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The Alumni Game

Five words for you: Tar Heel basketball in September.

In short it was incredible and not so much for the game which itself was almost secondary. It was the gathering of all those great Tar Heels on that court which is a cherished place that lent it a special feeling.  Looking down on the court your eyes went from Dean Smith to Michael Jordan to George Karl to Tyler Hansbrough to Jerry Stackhouse to Larry Brown to Antawn Jamison and on and on.  So many incredible players and coaches in that 94 x 50 foot space that it sent chills down your spine.  On that court you had three coaches who had a combined five national titles, three National Player of the year award recipients, countless All-Americans, two Cousy Award winners and more national champions than you could shake a stick at.  I would venture to say no other program in the nation could stage a game like this nor boast the coaching prowess branched from Dean Smith.  It was truly an event 100 years in the making and very much a once in a lifetime event.

The night started with the Smith Center lights being darkened and the crowd treated to a video montage which, without a doubt, included every great moment in UNC history which had been committed to video.  The Walter Davis shot to complete the 8 points in 17 seconds was included along with Rick Fox beating #1 Oklahoma, Marvin Williams' three point play versus Duke in 2005, Danny Green dunking on Greg Paulus, the closing moments of each of the four national titles starting in 1982 and a variety of other game winners. Just about every key play you can think of and just plain greatness from Heels past. The neat part of the video was when they showed many of the great game winners, the crowd exploded as though we were watching it for the first time.

The players and coaches were introduced next with the lights out and a spotlight.  This was rather lengthy not because of the number of players but because this group of players all had extensive accolades which were announced.  Most of these Tar Heels were huge contributors and stars in their own right at UNC. The loudest cheering was reserved for Tyler Hansbrough when he was introduced.  The coaches were recognized and Dean Smith received a long ovation which included the players raising their arms and cheering him own.  All the players were on the court as was Bill Guthridge, Roy Williams and Larry Brown.  When Dean was recognized he did not want to leave his seat to come out.  As the lengthy retelling of his accomplishments proceeded I could not help but think: "Dean probably hates they are doing this." As he has done so often Dean eschewed the recognition and only after Roy came back over did he relent and come onto the court to receive an ovation that brought down the house.  What was telling was the fact the players on the court led the cheers illustrating how much they held Dean in esteem.

From there they actually got down to the business of playing the game which was pretty much what you expected.  Yes it was a tad sloppy at times and since no one was going to risk injury they did hold back some.  Still it was entertaining.  "Jump Around" was played right before tipoff and Danny Green obliged the crowd with one last dance.  Vince Carter then called over to the Blue Team bench for Shammond Williams to come out and pointed at Green.  Williams responded by dancing some himself much to the delight of the crowd.  The game was fun and for many of these players it must have been a thrill to be able to suit up in Tar Heel uniforms and play on the Smith Center court again.

Based on the rosters, it was assumed the White team would win and that was ultimately the case.  The White squad had too much firepower and the Blue team had a lot of trouble hitting shots.  There were some nice touches like the Blue team going to Four Corners at one point to honor Dean.  It was also interesting to note that some things never change.  Jamison can still catch the ball and shoot it all in the same motion.  Carter can still throw down some insane dunks.  Green can still light it up from three, though we really did not expect otherwise since he was doing it five months ago.  We did get treated to the Lawson vs Felton matchup we anticipated.  Both of them made a go at each other.  It appeared to me Felton had trouble keeping Lawson in front of him and on one occasion Lawson crossed Felton up then blew by him for a layup.  Bobby Frasor drove the lane for a layup and had it promptly sent back by Rashad McCants. Jamison and Carter bantered back and forth with the latter throwing down three nasty dunks.  On one break Blue came down three on two with Carter in the center.  Instead of passing it off to one of his teammates on the wing, Carter tossed it off the backboard to himself and dunked it.  Near the end of the half, Carter got another one off the glass via Lawson to S. Williams who tossed it up to the glass.  Carter caught it and did a windmill dunk just before the buzzer. The second half was a fairly mundane affair.  The crowd enjoyed a few more nice plays but mostly it was just fun to sit there and soak up the fact we were watching so many great players on the court.    White was in complete control and ended up winning by 21.

Some other interesting aspects of the night were:

  • The 2009 NCAA title banner was unfurled with the full team on hand and yes it looks great up there with the others.
  • Michael Jordan was honored during one of the 2nd half timeouts for his upcoming Hall of Fame induction. A new banner with all of the HOF inductees in UNC history was unfurled opposite the title banners.
  • George Karl was the head coach for the Blue team. John Keuster coached the White team.
  • In case you were wondering, the VIPs at the scorer's table were(seated L to R): Bill Guthridge, Roy Williams, Michael Jordan, Dean Smith and Larry Brown
  • Dante Calabria has much less hair than he once did.
  • Ademola Okulaja was on hand and interviewed by Jones Angel during a timeout.  His recovery from cancer is going well.
  • Jeff McInnis was on the White team which had Phil Ford as a coach.  Let that one sink in a moment.
  • Jackie Manuel may have scored more points in this game than he did any one game during his entire senior season.
  • Maybe it was me, but the road uniforms looks to be a deeper shade of blue than last season.
  • The current team was on hand and for most folks it was a first look at the Wear twins, Dexter Strickland, John Henson and Leslie McDonald.

As I said, it was an incredible night.  A ton of credit should go to the UNC basketball staff and athletic department for putting together the event and have it be such a success.  It was a great start to the year long celebration of UNC basketball's 100th anniversary and I look forward to watching the next chapter unfold come November.