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UNC Basketball: No New Friends

The bracing familiarity of getting to know a new class of Tar Heels

NCAA Basketball: Elizabeth City at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It takes some getting used to. Each year, we spend an offseason dreaming about the possibilities that the coming season holds. We hear about players improving their jumper, or developing new moves in the post, and we get excited because that may be the key that truly unlocks this team and turns a good season into something special. We wait anxiously for social media posts; tiny, curated snippets that offer a glimpse into the work the team is putting in behind closed doors. We mourn the players that will no longer be Tar Heels, all the while looking forward to seeing the year-to-year jump that often accompanies an offseason of work; underclassmen maturing, newly-minted upperclassmen becoming leaders and veteran ballplayers. Throughout the offseason, we spend our weeknight hours wishing we were back in the Dean Dome, singing about what Davie did in days of old with 20,000 of our closest friends.

Suddenly, November comes. We find ourselves back on the couch, or in the stands, or at the local Tar Heel bar, watching the team we know so well take the floor for the first game of the season. This is the team we spent all last year getting to know, the familiar numbers all—

Wait. Who the hell are these guys?

There’s a big mountain man with a pretty sweet stroke from outside who I don’t recognize. There’s a total stranger cleaning the boards and working down low. There are fresh faces celebrating big plays on the bench, and even some new guy walking up and down the sideline, wearing a sweet pair of shoes and guiding this new-look team.

Then again, it’s not that new, is it? There are new players each and every year, sure, but they’re still wearing that same shade of blue. There’s still argyle down the side of the jerseys, and the band still plays the same songs, and all the new Tar Heels in the student section either know or are learning the words. The team still runs out of the tunnel in the Dean E Smith Center onto Roy Williams court; and you’ll still see guys (even newcomers) pointing to the passer. Come to think of it, that new coach isn’t really all that new either.

Change is inevitable, never more easily seen than the leaves that are falling even now outside my window. The Tar Heel Men’s Basketball team has undergone a significant change from last year, but change can be healthy—and there’s still plenty to be found that makes Tar Heel basketball feel like coming home.