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From the Ill to the Hill: The story of how I became a Tar Heel

A tale of how wanting to “Be Like Mike” turned my blood Carolina Blue.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Gonzaga vs North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

For those who may or may not know, my name is Brandon Anderson. I have been a writer for the Tar Heel Blog for a little over three years now, and I also serve as an editor and podcast co-host. It wasn’t until recently that I realized I never formally introduced myself when I started writing for the site, but with everything that has been going on I couldn’t think of a better time to tell all of you my story. This is the story about how a kid born and raised in Illinois became a Tar Heel, and how my journey brought me to where I am today.

I grew up in a family that loved basketball. My mom was an exceptional basketball player in high school, and I still remember coming across some of her trophies when I was barely able to process what they were. One of my earliest memories of any sports team was the Chicago Bulls, as it was very hard to grow up in Illinois and not root for a team that was starting to make a name for themselves in the NBA. Naturally my attention gravitated to the GOAT himself, Michael Jordan. It was hard not to pay attention to a man of his magnitude, especially since he was quite literally everywhere: in commercials, featured on sports shows, in the newspaper, on trading cards, on posters, eventually in movies, etc. He was and forever will be a larger-than-life being in the state of Illinois, and more specifically Chicago, and as a child I soaked up every ounce of who he was that I could.

When I was old enough to read my next door neighbor gave me two books written about Jordan: Rare Air, and I Can’t Accept Not Trying. Amazingly enough I still have the latter book, and it’s still in relatively good condition.

I digress, while reading Rare Air I learned that Michael Jordan played at the University of North Carolina for Hall of Fame coach Dean Smith. I wasn’t really drawn to college basketball that much prior to this, as Illinois isn’t the biggest college basketball state, especially compared to NC (don’t let Illini fans tell you otherwise). Though because I was so heavily engulfed in who Michael Jordan was, I then began to follow Carolina Basketball. I wasn’t the most die-hard fan for quite a while, I’ll sheepishly admit, but come on: it was really, really hard to take attention away from the Chicago Bulls dynasty in the 90’s. It was in high school, however, when things got really fun.

Growing up the other challenge I had catching Carolina games was that my family didn’t have cable, but that all changed my freshman year of high school. I was able to catch more games, more of the Carolina/Duke rivalry, and yes, the road to some national championships. In 2005 I remember the anticipation building up to the game against Illinois at my school, and I remember thinking “There’s no way that the Heels lose to these bums.” I hate that my confidence took so many blows, because as it turns out Illinois was a really good team that year. We all know how that game ended, however, and I will never forget walking into Physics class the next day wearing a Carolina Fubu jersey with a big grin on my face in front of Illini fans. I was on cloud nine.

Unfortunately when I finished high school, I couldn’t find a way to get to UNC. Being an out-of-state kid already gave me a very poor chance, but also my mother worked at a private college in my home city. I ended up going to Augustana College instead, which was tough because it meant having to enjoy my beloved Tar Heels from afar while trying to get my degree. I remember witnessing the 2009 national championship win at the house I was renting at the time, and it was tough not having anybody of the same fandom to celebrate with. Still, NCAA title number five was a sweet one to say the least, and I’ll never forget how happy I was to see that group of guys dominate Michigan State the way they did.

Here’s where my story gets really, really interesting. After I graduated college I really wanted to move to Atlanta and stay with my cousin. I had terrible luck finding jobs up north, and all I could think of was living down south. My parents grew up in Louisiana, so I spent a lot of time down there visiting family all my life and there’s just something about the people in the south that just felt like...home. That’s when I got a call about a job offer, but it meant staying in my hometown. I took it, and it meant another four years of living in the Midwest despite my detest for the region.

One summer I spent a lot of time in Chicago, and I remember coming home after one of my trips and thinking “I have to get out of here.” Chicago was my new destination, and one way or another I was making it happen. Well, that’s when my job decided it was time to interfere once again. I was informed that my job was moving to Cary, North Carolina, and that I could either move with the company or I could take the layoff. After hanging out with some co-workers for a bit after we got the news, I went home and looked up Cary on the map. As faith would have it, Cary is 30 minutes outside of Chapel Hill. I’d never made a faster, bigger decision in my life. I immediately decided that I was moving.

After moving to Cary, it took me little to no time to make my way to Chapel Hill. Driving around UNC’s campus, I had never felt more at home anywhere in my life, which was surreal for a place I had never been before. Also, when I tell you all that I went to as many Carolina Basketball games as I possibly could after moving here, there is no exaggeration to be found. How crazy did I go? I paid my way into the 2014 Carolina/Duke game at the Dean Dome, and my very first time experiencing the rivalry in person resulted in a win and everyone storming the court. It was quite honestly one of the best sports moments I’ve ever been a part of in my life.

One of the weirder things I noticed when I moved here was that the coverage of Carolina athletics wasn’t quite like the coverage of the Iowa Hawkeyes was back home (Yeah, that’s the other weird thing about where I grew up — a lot of them were Iowa fans even, not Illinois). While it makes a little bit of sense, as there are three ACC schools in the Triangle, but I found it difficult and frustrating to get what I needed. That’s when I stumbled upon Tar Heel Blog, and it was exactly what I was looking for.

I followed the site for a few years and amazingly when Tanya Bondurant took over, she reached out to me out of nowhere after the loss to Duke in the ACC championship game in 2017. Little did she know that I wanted to go into journalism badly when I was in undergrad, and almost transferred from Augustana because they didn’t have a program at the time. I got my dream gig, and I’m writing about one of my favorite teams while living in one of the best places in the United States. Oh, and within my first month of covering the Heels they won the national championship. I’ll be very honest, it’s extremely hard for me to believe it myself when I say it out loud, but somehow someway everything in my life fell perfectly in place, and it’s crazy to think that it all started with a book that my neighbor gave me as a kid.

For those who might not think things happen exactly how they should in life, I hope this story gave you some sense of that feeling. I know I didn’t recall many tales of my favorite games, players, and championships, but my story runs so much deeper than that. Michael Jordan made me aware. Dean Smith made me pay attention. Roy Williams gave me joy, and yes, getting to write for all of you gave me my dream.

My name is Brandon Anderson, and I am a Tar Heel.