Stage 1: Excitement
The best thing about being a UNC fan in October of 2009 had to be the expectations, or lack thereof. For the first time in three years we weren’t going to be considered epic failures if we didn’t railroad every team on our schedule. With the 2009 National Championship team we had to listen to the haters’ pour insults down upon us from all directions after beating teams like Valparaiso by a mere 18 points. Even when we did win the National Championship (a game I attended), I didn’t really feel much in the way of excitement. I just felt an overwhelming sense of relief. We weren’t going to become the laughing stock of the NCAA.
Going into this season was entirely different. We had tons of inexperience. We had veteran role players who were going to have to step up and lead this team. Who knew what to expect out of this group? Of course the media didn’t hesitate to label us a final four contender. I can’t speak for all the fans, but I simply ignored these benign expectations. I was excited. I was excited to see young players developing again. I was excited to see our veterans become real leaders. I was excited to see our coaching staff step up to new challenges. Nobody knew what to expect. So let’s just play some ball.
Stage 2: Understanding
Stage 2 set in just after the 68-66 loss* to Kentucky. The loss came shortly after the Syracuse massacre. I understood where this team was coming from. We had some good players who were going to contribute, but we were going to have to endure some massive runs from our opponents for a while. But, over time our players would learn how to shorten the runs thrown at us. We weren’t going to be a top 10 team this year, but we certainly deserved to be in the top 25. By the end of the year we could be fighting our way through the tournament again. I understood that we were going to have a few “what the hell” moments, but ultimately, we were going to continue to enjoy the success of our program under Roy Williams.
Stage 3: Not Understanding
The beginning of this stage had a very definitive moment. It started with a pass from Donovan Monroe to Jeremy Simmons on an inbounds play in overtime versus College of Charleston. There was two minutes left on the clock when Deon Thompson decided to double team the scrub freshman Willis Hall on the perimeter rather than follow his man (Simmons) under the basket. The play resulted in an easy layup and put the Cougars up by four. It was inexplicable. How could our senior leader make such a stupid mistake? The whole team looked as though they had just given up. Nobody was playing with the kind of heart I was used to seeing from UNC players at this point in the season.
Things just snowballed from there. They should have sown pockets onto our shorts. Everybody, including our coaches, adopted a ho-hum attitude about the season. “We just need to work harder” seemed to be the common theme. I kept waiting for the bleeding to stop, but it never did. Some people thought the win against North Carolina State was an indication that we were turning things around. Well, and I mean this with absolutely the most disrespect possible, N.C. State is terrible. Nobody should be losing to us by more than ten points this year, twice. I can’t really fathom how a team can be that much worse than we are currently. Somehow they have managed to reach a new, wholly undiscovered, level of sucking.
Stage 4: Meltdown
This was really a private stage for me. I tried to separate myself from those that I cared about out of fear that I may inflict physical or emotional damage upon them. It all started during the UVA loss at the Smith Center when Will Graves was given the responsibility of guarding Sylven Landesberg. Just writing that last sentence was difficult. I am using a bold font right now as an indication of how hard I am pressing down on the keys. Will Graves couldn’t guard a gay octogenarian playing in their socks. Who in their right mind thought he could guard one of the ACC’s most prolific scorers? I am telling you, I lost it. I started swearing at everything. “F@#K YOU, COUCH.”
Now, I know that I am not a coach. I don’t know as much about basketball as the UNC coaching staff (or any other coaching staff for that matter), but somebody must have been slipping them stupid pills this season. Every decision seemed to be exponentially worse then the preceding decision. John Henson gets put out on the perimeter. Marcus Ginyard’s punishment for playing like a freshman in high school is more playing time. Leslie McDonald’s reward for being the only guard to limit himself to one turnover in ACC play is less playing time.
I could go on like this for pages, but I won’t. It’s too damned embarrassing. Too many things contributed to the meltdown. However, there is one thing that trumps all others, free throws. I could literally sit in a gym for 48 straight hours, with no food, water or sleep, shooting free throws continuously, and never shoot up an air ball. Whenever one of our players steps up to the free throw line, I can’t help but think about Chris Farley tearing apart that dinner roll in Tommy Boy. We are a complete disaster…..strike that, catastrophe.
Stage 5: Acceptance
Believe it or not, I am at peace with our suckage. I have managed to find a strange comedic value to the whole season. I have joked with friends about how God is punishing us for Roy’s decision to throw a Presbyterian fan out of a game. It makes some sense. Did we get too smug? Is there some validity to the “holier than though” sentiment that gets thrown at us on a near daily basis? Maybe God is putting us in our place. How else do you explain the injuries, the depth at which Roy’s foot is positioned in his mouth, the free throw air balls, etc? The only thing that seems to have carried over from last year is the womanly play of Deon Thompson. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it may be the thing I miss the most from this season. I get a good laugh every time he gets rejected by somebody half his size. I catch myself having a hearty chuckle every time he shoots a fade away shot from 18 feet.
The season is figuratively over and I am still a fan. I am still going to support the team in the future. This is a comforting feeling. It reaffirms what I learned after the 2001-2002 season. I am not a fair-weather fan. I can handle us sucking. I like knowing that. I have accepted that this season did not go well, and I’m okay. Just don’t let it happen again next year, God.