In the age of shouting out our opinions, especially with easy access to outlets that allow us to do so, it’s really easy to get stuck on defending said opinions.
This isn’t just sports radio banter, it’s the fact that when things don’t go our way we focus on one bad thing and that’s the thing that is the problem, and if you don’t agree with that then YOU ARE WRONG. It’s exhausting in a lot of ways, and frankly it is multiple circular arguments that bring you right back to where you started.
I’ve thought about this a lot when looking at the charred remains of the 2022-23 UNC Basketball season. There was a significant reaction to my post back in February when things started to turn really south that seemed to make people think I was saying that Hubert Davis was blameless in the situation, and that I was trying to blame it all on the players. The context of the piece, of course, doesn’t say that, it acknowledged that Davis may be the first one to own up to his mistakes but that his struggles weren’t all his fault for a multitude of reasons.
Reasonable people can disagree with this, but of course, in this age of the internet we can’t be reasonable. This has come out even more since Caleb Love announced his intent to transfer. Brandon did an outstanding job of detailing the complicated legacy of Love, and I saw that legacy first hand in Twitter interactions with people jumping to defend Love against people who would dare criticize a college-aged kid. Even with the proper context and the well wishes, if someone dared speak any sort of ill about Caleb they were a bad person. Or they were a bad person for even taking a second to wish him well.
The thing is, we don’t live in a world of absolutes. We want to, but ultimately for a failure of this scale, multiple things have to be true.
Hubert Davis made mistakes, but he wasn’t the only one to make them. The players couldn’t build on their success of last year, but clearly the coaching staff didn’t adjust well. NIL is a potential distraction that coaches haven’t had to deal with before, but players aren’t selfish for wanted to earn money based on the fame they earned from last season.
Roy Williams is an amazing coach that Carolina was ridiculously lucky to have, and he was right to say he was making errors that were bringing the program down.
Here’s one that will get you going I’m sure: Carolina benefited greatly from having Caleb Love in its program, and the work he did against Duke will live in Carolina lore for as long as he’s around. He should be welcomed back every time he wants to come, and when he’s done, he better have a “I’m Caleb Love and I’m a Tar Heel” line in the Smith Center. It was also apparent that it was the best time for him to leave.
I had already been thinking about this when Brendan Marks posted this long-form piece ($) on The Athletic on Wednesday that included discussions with multiple people. He had teased it on Tuesday, and usually when you are addressing a failure of this magnitude, you’re expecting people to come out swinging, and a theme of blame to appear. One side blames the other, the other side is defensive and points out where they can blame the other, and it gets stuck in the mire.
Except to Marks’ credit, that wasn’t the case at all. Given the opportunity for anonymity, Marks spoke with NBA Scouts, coaches, people close to the program, and parents for their assessment on behind the scenes issues. The only one to put his name to his quotes was Caleb Love’s dad, Dennis, and he was pretty even-handed in pointing out the mistakes from Caleb and the coaching staff. Parents owned up to issues the players had and their part in the failure, and while there were criticisms of the coaching staff, they were valid and it’s clear that they are in the process of adjusting based on who has left for the portal and who they are recruiting to come in. The scouts’ perspective was also great, in that it explained how both the offensive structure by the coaches and the play of the players didn’t mesh up. It’s worth the read.
Marks also makes a point to remind people of the previous seasons before Hubert took over, noting how that is absolutely a factor in how things fell apart. Most people don’t want to talk about this because it would border on besmirching Roy Williams, but when Williams himself admitted he felt like he had hit the wall in coaching teams, it’s absolutely fair to point out the mistakes made that started to compound on itself.
Thus, we get to the Transfer Portal. We don’t know why all six players are leaving, but the idea that many things can be true applies here as well. Each player had an understanding of what their role would be on this team, and for whatever reason that understanding changed. Maybe they realized they failed to reach lofty expectations and need a fresh start, maybe they feel — rightly — that they weren’t utilized correctly and they needed to leave because it just wasn’t going to get better. Maybe they are able to take advantage of NIL in a different way at another school. Multiple players leaving can both be an acknowledgment that it is time to start over, as well as an admission that the coaching staff made some mistakes that forced them to move on.
As the season came to an end and it was clear it wasn’t going to be a redo of last year, I couldn’t help but to look back at how 2022 ended, stare at the photos I still need to put on the wall of my office and think about how close that team was to taking home a national title last year. I’ve come to realize two thing about that season are true for me: I wouldn’t trade that season for anything because of the sheer highs and the ultimate bragging rights UNC got for their wins, and the worst thing that could have happened for the program was to get to the national title game and lose.
It’s a weird place to be, but that’s life, isn’t it?