Winning a title is hard. I know hard hitting analysis like that is why you, the reader, come to Tar Heel Blog. But it is true. In the 24/7 social media inferno, this effort becomes that much harder. The ability to remain focused and block out the background noise is the difference between the good teams and the great teams. 2017 North Carolina is no exception.
Thursday’s press conference sparked some concern among Tar Heel fans across online message boards and even those weirdos who still talk to people face-to-face. Roy Williams opined that his team appeared to be treating their practice in Phoenix with some disinterest. Takes were flying:
“This is 2008 all over again!”
“The ‘team of destiny’ talk is going to their heads!”
“Sounds like the players are just happy to be back there.”
There is some truth buried in there. I am sure that the players are happy to be back. Being one of the last four teams playing in a college basketball season is a great accomplishment, no matter how many times a player (or a program as a whole) has been. And the narrative of redemption and destiny has become an accepted storyline. So much so that it almost seems like Carolina has to win the title, as if it is pre-ordained. And this team is certainly looking for redemption.
But last year, it seemed like two beloved players in Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige just had to win a title. Things don’t work like that; sometimes the good guys lose and the bad guys win. But the team itself doesn’t buy into neatly packaged narratives like that. That talk is for us fans. We create these narratives of good vs. evil or “team of destiny” and mold them to fit our preconceived notions. If your team loses, it had to be because they didn’t want it enough or because the players were looking ahead to the NBA or because they didn’t take their opponent seriously (or if you’re a Kentucky fan: because John Higgins is out to get you).
A college kid is going to have an unfocused day of practice just like a middle aged man may have an unfocused day at work or a Kentucky fan may have an unfocused Facebook cyber-bullying session. This team has come too far after the pain of last year to “not take Oregon seriously” or “think they have a title in the bag.” Hell, you can disregard last year—this team has come too far this year alone to just cruise. Gonzaga, Oregon, and South Carolina are the same. No one is “happy to be here” and no one wants to settle for simply being there.
Someone tell Joel Berry, who could barely walk last Sunday, that they think he and his teammates aren’t taking Oregon seriously, as he fumes about not being able to practice in the borderline insane competitive way he has that gives this team an edge.
Someone tell Isaiah Hicks—who has received a great deal of misplaced blame from fans for his positioning on the final play last year—that this team is going to get blown out a la 2008 Kansas because they aren’t focused.
Someone tell Roy Williams, the man who has a maniacal drive to always prove the doubters (that inexplicably still exist) wrong, that he won’t have his guys ready for the Final Four because of a “destiny” narrative.
Fans worry about this stuff for good reason. We don’t have a direct influence over the game, so we project our nerves and worries onto the team. But at the end of the day, a bad practice is just a bad practice. I know I would much rather see that than a bad game.