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UNC Basketball: How We Cope With the End.

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Only in very rare instances do we see a year end like 2017. When it doesn’t, how do we move on?

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Charlotte Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

It started with a tweet.

There will be plenty of time to talk about the future, this isn’t about that. Rather, it’s more about the reaction a harmless tweet from the N&O’s UNC beat writer created.

The tweet was about sixteen hours after the end of the season for UNC, as well as the careers of Joel Berry and Theo Pinson in Carolina Blue. It seemed a little quick for some, and actually set off a debate in our Slack about whether it was “too soon” to talk about next season for this team. I became fascinated at the idea that while we are one fanbase, each fan is going to react to the end differently.

There are many factors that go into this, obviously: how the season met its end, how “likable” the team was, what the future of the team looks like, and so on. What I’ve seen on-line, I’ve seen three main reactions:

It’s too soon to talk about next year

There’s a feeling that when the season ends, you have to take time to savor it and put it in context. You just spent months pouring your heart out supporting a team, and years following players. You can’t just dismiss them that easily.

There appears to be a lot of that this year, owed mostly to how beloved the seniors were. On some level it feels like you are dishonoring their memory by even housing a thought about next year. You get angry the moment any of your fellow fans even breath a thought about who is returning and who is coming in.

I think you find this sentiment in varying factors every season. Any national title year finds this one in spades, because, well, you just won it all and you want to savor it. In reality, it’s been a long time since we’ve had a season end like this: with beloved members of the team leaving but a season didn’t go the way we wanted. 2012 is probably the closest mirror to this. Guys like Tyler Zeller and John Henson leaving the team, and of course Kendall Marshall breaking his wrist during the tournament and his subsequent choice to head to the NBA.

2012 also was similar in that there were a lot of unknowns going into the next year. There was talent coming in (enter Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson) but we didn’t know how good they would be, and that transition could be rough. The season also just ended in such a disappointing way, it felt wrong to start to wonder about the next group.

I’m done with basketball until next year

You can put me in this group. I might catch some of the remaining fifteen games of the season, but my heart just isn’t in watching other teams fight for the title. Some quit it completely, some will watch it passively, but this group of people has lost any sort of passion for college basketball until the promise of a new season is right around the corner. One of my friends simply responded with “it’s baseball season.”

I’ve always been at this level. I cannot tell you the last national title game I watched from beginning to end when Carolina wasn’t involved. I’ll catch on Twitter how things are going, and if the game is close, maybe I’ll flip over to watch live. Same goes for any of the games this weekend, and that’s funny considering one round is occurring in the city I call home right now.

There’s also another reason why folks will pack up and get away from basketball for the rest of the year: fear of who might win. It’s a lot easier to avoid getting hurt twice if you don’t emotionally invest in teams that are left and who can win. Let’s just move on before we elaborate any further.

What’s Next?

As a fan of college basketball, you face the unpleasant truth that people move on, and do so like clockwork. Coaches can’t afford sentimentality, to keep the fan base pleased they have to keep thinking about the future at the same time. You can thank the players for their hard work, and in truth, you have already. Maybe you attended Senior Night, maybe you caught as many of their games in person as you could, or maybe you tweeted at them or liked one of their Instagram posts. Once that final buzzer sounds, however, it’s time to move on.

This is the polar opposite of the first group, and it similarly ebbs and flows based on the season. I’d say a lot of the fan base has actually been at this level for a good chunk of the past decade plus. There weren’t many changes in the team after the 2006-2008 seasons, same with the 2011 season, and after 2013-2015. The seasons didn’t end the way we wanted them to, but because the team performed at or about where we all thought they would, and a good part of the base was coming back, it wasn’t too long before you look ahead and start getting excited already.

Obviously, after title years this feeling is muted as you wanted to celebrate, but 2016 and this year also feel like ones where someone may feel a little off for jumping ahead. Program-defining players are leaving without a championship, and their presence on campus meant so much that it does seem insulting to toss them aside.

Eventually, we all come to the same place: what’s in the past is in the past, and soon the whistle will blow on the next season. We just get there in different ways, and that’s fine. It’s all part of being a fan.