UNC Women's Basketball: It's much more than basketball

If you've been fortunate enough to attend a UNC women's basketball game, you probably got to see first-hand how this group understands its more than just a sport.

2023 Invesco QQQ Basketball Hall of Fame Women's Showcase - Connecticut v North Carolina
2023 Invesco QQQ Basketball Hall of Fame Women's Showcase - Connecticut v North Carolina / G Fiume/GettyImages

Needless to say, there was a lot going on at Carmichael Arena on Sunday afternoon.

The day was dedicated to honoring the UNC women's basketball program's alumni, with an emphasis on recognizing the 1994 National Championship team during its 30th year anniversary. With over 90 alumni in the building, a game still had to be played, as the Tar Heels took care of ACC foe Virginia to get back in the win column.

As impressive as it was seeing the former Tar Heels back at Carmichael Arena, and how much fun it was watching the likes of Deja Kelly and Alyssa Ustby lead the current Tar Heels to victory, the thing that stood out the most was what happened after the final buzzer had sounded.

First, the alumni joined the current team for a postgame celebration at mid court, a reminder that those alumni paved the way for future Tar Heels. It was one big unit in a full circle around the center court logo, as at that moment, it didn't matter what year you graduated: everyone in that group was a Tar Heel who was thrilled to celebrate a victory.

With all that craziness surrounding the day, the current players could have easily bolted to the locker room to celebrate with their teammates. However, the players provided a reminder that it is much more than just a sport, as it's safe to say that these student-athletes see the bigger picture.

As is tradition, each member of the UNC women's basketball program works their way around the court to thank the fans for coming. From hugs with season ticket holders to simple "thank you so much for coming" statements to fans hanging near the court, it isn't a chore or something that is forced upon this group: it is something they want to do.

After heading to the locker room, once again these student-athletes could take care of their postgame activities and find their way out of Carmichael Arena to continue their day. However, the players emerge out of the locker room for what feels like their encore presentation, as fans swarm around them to be in their presence.

From the little girl who was holding onto Lexi Donarski's shorts in an effort to let her know that she was next in line to the young fan who ran towards Teonni Key asking "Miss Key, can we please take a picture?" there were plenty of heartfelt moments occurring that you simply had to just witness for yourself.

Alexandra Zelaya was a popular player for the fans to surround, as the number of photos she so happily took was countless. Maria Gakdeng came out of the locker room and was immediately met by a fan who hugged her, as Gakdeng was just as thrilled to be there with her.

I couldn't even tell you how many autographs the likes of Deja Kelly and Indya Nivar signed in just a short span of time.

From observing this first-hand, this isn't a chore for these student-athletes. They understand that this is so much more than just a sport, as they genuinely go above and beyond to be around the people who come out and support them on game days. They probably don't even realize just how much those few minutes mean to the young fans who look up to them.

Heck, even I was able to talk to some of the players, as communicating with the team that we cover on a daily basis was a truly special moment.

The UNC women's basketball program is a top-25 team on the court, but their ranking doesn't define who this group is. What defines them is who they are as student-athletes and human beings, as Courtney Banghart and her staff have put together one special group of individuals.

If you haven't witnessed it yourself, I suggest you go check out a game at Carmichael Arena. You won't regret it.

dark. Next. Deja Kelly puts together impressive performance. Deja Kelly puts together impressive performance

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