Another great class plays once more on the Smith Center floor.
What will happen on Sunday is probably a rarer event than we think. Rare in the sense that great players do not stay four seasons anymore. Rare that we get a moment to say goodbye to someone like Tyler Hansbrough. Rare that it is not just Tyler Hansbrough but also a player like Danny Green as well as a sentimental favorite in Bobby Frasor. Then you head down the list to the guys like Mike Copeland, J.B. Tanner, Jack Wooten and Patrick Moody who give their all in practice and hope for fleeting glory at the end of some blowout. On Sunday these seven players will play once more on the Smith Center court representing the University of North Carolina. It will be the last time they will run out that tunnel to the band cranking out "Tar Heel Born" amid the roar of fat cats and students alike. The last time they will dive for a loose ball and land squarely between Asheville and Greensboro on the state of North Carolin emblem at center court. After four years, these guys will mark the end of a journey.
For Tyler Hansbrough it will likely be the last game he attends at the Smith Center where he will look up and not see his #50 on the front row of retired jerseys hanging in the rafters. Hansbrough will, unfairly to him and others, be the focus on Sunday. That is human nature but in reflecting on Hansbrough's career ask yourself to define the moment you realized you could be watching the career of a Tar Heel legend unfold? For me it was his freshman season against Georgia Tech. UNC trailed by a huge deficit early but it was Hansbrough taking the team on his back and doing something no other Tar Heel had ever done in the Dean Dome: score 40 points. That in itself, is rarefied air given the names hanging above your head and as a freshman Hansbrough did it. For me everything since then simply confirmed what I discovered that night, Hansbrough would be one of the greatest. We saw flashes of it again at Duke to end the season. Against Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament the following season he dominated a physical Spartan team. That setup a player of the year campaign in 2008 which had so many signature moments, I dare not attempt to recount them. So when Hansbrough decided to return for one more run as a Tar Heel, the greatest beneficiaries, one could argue, were the fans who would be afforded the fullest measure of a college career from a player who had went from the freshman we hoped would be good enough to keep the Heels above water following the mass exodus in 2005 to a legend in his own right.
Of course he could never have done it alone and at UNC the right way is the team way. Danny Green certainly played his role and played it well. Affectionately known here at THF as Danny "Freaking" Green, the senior from New York is known for his media utterances as much as his jumpshot. The latter, over the past two seasons, has been the catalyst for many a Tar Heel win. While Hansbrough and others land the crushing blows to an opposing team it is often Green who drops the dagger. What is interesting is I am not sure Green has ever hit a game winner but you could easily argue that many of the threes he has hit or blocks or a key rebound here and there were just as crucial at the moment they came in a certain game than Wayne Ellington's three versus Clemson or Hansbrough's putback against Virginia Tech. Often times Green hitting a shot is the difference between the Heels taking off on a 9-0 run and allowing the opposing team to hang around. This season Green has been a leader. He also continues to make plays big and small that push the team along. While his statistical accomplishments are not necessarily memorable, the way he has played the game has been. Every great Tar Heel team, especially the ones who have won the title, have that one players who does a little bit of everything. Green is that guy and hopefully his play will lift the Heels in March/April.
Often overlooked in his struggles during the final three years at UNC is the fact Bobby Frasor started at PG on a 2006 team that finished second in the ACC at 12-4. For all the hype Greg Paulus has enjoyed at Duke, no one seems to remember that Frasor was actually a better PG than Paulus was when both of them were freshman. Frasor was thrown directly into the fire. Quentin Thomas was still unable to take care of the ball and Frasor was able to do that. Granted he was not Ty Lawson but on a team as young as UNC was in 2006, what Frasor did was nothing short of outstanding. When Lawson was recruited, everyone, including Frasor knew he would be pushed to the bench. At no point was it evident Frasor complained. He understood his role and as a "gym rat" he was always working on finding ways to contribute. That reason alone is why his injuries, especially one coming about two games too late for a redshirt are regarded as so unfair. Here is a kid doing it the right way, making the most of his talents to help the team and for whatever reason he can stay healthy. In his senior season Frasor is healthy but his game has struggled. The shots refuse to fall and watching him you keep hoping. Hoping that the pendulum which has swung so horribly the wrong way for Frasor will swing back in equal measure to the other side. Hoping that for the torn ACL, the foot injury, the denied NCAA appeal that some of those threes will start falling like Wayne Ellington in the 2nd half versus Miami. It would not erase the struggles but it would seem to be fair.
I have often wondered if the guys who rarely play on a team like UNC don't have the best positions in the world. If you are Mike Copeland, Jack Wooten, J.B. Tanner and Patrick Moody, sure you would love to play and contribute. Copeland certainly has in key situations and has never really struck me as a liability. In the case of the other three, they likely have resigned themselves to being what they are: stand-ins for Gerald Henderson, Jeff Teague, Javi Gonzalez or others on a long list of UNC opponents. These guys are the ones show up every day in practice, play their hearts out and do their level best to give the starters something to work against. They do so without glory and honestly they bear the penalty of the regular players blowing the Maryland game. That is the nature of being on a team and for their hard work they are rewarded with front row seats at every game and to be along for the journey. Any one of these guys could be at Elon or Campbell actually getting playing time but if you ask them would they rather be on the court in some sparsely attended Atlantic Sun game or riding along with one of the greatest programs in history the answer is obvious. For these guys, Sunday will be about sharing the stage for once with Hansbroug, Frasor and Green. And if those three and the rest of the regular do a bang up job, maybe they will get some time on the court at the end of the game.
The funny thing about Senior Day games is there is still so much that might be written. In the coming 2-3 weeks, this team will take aim at cutting down nets and winning the national title. On Senior Day we will take a moment to reflect on what they have already accomplished and say thank you for representing North Carolina with honor on the court. In a way Senior Day is also a sendoff on a journey that will hopefully end with them back at the Smith Center in April 7th with a NCAA Championship trophy in hand.