UNC basketball players host Special Olympics event

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Special Olympics athletes gather in a huddle with Tar Heel men’s basketball players during a clinic on Saturday afternoon in the Smith Center.

Erica Walderman, a 28-year-old competing in this year’s North Carolina Special Olympics for basketball, is pretty confident in her 3-pointer.

“I’m a pro,” Walderman said, who is competing for Wayne County.

And she has a game plan.

“I’m going to try to, when I can, make it.”

Walderman had the chance to demonstrate her skills at the 10th annual Clinic for Special Olympics North Carolina Athletes with the UNC basketball team Sunday, and the players and coaches were more than impressed with what they saw from the 100 participants.

“Some of them were doing really well with the dribbling and shooting and stuff, and they looked like they’ve been playing basketball a long time,” said freshman point guard Marcus Paige.

“We had a lot of funny and fun experiences, and there were a lot of cool kids I got to meet.”

Coach Roy Williams brought the tradition to UNC 10 years ago, which he started and continued for 15 years while he coached at the University of Kansas.

“I think our players get a heck of a lot out of it, and I think the Special Olympics kids really enjoy it too,” he said.

The Special Olympics athletes who attended the clinic are in training to compete in individual skills, 3-on-3 or 5-on-5 competitions at the 2013 Special Olympics North Carolina Basketball & Cheerleading Tournament, which will be held in Charlotte and Johnston County on March 9 and March 16, respectively.

The opportunity to attend the clinic was opened up to all counties, but only the first 20 counties that responded were able to send their 5 delegates.

Ricky Frederick, a Special Olympics head coach for the Cabarrus County team, said his team was looking forward to the clinic for a long time.

“They love it, they were excited, they couldn’t wait,” he said. “We found out a while ago so they were just counting down the days.”

Six players on his team range from ages 11 to 27, and they are competing in the 3-on-3 competition.

Frederick says coaching the team requires a special bond, which he has with this team.

“You have to develop a personal relationship and be really involved, and have it be a one-on-one type of thing.”

Frederick said that he hopes to be involved in Special Olympics for a long time, and to get his newborn daughter involved when she grows up.

“It’s my life,” he said.

Williams said the clinic was also held last year the day after the Florida State game, which the UNC squad lost by a demoralizing 33 points.

“It was something we did the next day and it was really, really good for our players — they jumped right in just like we won the day before,” Williams said. “You’ve got to lose yourself into what you’re doing, and I think they did lose themselves and get involved.”

Paige said the team was told about the clinic after its win at Florida State Saturday night, but he had heard good things from his teammates about last year’s event, and he’s looking forward to future ones.

“Now that I’ve had it one time, I can’t wait to do it again,” he said.

Contact the desk editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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