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UNC Basketball: Passing the torch

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Luke Maye and Kenny Williams will move into the leadership voids left by Joel Berry and Theo Pinson.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, Jake’s perfect reminiscence ended with the following:

This game is a fun, exhilarating, exhausting experience. Sometimes we forget that the men in uniforms are not robots, but instead college students, trying to navigate their late teens and early 20’s.

The past six years at UNC have been a stark and refreshing reminder.

Now, it’s time to put an end to this era.

However, this is North Carolina. It’s a safe assumption that a new one is just around the corner.

This isn’t about looking ahead too soon and forgetting the past. This is about the past forging the future.

In 2008-2009, the “Ty-Heels” were lead by Ty Lawson and Tyler Hansbrough (with Tyler Zeller as the newcomer). 2009-2010 saw unlikely leaders in Marcus Ginyard and Deon Thompson. Sure, they weren’t Lawson and Hansbrough. Yeah, the season was rocky, but they lead North Carolina with class and dignity, all while Zeller and John Henson learned how to lead as their time would soon come. This is a process that continues every year. 2010-2011 was lead by Zeller and Henson while Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall learned. 2011-2012 saw Barnes and Marshall take the reigns. Thus ended a great era of basketball.

Little did we know a new era was on the horizon as 2012-2013 brought us Brice and Marcus. As freshmen without a grizzled, All-American veteran to learn from (aside from sophomore James Michael McAdoo), they would lead the team for the next four years through troubled waters until they left in 2016. Ready to take the reigns were Joel Berry and Theo Pinson (along with Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks). For two years now, Joel and Theo have been the unequivocal leaders, teaching the younger guys how it’s done the right way.

Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Justin Jackson, Joel Berry II, and Theo Pinson were amazing arbiters of North Carolina Basketball during a very turbulent time. Much as Jake said, they played more for the name on the front of the jersey, than they did on the back, all while balancing everything that was undeservedly slung at them. They could’ve easily thrown their hands in the air and walked out, but they didn’t. They persevered and eventually found their way to the Promised Land. We are eternally grateful for everything the latest era of Carolina Basketball brought us.

However, the train that is college basketball continues to move forward. When one era comes to a close, another begins to take form. This new era is one that begins much like it did in the 2009-2010 season. There’s uncertainty for the next season, but it will be lead by two veteran players who will ascend to take leadership roles as North Carolina looks to fill the voids left by those gone. Veterans who have been to the highest point in college basketball and studied under some of the greatest to ever wear Carolina Blue.

Luke Maye and Kenny Williams are now carrying the torch of Carolina Basketball and will have the opportunity to be trailblazers.

It’s not all about what happens on the court, though. How they lead and mold this team behind the pulled curtain could affect basketball in Chapel Hill for years to come. That’s some heavy weight to bear.

Thanks to those that came before them, the two newest leaders have the tools necessary to succeed: a fierce competitors heart from Brice and Joel, the quiet drive and determination from Marcus and Justin and that needed comedic relief from Theo.

Maye already has that determination in the classroom that would make anyone proud. Who doesn’t remember the video of him receiving a standing ovation at an 8:00 am class? Remind you, that this was just mere hours after hitting a shot that was heard around the college basketball world. He also has that quiet determination that we knew from Paige and Jackson. He’s not going to boast or get too loud (although, there’s nothing wrong with that), although he may jump and throw the occasional fist-pump. He will hit his shot and return to the other end of the court to continue his job. He is somebody that his peers can look to as a model of the correct on- and off-court attitudes.

Williams, on the other hand, will need to take the role of vocal leader. For much of his freshman and sophomore seasons, Williams was plagued by injuries that kept him sidelined. He didn’t sulk, though. Even while missing the NCAA tournament last season, he always cheered on his teammates. Theo Pinson once recalled that Williams was always smiling and cheering, even though he longed to be out on the floor with his teammates. His junior season, a renaissance of sorts, was his first that he did not miss a single game. Although he struggled at times, he never gave up. He brings an attitude of perseverance that we saw with both Paige and Berry as they overcame injuries to be great leaders. This will be important, not only for the new crop of freshmen, but for the sophomores as well while they continue to take their lumps and grow as players.

Who knows? Maybe Maye and Williams’ ultimate duty will be to prepare the next great North Carolina duo in Coby White and Rechon Black. Think about this; 2018 will have the first group of freshmen, in quite some time, to step foot on campus without the weight of an NCAA investigation breathing down their backs. Next year’s freshmen were just barely in middle school when this began in 2012. Finally, no more Wainstein Reports, no more Infractions Committees, and, hopefully, no more “dadgum” questions every other press conference. It will take someone who’s been under the microscope to keep the new guys in check so that nothing like this will ever happen again.

Passing the torch from Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige to Joel Berry and Theo Pinson and finally to Luke Maye and Kenny Williams shows that we, as a fan base, are very fortunate to see continued success for as long as we have. As Luke and Kenny enter into these new roles and lead Carolina Basketball into a new chapter, I look forward to reading the story as it unfolds.