemption this year.

Carolina just won their sixth National Championship. A year after crying for the fist time, I am crying for the second time.

This is different though. We won and I have just seen my third National Title. I know I am extremely lucky that I am a Carolina fan. I am grateful. Carolina basketball has given me so much, and even though I didn’t end up going to Chapel Hill for my college years, I hope my grandfather is happy with the promise that I made him, because I am still a Tar Heel and always will be.

Next: Roy Williams is an elite coach, whether you like it or not..

So, what does it mean to be a Tar Heel? For me, it means to be a part of a family. It is passed on from generation to generation. Love. Dedication. Given the opportunity to believe in something bigger than yourself. It gives me hope. Strength.

It is truly a lifestyle. I love the University of North Carolina. I will always be a Tar Heel.