Tuesday night’s buzzer beating loss to Miami was still freshly painful when it was time for the Tar Heel seniors to take the microphone and give their speeches following their final game in the Dean Dome.
Joel Berry II kicked things off by talking about how it was a tough loss and he didn’t know why people love hitting game-winners against Carolina. Berry mentioned that he loved playing in front of the Smith Center crowd. He continued his speech by calling back to his early times on campus when he blamed the coaching staff for his lack of playing time. His parents told Joel to look within himself and ask what he was doing to get them to play him more. Joel said that changed his entire career and asks everyone to take that away from him when they remember him.
Berry addressed Coach Roy Williams and said he didn’t know why he took a chance on him but that he knew as soon as he got the scholarship that he was coming to UNC. Joel admitted that he wasn’t sure this team had what it took to reach their goals and dreams at the beginning of this season, but they’ve come a long way. Berry said he wished he had another year at UNC, and I think we all wish that too.
Joel mentioned that he got engaged this weekend and he thanked his fianceé for her support before thanking the crowd one last time. He apologized for the rollercoaster of emotions the last few years, including the Villanova game. He also told the kids out there to not let anyone tell them they can’t do something and to use that as motivation the way he has.
Berry said that although the Heels lost this game, he reminded everyone that the season isn’t over. He closed his speech by saying “as long as you have me and Theo leading this team, never count us out” and it would be foolish to disagree with him on that.
Next up was a very emotional Theo Pinson. He started by saying that he bet everyone didn’t think there’d ever be a time he didn’t want to talk. He talked about how rough of a game it was and how badly he wanted the win. Pinson addressed his family and told them that he plays basketball for them. He had a conversation with his dad last year before the Miami game in which he told him he just wanted to make him proud, and he hoped that he’d done that.
Pinson’s mom questions why he plays around so much, and his answer is that he doesn’t like anyone being unhappy. He just wants to make people smile. His sister hates Duke more than anyone, he says. His dad has traveled to so many games that Theo says he’s not sure how he still has a job.
Theo then thanked his teammates with special shoutouts for Luke Maye and “Crackhead Kenny”. He then says “Cam, I see why you left Pitt” and follows that with “I’m gonna make a joke, that’s what I do” which is very true. He mentioned Joel and how they started from the bottom and said he loves him to death. Pinson called Joel Roy’s favorite saying, a tough little nut.
Some of the most sincere words of Theo’s speech were saved for Roy Williams. Pinson said he thinks every day about how no other coach in the country would let him be Theo the way that Roy does. He mentioned that Roy lets him make fun of people and never gets mad.
In true Theo fashion he said that he’d been scared and quickly interjected that he didn’t want Roy to die, but that he wanted him to know that letting him be himself has meant the world to him. He thanked Roy for letting him come to play “for this great university in front of these great fans.” His dad told him that college would be the best four years of his life and Theo said that playing for the University of North Carolina had been just that.
He concluded his speech by saying that tonight’s loss was just a little bump and that “they didn’t come this far just to come this far.”
Last up was Roy Williams. He thanked the crowd for sticking around to hear from Joel and Theo. He noted that you can’t say Joel and you can’t say Theo, but you must say Joel and Theo. He also remarked that it makes Theo mad because his name comes second always. Roy called this recruiting class possibly the most significant in the last 50 years. He made sure to mention Justin Jackson and called his decision to leave for the NBA the correct one.
Roy said that he considers himself the luckiest coach in America because he got to coach Joel and Theo, and he didn’t mind telling them that he didn’t want them to die either. He also told them that he loves them from the bottom of his heart.
Williams mentioned that he takes Senior Night very seriously because he wants the guys to have a win on their last night on this floor because he loves coaching them in the Smith Center and loves coaching them in front of the home fans. He said he did such a bad job the last three days, in typical Roy fashion, because he put so much pressure on the team to send Joel and Theo out with a win. Even in the loss, Roy wanted to note Joel’s impressive shot to tie the game in the waning seconds. He said even down 15-16 points, he felt like they were going to win, and he thought they would have if the clock hadn’t run out.
He thanked the crowd for their support all year, and like the other two, made sure to mention that the team isn’t done yet. Someone in the crowd yelled “BEAT DUKE” loudly while Roy was talking, and that prompted one of the best quotes of all time from Coach.
Roy closed his speech by telling the crowd that the team loves them, thanks them for being there, and that they are going to keep playing.
It was an emotional night all around as we say goodbye to these guys in Chapel Hill. However, like they all mentioned, this is not the end of the road for them. Here’s hoping they are sent off on a much more confetti-filled note a couple months from now.