The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday December 2nd

Teasley Closes Out College Career

Senior guard Nikki Teasley played her last game Saturday for UNC, finishing her career as the school's all-time assist leader.

North Carolina's All-American guard has long had what she calls a "crazy superstition": If she shoots well during pregame practices and shoot-arounds, she believes, she'll almost always fare poorly come game time. And vice versa.

"When I'm making all of them in a row, I start getting shaky," Teasley said. "I'm like, 'Oh, God.'"

And so, there she was before Saturday's Midwest Regional semifinal against Vanderbilt, nervously phoning her mom and brothers with some foreboding news.

During UNC's two practices in Iowa State's Hilton Coliseum, she had missed only three shots. And her superstition turned out to be painfully accurate.

Playing in the last game of her collegiate career, Teasley connected on just 1 of 14 field-goal attempts, missed all six of her 3-pointers and finished with a season-low three points.

And so, there she was Saturday night after the 70-61 loss to Vandy, sitting alone on a ledge in the showers in UNC's locker room, holding a Ludacris CD in her hands, wearing her warmups and a black headband with "CUTE" printed in white letters several times around it.

As her teammates whooped and screamed in front of her -- disappointment having given way to excited reflection of their NCAA tournament run -- the team's lone senior, on the day after her 23rd birthday, did some reflecting of her own.

"It's just really tough, and it hurts even more," Teasley said, "because I'm not going to get a chance to redeem myself."

Some would say she already has.

Teasley's career has had all the elements of great literature. Coach Sylvia Hatchell has even semi-joked about writing a book about her time with Teasley.

After leading the league in assists and earning ACC Rookie of the Year honors, Teasley topped the conference in both assists and steals as a sophomore. With nasty ball-handling skills and a blindingly fast first step, she established herself as one of the most talented and exciting players in the nation.

But questions began to surface her junior season when she suddenly took a seven-game leave of absence from the team for personal reasons. She returned and was named MVP of the ACC Tournament, scoring 31 points in the title game. But the questions -- and rumors -- intensified when UNC announced Teasley would be sitting out the 2000-01 academic and basketball years.

Few knew it then, but Teasley was ensnared in a serious bout of depression. She went home to Maryland to clear her head and rediscover her passion for life and basketball, working two jobs and spending time with family.

The break paid off. Teasley returned this season rejuvenated, smashed the school record for career assists (falling one short of the ACC record of 729) and averaged 15.2 points.

Evidence of her newfound self-confidence and security was obvious Saturday. The woman who once upon a time would stop looking for her shot if it wasn't falling in a tight game decided to put the outcome in her hands.

"The old Nikki Teasley wouldn't want to be in that situation," she said. "This time, I made a commitment to myself: If we win, it's because of me; if we go down, it's because of me."

Said Hatchell: "I wish she could have played a better game for her last game, but she's come back and had a really good senior year.

"I'm just happy for her that she has loved it and enjoyed it. And I think she's going to go on to have a tremendous career in the WNBA, and she's going to do Carolina proud."

Teasley called this season's Tar Heels "the best team I've been on as far as chemistry-wise" and is looking forward to a pro career.

"I had a great time all four years I've been here -- or five," Teasley said, chuckling. "Taking a year off last year and coming back, it's been everything that I expected -- and more. I mean, I expected us to get further than the Sweet 16, but things happen. I had fun.

"I don't regret anything. And I'm just looking forward to the next level now."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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