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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC Gives Opposing Coach Rare Chance

Houston Fancher isn't shocked. Not after building up such an immunity to the rumors and speculation.

The fact that he - not Buzz Peterson - is the head basketball coach at Appalachian State heading into Friday's game against North Carolina really comes as no surprise.

Fancher watched his former boss entertain all the offers. Peterson's name came up for the Georgia job in 1999. He actually agreed to coach at Southwest Missouri State that same summer before deciding to return to Boone.

The possibilities didn't end there. After last season, Georgia Tech became an option. As did Houston. And Tulsa.

"It was just something all the time," Fancher said. "Early on, I caught myself getting emotionally involved. When he got let down, I got let down. What I tried to do with this last one was try to stay as emotionally detached as I could knowing that when it did happen, I would be able to make my move."

After Peterson took the Tulsa job in June, Fancher's move was not to make one. As soon as Peterson's press conference began, Appalachian State Director of Athletics Roachel Laney called Fancher, who was named the Mountaineers' coach the next day.

As Fancher prepares for his first game as Appalachian State's head man, he knows he has slid into an opportunity that many coaches in the state have yearned for - the opportunity to play UNC.

The Tar Heels last played against an in-state, non-ACC opponent during the regular season in 1998. UNC defeated UNC-Charlotte 75-73 in overtime.

When Dean Smith took over as UNC's head coach in 1961, North Carolina went on a 32-year run without meeting an in-state, non-ACC opponent during the regular season. That was broken in 1994, when UNC defeated UNC-Asheville, which was coached by former Tar Heel assistant Randy Wiel.

North Carolina thought it would be helping another former Tar Heel by scheduling Friday's game. The Mountaineers are playing their first game in the new Selby Jones Arena in Boone, and Peterson was supposed to be there for the fireworks.

But the reunion with Peterson took place last Saturday at the NABC Classic.

"Now that he's not there, maybe we should have put in the contract that we'll play Appalachian State as long as Buzz Peterson is the coach, or another former player," UNC coach Matt Doherty said in October. "But we'll be glad to do that.

"The reason that we don't play a lot of in-state schools is that there are a lot of in-state schools, and how do you differentiate one from another?"

Doherty would rather challenge his team with games against Kentucky, Indiana or UCLA. The Tar Heels have played five regular-season games against in-state, non-ACC schools in the last six years and have won those contests by an average of 18.6 points.

Fancher realizes his players face a hefty battle of their own against UNC. He also knows chances like this don't come around too often. North Carolina last played at Appalachian State in 1940.

"I think they'd be excited to play anybody right now," Fancher said. "This is something that hasn't happened in 60 years at Appalachian State and probably won't happen for another 60 years for North Carolina to come to Boone to play."

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