Welcome to The Debate. Each week, this article presents a topic for debate. Whether in the comments section, on the golf course, or around the weekend game table (with proper social distancing of course), the goal is to provide enough background that either side could be a winner. In order to facilitate the discourse, a suggested beverage pairing is also included. So speak up, mix it up, and drink up.
ESPN’s “The Last Dance” was a fascinating look at the rise of Michael Jordan within the context of the last season before the breakup of the Bulls. It was the story of a championship team with intriguing characters and a will to win. If you have not seen it, you are missing out.
In the fantasy land of weekend debates, this concept provides a great topic. Pick one UNC basketball team to create a ten part series and tell the story of the players, the coaches, and the program. To narrow this down, I am providing nominations of two championship teams. Bonus points to any commenters that have a compelling reason for a non-championship team. Additionally, in the vein of a total team breakup, I chose seasons where there were lots of departures following the championship.
The Debate for the week of May 22: What Carolina basketball team would you most like to see a series about?
Point: 2016-2017 - The Redeem Team.
The easy story about this team is that they fought back from a devastating last second loss in the prior year’s championship game to win it all. There is, however, much more to the story.
The recruiting to build this team was a full four year process. In 2013, the team welcomed three star recruit Nate Britt, four star Kennedy Meeks, and five star Isaiah Hicks. Britt’s adopted brother, Kris Jenkins, hit the shot to defeat Carolina in 2016. Meeks worked for four years and ultimately had the game winning block against Gonzaga. Hicks battled ups and downs throughout his career, electing not to go pro early, and hitting a clutch runner to give the Heels a late lead.
In 2014, the team signed a trio of five star recruits in Justin Jackson, Joel Berry II, and Theo Pinson. These three would form a perimeter core that matched perfectly with the size of Meeks and Hicks.
In 2015, a down recruiting year brought in Kenny Williams and Luke Maye. Williams, a four star recruit, originally chose VCU before Coach Shaka Smart left for Texas. Maye, was brought in as a project and a preferred walk-on. His play in the tournament the following season would be critical, including the shot against Kentucky.
The freshman on the team were Tony Bradley, Brandon Robinson, Seventh Woods, and Shea Rush. Bradley earned substantial minutes and played a key reserve role.
This team overcame heartbreak, came together, and won. They won the Maui Invitational, split with Duke, and shared the ACC Regular Season Championship with Virginia (after starting league play 0-1 with a loss to Georgia Tech). Their tournament run was memorable, with a close call in the second round against Arkansas and the defeat of Kentucky (in a rematch of the stellar regular season game in Las Vegas that Kentucky won 103-100). There were the missed free throws and offensive rebounds to defeat Oregon in the final four. A very good Championship Game against Gonzaga capped the season.
There wasn’t a complete rebuild the following year, but the team was certainly very different. Britt, Meeks, and Hicks graduated. Jackson and Bradley departed for the NBA. There are a lot of great stories on this team.
Counterpoint: 2008-2009 - A steady progression.
College basketball is a beautiful game but playing careers are short. The story lines are best when fans get the time to know the players over several years and have the joy of watching a team grow together. That is what this story is about.
Coming off of a National Championship in 2005, Roy Williams had the opportunity to start anew. Gone were stars such as Raymond Felton, Marvin Williams, Rashad McCants, and Sean May along with graduated seniors Melvin Scott, Jackie Manual, and Jawad Williams. The reset began with incoming 4 star freshmen Bobby Frasor, Marcus Ginyard, and Danny Green, along with five star Tyler Hansbrough.
These are great stories. Hansbrough’s rise to become a four time First Team All-American and the 2008 National Player of the Year. His dominance in the Durham high school gym is the stuff of legends. Green’s acceptance and embrace of the role as sixth man Mr. Everything. A second round tournament upset to George Mason ended a fun freshman campaign.
More weapons were added the following year with incoming freshmen Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, and Deon Thompson. Having such a talented and fun group stay together for three years is nearly unheard of in college basketball. This team was hot coming off an ACC Tournament Championship, but they let a lead get away in the Elite Eight against Georgetown and ultimately lost in overtime.
The following year, the team got even better. Amazingly, Coach Williams had to do almost no recruiting that offseason because the team was set. They RETURNED Hansbrough, Green, Lawson, Ellington, Thompson, Ginyard, and Frasor. That is just incredible. This team finished the regular season 29-2 then won the ACC Tournament. They were ranked Number 1 in the country until their first loss on January 19. They blew through the first four rounds of the NCAA Tournament before meeting Kansas in the Final Four. A horrendous first half had the Heels down 40-12 with under 7 minutes to play. The lead was cut all the way to 4 with over eleven minutes left in the second half but the comeback was not to be and Kansas won going away.
Bring on the final year. A couple of talented freshmen in Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller joined the fully returning squad from the year before. Ellington, Lawson, and Green all withdrew from the draft to make another run. Again starting the year ranked Number 1, they went 27-3 in the regular season and never had a close game in the NCAA Tournament. It was a dominating run to the National Championship and the end of an era for Carolina Basketball.
Those four years ended with progressively further tournament runs. They had a team grow together and dominate the country for two years. Their own redemption run blew the doors off the competition. This is a story worth making.
Time for you to decide! Which team would make the best television documentary series? Have an alternative option; post it in the comments.
In need of encouragement to debate – Lot’s of great questions and comments last week about my first time drinking bourbon with my grandmother. It was Jim Beam. On ice. She only drank it on ice. Mixing with water was deemed acceptable and is still a family staple.
Stay safe this holiday weekend and give thanks to the military heroes in your family and community. Thanks for your service.