The official beginning of a new era in North Carolina men's basketball is less than 24 hours away.
But the present will touch the past when UNC takes the floor at midnight tonight for its first practice under Matt Doherty. The event, dubbed "Midnight with Matt and the Tar Heels," will take place in Carmichael Auditorium.
Doherty has been looking forward to the event for days. He wants Carmichael to look like it did when he played there from 1980-84 - a sea of blue.
"I know the players are excited, and I think the students are, too," Doherty said. "I hope that we have to close the doors. I hope we get over 10,000 people in there - I know it seats 10,000."
Admission to the event is free, and seating will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for the 7:30 volleyball match between Wake Forest and North Carolina. After that, beginning about 11 p.m., Doherty and his staff of assistants will play a three-on-three game against a group of UNC students. One of the players competing against the coaches is Jau'Ron Hayes, a former UNC junior varsity basketball player and last year's campus slam-dunk champion.
"As long as my body can hold up, I enjoy going out there and playing," Doherty said. "It's a good way to interact with the student body. I think it will be fun for them to see me make mistakes and shoot air balls and get my shot blocked."
But Doherty will be as competitive as always. He and assistants want to win the game and even practiced some on Tuesday night to get ready.
"I'm hearing good things about this kid Jau'Ron," Doherty said. "I understand he's been talking a little junk, so we'll have to go out there and try to stick it to them.
"Just a message to Jau'Ron: If Jau'Ron wants to have any shot of making the varsity, he ought to be nice to me Friday night."
Doherty also will compete against a UNC student in a 3-point shootout, and one lucky fan will get to shoot from half court for a chance to win a new car. Other door prizes, including tickets to Monday's NBA exhibition game between the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors at the Smith Center, also will be distributed.
The Tar Heels will take the floor at midnight. The team will go through some drills, including layup lines in which the players will put on a dunk show, before breaking up for a scrimmage.
"I think it will be real fun, not just for us but for the University and the students to come out and see us do some crazy stuff," senior guard Max Owens said.
The Tar Heels also will get a boost from special guests Charlie Scott and Al Wood, who will be in attendance as honorary coaches.
In 1966, Scott became one of the first black athletes to earn an athletic scholarship at a Southern school. He guided the Tar Heels to a pair of Final Fours and was a two-time first-team All-American. Wood led the Tar Heels in scoring his final three seasons and was a first-team All-American as a senior in 1981.
"I wanted to bring back some former players to be recognized but also for our players to get a better sense of tradition," Doherty said. "Those two gentlemen will talk to our team at a dinner Friday night and talk to them about what it means to be a Carolina basketball player.
"I think that's a good way to tie in the past with the present."
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