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UNC Basketball: Ode to Swords

Or, the rare benefits of bringing a knife to a gun fight.

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

I adored fantasy books growing up. It may have started with T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone, or perhaps all the Redwall books by the inimitable Brian Jacques that I spent every waking moment devouring for a span of years in my childhood. As an only child, I read a lot and spent a lot of time outdoors which, given my penchant for imagination, naturally turned into swashbuckling adventures as I traipsed through the woods, stick tucked through a belt loop—always at the ready.

A natural side effect of loving fantasy as a child is an affinity for swords. The allure of a shiny piece of metal, so often imbued with magic or world-altering significance in the stories we read, can be irresistible. Tack on the fact that it only takes a little imagination to transform that trusty stick tucked into a young child’s belt loop into an Excalibur or a sword of Martin the Warrior, and you have a recipe for a lifelong fascination with blades of all shapes and sizes.

I don’t own a sword as an adult, much to my disappointment, but I’m still a sucker for a bladed tool. I have a number of pocket knives, smaller stand-ins for the swords I used to read about, waiting to be tucked into pockets and ready to be used to open letters or trim loose threads on my clothes, but to this day nothing captures my imagination like a sword did.

As deft and skilled as the heroes were with their weapons in the stories I read as a kid, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone more quick with a blade than RJ Davis. The Tar Heel guard has been truly lethal, whether it’s slashing to the basket for a layup to increase a dicey five-point lead to an insurmountable seven, or a sharp backdoor cut to draw the foul and get an easy two from the free throw line. His dagger threes from the corners have been the final blow for many opposing teams, as the Heels have shredded the early part of conference play en route to a league-leading 8-0 record against ACC opponents.

The uncanny ability to come up with a bucket in high-leverage moments is what has made Davis so dangerous this season. He can create his own shot, or work off-ball and make himself available to receive one of the dimes Elliot Cadeau has taken to handing out. Every time the ball leaves his hand, it feels like it’s destined for the bottom of the net. For opposing players and fans, it must feel like death by a thousand cuts.

I can vividly remember staying up well past my bedtime as a kid, sneaking a flashlight under the covers in my bed, breathlessly following the action on the page and knowing full well that I wasn’t getting any sleep until I found out how it ended. As I watch this year’s Tar Heel team, with RJ Davis leading the way, I find myself experiencing a very similar kind of excitement.

Two more games left in January, then another page falls off the calendar. This season has already been a page-turner of a very different kind than the ones full of knights and swords of my youth, but it’s been a thrill ride all the same. If we’re lucky, the Tar Heels (and their sharp-shooting swordsman) will be cutting down something more than opponents’ hopes later this year. Only time will tell.

Whatever may come, it’s been a real slice. Today, like every day, is a great day to be a Tar Heel.