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UNC Basketball: Honing

Thoughts on the care and feeding of cutting implements, but make it basketball.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Wisconsin at North Carolina Joshua Bickel-USA TODAY Sports

One of my hobbies, setting aside Carolina athletics, music, and writing about the two (often simultaneously), is collecting pocket knives. I was given one by my grandfather as a boy, and nearly immediately fell in love with the idea of having something that could be so useful. It was the first ‘tool’ I had ever been able to actually call mine, and in the intervening years between that dusty past and now, I’ve learned to care for and feed that tool and the others that have come into my possession.

A folding knife, when done correctly, is a shockingly simple thing. A pivot, a handle, a blade; if you’re lucky, some kind of locking mechanism to prevent the blade from collapsing back toward its resting position in the handle while the knife is in use. Sometimes, there’s a stud of some kind, meant to assist the user with the opening of the knife, but that’s about it. It’s a basic thing, an implement ready-made to be available to handle any loose threads or sealed boxes encountered while going about your day, and I think there’s a particular beauty in that simplicity.

One of my favorite things about having pocket knives is arguably the most important part: sharpening them. For me, it’s almost meditative—a time to focus only and completely on one thing; the angle of the blade against the whet stone; taking measured, even strokes (three or four per side, keeping the same angle on each pass). It’s a pastime that yields something useful, so it’s beneficial in more than one way.

Now that my editor is likely worried that I’ll never get to the point, let’s talk about the fabled summer pickup games. These are the stuff of legends around Chapel Hill, the highest echelon of pickup basketball that exists, the games without spectators featuring rosters with decades of combined experience playing professional basketball. By all accounts, these games are reasons for former Carolina players to come home to the southern part of heaven, and they’re learning opportunities for current Tar Heels hoping to get to that next level. They give the Carolina family valuable time to come together and play basketball in what may be it’s purest form. Any way you slice it (heh), these games are important for all involved.

Last summer, these pickup games couldn’t happen. The loss of these pickup games certainly wasn’t completely to blame for the way the Heels faltered at points in the season, but it’s definitely possible that they could have buoyed the team through some of the more difficult stretches of a weird year. The versions of these pickup games that pit the current Tar Heels roster against former players can only serve to strengthen the bond between teammates that perhaps came into the sweltering summer months not knowing each other as well. The freshman, new on campus, will get the chance to hone their skills as a group against some of the stiffest competition they’ll face. This is something that I believe was sorely missed last year.

The best way to sharpen a knife is with a stone. The best way to sharpen a team, then, is an opposing team with some serious grit.