Carolina’s season-long celebration of 100 years of men’s basketball is about more than remembering special players and coaches. It’s about more than recalling remarkable comebacks, disappointing losses and exciting victories. Carolina fans are celebrating UNC’s very special and much-envied men’s basketball family.
My interest in Carolina basketball began early. One year ahead of me at Fayetteville Senior High School (today’s Terry Sanford Senior High School) was a bright, skinny, gangly, nearly 7-foot-tall kid — Rusty Clark ’69 (today known as Dr. Franklin Clark). Heavily recruited, Rusty came to UNC as a Morehead Scholar after taking our high school’s team to the first of two consecutive state 4A championships.
When I arrived in Chapel Hill in 1966, the campus was buzzing not only about Carolina’s starting varsity team of Clark, Dick Grubar ’69, Bill Bunting ’69, Larry Miller ’68 and Bob Lewis ’67 but also about freshman Charles Scott ’70. Freshmen could not play on the varsity team at that time, and fans flocked to Carmichael Auditorium early to enjoy Scott’s remarkable talents on the freshman team; the next year, Scott became UNC’s first black basketball player to make the varsity’s starting five. None of us who watched those freshman games could know that we also were watching a future UNC assistant basketball coach who later would be the head coach at three institutions (Eddie Fogler ’70) and a future commissioner of the Big Ten Conference (Jim Delany ’70).
Prior to 1975, as longtime Tar Heel fans know, only the ACC Tournament champion could compete in the NCAA Tournament. Carolina not only won the 1967, 1968 and 1969 ACC Tournament championships, but those three teams each also made it to the NCAA Final Four.
Most of us recall where and who we were with when Carolina won each NCAA national championship. In 1982, my wife, Debbie, and I were living in suburban Washington, D.C., with our 15-month-old son, Michael ’03, when Michael Jordan ’86 made “the shot heard around the world. “When I began this job a few months later, we all moved to Chapel Hill. The following spring, Brian ’05 was born. Debbie and I were in New Orleans in 1993 to witness legendary teacher and coach Dean Smith coach his second team to an NCAA national championship, and all four of us were present in St. Louis in 2005 and in Detroit last spring to cheer the Roy Williams ’72-coached Tar Heels to national championships.
The special relationships that develop among Carolina players and coaches are well-known. They come together during summer camps, golf outings, scrimmages with current players and coaching clinics. Long before today’s ubiquitous ways of communicating, Coach Smith was constantly in touch with and available to his former players. Many affirm they never make an important life decision without first consulting Coach Smith. That same close coach-player relationship continued with his longtime assistant and successor, Bill Guthridge, and continues today with Carolina’s current head coach and former Smith assistant, Roy Williams.
Our alumni are proud of Carolina’s tradition of attracting student-athletes who win on the court, proudly represent our University, earn their diplomas (even if they leave early for the NBA) and generously give back to Carolina as alumni (nearly 40 percent are Carolina Alumni members). Most fans feel they know players personally by the time they graduate. While we eagerly anticipate the newest recruits, the mood in the Smith Center after the seniors’ last game often is emotional for players, coaches and fans. Players are surprised how quickly their playing days pass, sad that they’ll never again play with their teammates wearing their Carolina uniform and grateful for the special experiences they’ve enjoyed as Carolina basketball players.
Fans plan around the basketball schedule regardless of when or where the games are played. Many “turn down the sound on TV” to experience the game through the “voice of the Tar Heels,” Woody Durham ’63. Some obediently follow Woody’s urging to “go where you go and do what you do” when Carolina is behind late in a game, while other fans are comforted that, no matter how far behind, Carolina can and will still find a way to win.
Many fans have their own pregame routines, game attire and unique superstitions. (I wore the same tie to the 2005 and 2009 championship games.) Some fans call or text each other during games. Others avidly follow recruiting news.
Perhaps nowhere was the Carolina basketball family more evident than the Sept. 4 UNC Alumni NBA Game. Dean Smith, Bill Guthridge, Roy Williams and Michael Jordan watched alumni currently coaching professionally and alumni currently playing professionally compete in a charity game that marked the beginning of this yearlong celebration of a century of Carolina basketball. The 2009 NCAA championship banner was unveiled as well as an updated banner noting Carolina’s coaches and players who are members of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Several recruits sat courtside, and a capacity star-struck crowd watched in amazement.
Carolina basketball brings our Carolina family together. May it do so forever.
Yours at Carolina,
Douglas S. Dibbert ’70