GLENDALE, ARIZ. — Early Saturday morning, somewhere in the Kimpton Hotel Palamar Phoenix Cityscape, Kennedy Meeks rolled over in bed.
It was game day — finally time for him and his North Carolina men’s basketball teammates to take on Oregon in the Final Four. Finally time, he thought, to earn a place in Monday night’s national championship game.
So Meeks turned to his roommate this road trip, Shea Rush, and the two turned on some music. Specifically, Drake’s new album, “More Life.” Even more specifically, “Passionfruit,” the third track on the album.
That may not matter much. What matters is what came after: When, as lyrics and beats filled the hotel room, Meeks turned to Rush and said something — something, it turns out, that was more premonition than posturing.
“First thing he said when he woke up this morning was, ‘I’m locked in,” Rush said after UNC’s 77-76 win that earned a spot in its second consecutive national championship game. “He talks sometimes, but his play talked today.”
It’s true. Meeks led all scorers Saturday night with 25 points, a career-high mark for the senior forward and one of UNC’s more emotional players. On top of that, he added 14 rebounds, none more notable than the game-sealing offensive board with less than five seconds left in the game.
“I was just feeling it today,” Meeks said of his early morning message. “My main goal was just to help my team in any way I can.”
Usually when a player says something to that effect, it’s just talk — a trite sound bite with no real meaning. But this NCAA Tournament, Meeks has not only taken that message to heart; he’s embodied it.
Look no further than UNC’s second game against Arkansas. With his teammates seemingly unable to score against the Razorbacks, Meeks responded. He scored what was then an NCAA Tournament career-high 16 points as the Tar Heels escaped with a seven-point win.