Current Date: Sun, 09 Mar 2014 05:38:56 -0400
The word “family,” as applied to sports teams, refers to the figurative bond created between players and coaches.
When the North Carolina lacrosse team uses the term, though, it takes on a more literal meaning.
“If you look back at the history of the program there’s a lot of brothers and family members that have gone through,” coach Joe Breschi said. “That’s always been a thing that’s unique to Carolina.”
For brothers Billy and Jimmy Bitter, that Tar Heel legacy lives on, and for the younger brother, that means high expectations.
Billy Bitter, who finished his career at UNC in 2011 as one of the program’s best attackmen, is now playing professionally for the Rochester Rattlers of Major League Lacrosse.
Jimmy Bitter, a sophomore beginning his second season as a Tar Heel, is attempting to follow in the footsteps of his older brother.
But approaching his brother’s 99 goals and 76 assists won’t be easy for the shifty sharpshooter.
Last season, the younger Bitter didn’t earn a starting role until halfway through the season.
When he did, though, he made an instant impact, finishing the season with 41 points.
Entering his sophomore year, Jimmy Bitter will be competing with more than a stacked Atlantic Coast Conference. He’ll be facing the high expectations that come with the Bitter name.
The Bitter boys grew up in a family consumed by competition, but when it comes to picking the better player among the two, neither brother is prepared to stake his claim.
Billy Bitter said that being the youngest in a family of six helped his younger brother mature faster than he did.
“I hate to admit it, but he is a better player than me,” the older Bitter said. “He’s done a lot more with his career than I had done at this point.”
The younger Bitter was named an honorable mention All-American as a freshman. Billy Bitter wasn’t.
Jimmy Bitter conceded that he isn’t quite on his brother’s level, though.
“He’s proven himself already,” Jimmy Bitter said. “I haven’t proven myself yet.”
Billy Bitter was surprised to hear of his brother’s humility.
“He was on the front cover of Inside Lacrosse (Magazine) senior year in high school,” Billy Bitter said. “Everybody knew about him and a lot of college coaches were trying to get him.”
Breschi said he wouldn’t say whether one was better than the other — yet.
“They’re both very dynamic players,” Breschi said. “At the end of Jimmy’s career, I’ll tell you who was better.”
One thing Breschi and the brothers did agree on was that the pair each has his own strengths.
Jimmy Bitter takes credit for having a better shot, but he said his older brother is more apt at dodging.
Billy Bitter agreed and said that he wished he had worked on developing his shot early in his career, as his brother did.
“He has a very good, very hard outside shot,” he said. “Scoring from outside is something that will be huge for him in his career.”
In his freshman season, Jimmy Bitter surpassed what his brother accomplished in his own freshman campaign.
But this season is different.
In order to keep up with his brother, the youngest Bitter will have to match his older brother’s All-American sophomore season, in which he scored the third-most points in a season in UNC history — 71.
“It’s all up to him. He’s got to push himself,” Billy Bitter said. “It’s a little bit tougher on him.”
He said his younger brother is capable, but because of success as a freshman, the pressure will be more intense.
Jimmy Bitter will have to share the ball with the rest of UNC’s attack this year while facing increased attention from opposing defenses, something Billy Bitter didn’t face as much early in his UNC career.
“Coaches always told me, ‘You can be a stand out player,’ which is something I never dreamt about,” Billy Bitter said. “I never even thought I’d be a starter.”
After many extra hours of film sessions and shooting practice, Billy Bitter earned a starting job and became an integral part of the Tar Heels’ offense.
A year like that might be less surprising for Jimmy Bitter, but to him, beating UNC’s opponents is more important.
“I’m not going to say I’ll be a first team All-American,” Jimmy Bitter said. “Really, the main goal is to win.”
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