UNC basketball opens its regular season against Tulane in exactly 40 days. For an elite program like Carolina, the goal is always the same. Win the ACC Tournament, and/or win the National Championship. In 2016, one out of two of those goals was realized. The sweet victory of being ACC regular season/tournament championship provided high hopes for The Big Dance. The failure in pursuit of that pesky second goal ripped all of our hearts out.
This year is different. The Carolina basketball team that will take the floor in a little over a month didn’t lose the National Championship to Villanova. That was last year’s team. For fans, that might be a tough perspective to grasp. For the guys on the team, however, they are doing everything possible to move on to the 2016-17 campaign. Summer workouts, preseason conditioning, preseason practice, and a winner’s mindset will all come together soon enough.
All in all, UNC basketball has had a productive offseason. The NCAA-sanctioned “first day of practice” was this past Friday, and the Heels will hit the hardwood for the first time in the official sense on Monday. These past few months have been filled with conditioning, weight training, and skill work, all pretty much injury free. In fact, current injury status has been moving in the right direction. Per Adam Lucas, Kennedy Meeks has continued to rehabilitate his knee, an issue that kept him out for part of last season. Also, Kenny Williams has been cleared after his surgery, and is feeling 100% normal. We also continue to hear good things about freshman Tony Bradley. His teammates have been impressed so far with his abilities, even though he still has a lot to learn. Keep an eye out for him to make an impact this season.
Based on my one first hand account of a UNC conditioning session (take it for what it’s worth), it seems as though Justin Jackson is one of the guys leading the way in terms of physical conditioning. He is one of the hardest workers on the team, and some NBA workouts earlier in the summer probably didn’t hurt either. His motivation to set the tone with his conditioning could also be in response to an underwhelming season personally in 2016. Regardless, leading by example and valuing the “run” aspect of Roy Williams’ “run and gun” offense will surely bring its benefits down the road.
There are lots of positives surrounding Carolina basketball as they get ready to kick things off. Also, as our own Mac Gushanas reported, the hype is real. You may have seen these tweets from Joel Berry and Kennedy Meeks, as well as one from the official UNC Basketball account:
They all end with the hashtag “#OurBagDifferent.” What in the world does that mean? The hype video that the team tweeted is footage of preseason conditioning, coupled with a DJ Khaled song entitled “I Got The Keys.” Jay-Z, who is featured in the song, raps about how his “swag is different, that bag different.” He’s most likely referring to his wealth, and how it’s on another level from other rappers and celebrities. So why is the UNC basketball team claiming the same thing? I’m willing to bet that they aren’t talking about money, (I sincerely hope), but maybe something else being different. This 2016-17 team wants to be different from every other “one and done” program that is emerging, and set themselves apart from the competition. They want their running, lifting, practicing, and gameplay to be a cut above the rest. All of that comes from a motivation and grind that nobody else has.
The Heels also want this season to be different in one distinct way. In 2017: we’re going to win the whole damn thing. I firmly believe that no team has the drive to win the National Championship like a team that lost it the previous year. Villanova doesn’t want to defend it as badly as we want to take it from them. Whatever the true backstory is for this hashtag emerging as an early theme for the season, the meaning is clear. We’re not going to be like everyone else this year, in the best way possible. We’re especially not going to be last year’s team, either. Our bag different.