Friday, October 26, 2007

Carolina Basketball

Basketball season is arriving and I will probably begin to write disproportionately about my favorite team, the Tar Heels.

I recently go a nice email about some basketball writing that I had done at another site, and the writer sent me some interesting YouTube links:

William -

What a fantastic write-up you did on some historical perspective of ACC hoops, in the DaveSez site from Feb of this year. I was a teenager those years, entering UNC as a freshman in fall 1975, so i followed all of the action that decade intensely.

Seeing that, and your passion for some of the history, i thought you might enjoy a couple of clips i have put on youtube:

footage of 1961 UNC-dook fight (Larry Brown and Art Heyman):

video of last 5 minutes of 1975 ACC Tourney Final, UNC vs NC State:

video of postgame celebration of that ACC Final:


- Hayes Holderness, UNC '79

These are excellent clips for Carolina fans and I thoroughly recommend them.

This might only be of interest to fanatics like me, but I wanted to share my observations and response to Hayes' email:

Dear Mr. Holderness

I appreciate the feedback and the links. Apparently, DaveSez is defunct, so I may try to move some of the writing to my blog. I can also post these links there if you want to share them with others.

I am watching the 1975 ACC tournament final now. One thing that I try to impress upon people about UNC and ACC history is that often the conventional wisdom is wrong.

I like to ask people about 1977 and most say that Marquette beat UNC handily in that game and that UNC was not in contention to win at the end, when in reality they are remembering the 8-point final difference due to intentional fouling and forgetting that Carolina had the ball and a chance to tie the game with less than 2 minutes remaining.

The conventional wisdom about this Carolina-State game is that the incredible ability of UNC in the Ford Corners made this upset possible, but I have seen in this short clip a variety of turnovers and bad shots and missed free throws by the 'Heels down the stretch. Play on both sides looks kind of ragged.

Except for the lighting, the clip looks great. I wonder if it is a film transfer or from an early Betamax. This tournament has a special importance to me as it was the first one that I followed from start to finish, although I don't believe that the Wake OT thriller was on television as I remember listening to it on the radio when Brad Hoffman made a name for himself at the buzzer of regulation, leading to Carolina's 101-100 victory.(No shot clock or 3-pointers either!)

I love it when Dean says that "he is extremely pleased" with the win, with his characteristic, perhaps excessive, politeness. He was quite gracious in accepting the bid to the NCAA tournament after the game. I had forgotten they used to do that.

What a crushing defeat for the Wolfback, maybe the worst in their history since it prevented them from defending their NCAA title.

About the fight clip, I find it interesting how little a deal it was in the context of the period. If something like that happened today, there would be felony charges and suspensions and the coaches would be fired. I know two or three guys got suspended here but it wasn't considered all that serious.

Even as late as 1970, South Carolina and Maryland got into a huge basket-brawl and there were no charges or suspensions as I recall. Two USC players were actually into it with Lefty as can be seen on the DaveSez site article about the Mcguire Gamecocks. McGuire loved to scrap and so did his teams. He is still an inspiration to me and I believe he deserves far more credit from UNC fans.

I would love to see a replay of the 1971 ACC title game. Talk about bad blood. It was even worse than against Duke in the late 80's. After the game, John Roche stormed across the court and yelled "F-you, we beat you" to Dean Smith.

You caught a great period of UNC basketball, between 1975 and 1980, which was the consolidation of the program into one of the four or five periennal powers in America. Until the 1975 tournament title, people were writing off Carolina and Smith, and had Driesell and Sloan in the forefront, but in many ways the 1977 tournament title and NCAA run was more significant.

Getting revenge on Virginia, in a tournament title game full of bad blood and then winning with a rag-tag group of subs and the walking wounded was amazing, given all the serious injuries Carolina had that year to their three best players, Laguarde, Ford and Davis.

Carolina then almost did the unthinkable and almost won it all. Who can ever forget the Purdue and Kentucky and UNLV games. That was still probably Smith's greatest coaching job and one of the greatest seasons ever for Carolina.

Nobody remembers anymore that UVa was arguably Carolina's biggest rival between 1976 and 1984, with the Cavs ruining Carolina's 1976 season and the 'Heels and Al Wood torching UVa in the Final Four in 1981. The only team to beat Carolina's starting five in 1982? Virginia, of course, and they ran roughshod over us in Charlottesville. (Wake also beat us but Sam Perkins did not play that game). Who made it to the Final Four in 1984 during Jordan's last year when Carolina seemed a shoo-in? A mediocre UVa team, of couse, that came within a hair of the title game.

It is funny, because I got to Carolina in 83-84, one year removed from our winning the title and it was definitely anti-climactic. We had finally won one in our lifetime, and we were so amazingly good all four years that people did not have as much interest, I believe, as they did previously and do now. We sort of took it for granted. People would have tickets for games in Carmichael or the Smith Center and would watch on television instead. Of course, we knew that Carolina almost always would win anyway as they had few rivals during this period and yet in spite of having the best four year win totals in school history, and going unbeaten in the conference twice, Carolina won neither an ACC tournament nor an NCAA title.

Greatness always needs a foil and during my time at UNC we did not have one. State and Duke were pretty good and Georgia Tech was rising but all were still a step behind and UVa was fading. It may be a paradox but Smith and Carolina needed the rise of Duke to make their game all it could be and to restore lagging interest.

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