This question came up during Roy Williams' Friday press conference. Would he follow UNC tradition and start all the senior players, even the walk-ons? His answer may be a bit of a surprise.
He doesn't know yet.
Roy did say he would start grad student Justin Knox but the other three seniors who are part of Blue Steel may not start. Obviously this is going to rub some Tar Heels fans the wrong way. Seniors starting is a tradition that goes back to Dean Smith and part of the fabric that makes up the Carolina Way. However, Roy points out that (1) he never promises a senior they will start on Senior Day and (2) the three walk-on seniors in question do not fit the positions on the court particularly well. In that respect, Roy feels like you are forcing things a bit to try and get them on the court. So as it stand right now the issue is being debated among the members of the coaching staff.
While I understand the tradition, I tend to think this might be a situation where adhering to strict tradition for the sake of getting some walk-ons on the court might not be the best way to go. In a game that could end up being very close and the ACC regular season riding on it, handing Duke 2-3 possessions to start the game might be problematic. Roy did say he could put them on the court and when UNC gets possession call timeout and bring the starters in. He also could put the walk-ons on the court with the starters before the tip and then pull them off as he did in 2009.
Speaking for myself I look at it like this.
After an all day build up, the Dean Dome is going to be electric at the start of this game. Duke has not been a great road team and their first half efforts are often subpar at best. The worst thing you can do is give them any sort of confidence at the start of a road game by putting walk-ons out there. UNC needs its best players on the court because if they can get off to the kind of start they had in Durham, it is possible they can score an early knockdown versus the Devils. The starters need to be on the court to feed off the energy of the opening tip and get the crowd rolling with them. Having the walk-ons start and then deflating the crowd with a timeout or stop to bring them off would disrupt what I think will be hyped up atmosphere.
Honoring the seniors is a wonderful gesture. It reminds us of Dean Smith and his respect for the team over the individual. That being said the 2010 season was an unmitigated disaster. UNC now sits perched ready to score the ultimate redemption by coming back from 10th place a year ago to the top of the ACC heap amid personnel turmoil and the growing pains of a young team. Honoring walk-on seniors certainly has a place in the Tar Heel program. However in this case I think burying last season with an ACC regular season title in this one is just as important.