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UNC Basketball: Loving the next Tar Heels

It’s difficult to say goodbye to Joel and Theo, but there is plenty of excitement about what is to come.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Gonzaga vs North Carolina Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Every year, just about this time, a familiar feeling sets in when it comes to UNC basketball: I just don’t know how I can love any player as much as I love these current ones. Whether it’s Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Marcus Paige, Justin Jackson, Joel Berry II, or Theo Pinson, or any of the 100s of others who have put on Carolina blue, they’ve each found a way to endear themselves to Tar Heel fans in a way that feels very permanent.

I wanted a national championship for Paige and Brice Johnson just about more than anything I can remember. The fact that they had to leave Chapel Hill without one, and in such a cruel fashion, is something that still haunts me a bit to this day when I think about it for too long.

I wanted that same thing for Jackson, Berry, and Pinson, and they were able to bring home that ultimate prize. Greed set in and I wanted it for them again in 2018. It felt like the only fitting end for that senior duo would be to hang another banner in the Smith Center and walk away as champions again.

Although we merely watch them from our couches, bars of choice, or seat inside the Dean Dome, these players become like family. We laugh with them, watch them grow, and cry with them sometimes too. We’re bound by love for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with the players we live and die with on the hardwood. That’s special, and that’s something I just don’t see replicated the same way elsewhere, regardless of the hashtag du jour.

Although the feeling sinks in at some point every year that makes be believe that I’ll never be able to love the next wave of Carolina players as much as I love these Carolina players, the good news is that that feeling is always wrong. Like proud parents, our hearts just grow to include the newcomers as much as we did those tried and true favorites. We find a way to love them because they, too, become family.

We were so lucky to become family with the likes of Berry and Pinson, and all the rest before them. They were brilliant ambassadors for UNC and the program we all love. We were lucky to have them for four years, many wins, and one beautiful championship banner that will hang in the rafters forever.

Very soon it’ll be time for Coby White, Nassir Little, and Rechon Black to take up the mantle. We’ll cheer our hearts out for them, watch them grow, and hang on every moment of their successes. They have chosen to become our family too, and we’ll embrace them like all the ones before, as if they’d been there all along.

That cycle is actually a pretty beautiful thing. It’s hard to say goodbye to guys we love, and it always will be. We will all miss Berry’s intensity and leadership and Pinson’s floor vision and comedic relief. Yet it’s comforting to know that the next thing we’ll all fall in love with is right around the corner.

For that reason, and many others, it’s always a great day to be a Tar Heel.