It’s almost time to put the magical run of 2022 in the rearview mirror. The 2023 Tar Heels play their first public contest against a team, even in exhibition form, on Friday, and in two weeks the season begins in earnest against UNCW.
Which means it’s the perfect time to relive last season one more time.
Adam Lucas, Steve Kirschner, and Matt Bowers have done just that with their release of Together: The Amazing Story of Carolina Basketball’s 2021-2022 Season. The format of the book should be familiar to Carolina fans — this is the fourth book by the trio that chronicled a successful season. The biggest difference is that unlike Led by Their Dreams, One Fantastic ride, and Redemption, this recount comes after a loss in the national title game instead of a win.
Lucas acknowledges the oddity at the end, essentially saying the trio wasn’t sure if there would be interest in a book like this considering it both came with a title loss and the majority of the players who played that season were coming back. He also mentions that they had to make a decision quickly due to the timing it would take to get the book published before this season. As a result, the book isn’t quite as deep as the other three. The prior chronicles clocked in at well over 200 pages, while Together is a tidy 160.
It doesn’t diminish the quality of the stories, though. You get a little more insight into how Hubert Davis runs a practice and how it surprised the returning members of the squad, You also see when Davis realized he needed to make changes in order to have a successful season, and some insight into the difficulties that saw the Tar Heels struggle with consistency until the end of the season. You’ll also get to see how Davis gets away without saying a single swear word, which will make you laugh out loud when you picture him yelling his replacement for “F&$! THAT S%$*” rather loudly in practice. The startling thing is that while you’ll laugh, you’ll see how it stunned the team that had been used to a different Davis prior to this season.
You also get great insight from each of the Iron Five. They all acknowledge where they had to grow and what they had to do for end of the season to happen, and it’s refreshing to read Brady Manek’s insights into his single season at UNC. His roommate, Leaky Black, discusses how quickly he integrated himself to the team, as well as go into more details with his own mental struggles that he opened up about as the season went on. Caleb Love explains how he was different from the first game against Duke to the Final Four where he hit the shot that will live in infamy. You’ll find out how RJ Davis saved the game against Baylor as it went into overtime. Finally, you’ll get some honest assessment from Armando Bacot about the start of his UNC career and, if possible, appreciate him even more both as a player and as UNC representative.
If there’s a weakness in this chronicle, it’s that for the myriad of reasons explained, there’s very little back story into the struggles of the previous two seasons. Also, while there are some great stories told, it does feel as if there could have been more. Again, Lucas mentions the various issues from the start with the busier schedule that Coach Davis and others have these days thanks to the transfer portal, as well as the dreaded “Supply chain issues” that shortened how long they would normally have before a book would be due. There’s also a feeling at the end that, as wonderful as this story is, the job isn’t quite done. If so, you can imagine some things that didn’t make this book will come out later.
There’s also the uniqueness of the fact that all of the major contributors to this season are returning for this one. The closest parallel was the 2017 squad, but even then Kennedy Meeks, Isiah Hicks, and Justin Jackson had all moved on. This squad just lost Manek of the major contributors, and thus this book focuses more on the season and not so much on the career of the players who had their final game.
If there is one other mild criticism, it’s that the interviews focus solely on the Iron Five and there’s very little from anyone else who player key roles during the season. Considering Dawson Garcia and Kerwin Walton left the team, it’s understandable why they didn’t get much in the way of first hand accounts, but it’s a little surprising that Puff Johnson isn’t heard from more considering the integral role he played by the end of the sesaon, and his rather remarkable story of coming in late from lingering injuries. Again, the tight timeline to get everything done may be a factor here, and should this season go the way all fans hope, it’ll be because Johnson played a key role.
Overall, though, the book is an outstanding and quick read. It helps you appreciate not only the run, but helps you realize what little things had been lost over the previous couple of years. It also helps you look back during a portion of the year when things weren’t so great and contextualize how things came together in the way that it did. The photography by Maggie Hobson scattered throughout is outstanding, rich with color and a feel that you’re standing right beside the action. The book also makes sure to use a couple of iconic photos taken by others, as you’ll get this one from the Daily Tar Heel, and of course this shot from USA Today’s Richard Deutsch
It’ll take you back to that magical March and April, and ultimately that’s what you want from this collection. It’s a fitting addition to any Tar Heel fan’s collection.
You can purchase Together: The Amazing Story of Carolina Basketball’s 2021-2022 Season directly from UNC Press and as of this post they are running a 40% off sale on this and other books, with free shipping. If you want the feeling of going to your local bookstore, it’s available at Flyleaf books in Chapel Hill, among others, and you can check your local store to see if it there. It is also available from Amazon, Walmart, among other sites.