But the North Carolina JV men's basketball team doesn’t play for a championship. So why did the team still put up 14 steals, three blocks and 36 defensive rebounds in its 87-59 win over the Hampden-Sydney JV squad on Wednesday?
These Tar Heels don’t play for a championship or accolades, yet they still routinely put forth a dedicated and disciplined approach leading to a 10-0 start to the season.
Because they want to get better — the right way.
On Wednesday night, the team played under the lights of the Smith Center to a crowd of about 45 people. In a few hours, 21,750 UNC and Duke fans would fill the same stadium, attending one of the biggest ACC games of the year. But these Tar Heels didn’t seem to mind the low numbers; they were just happy to be there, in a place where they hope to play for the varsity squad one day.
“I think a lot of us would have never dreamed of playing in this kind of gym,” sophomore guard Robbie O’Han said. “And for a coach like Coach Davis.”
O’Han, who finished the game 6-10 with 14 points and five assists in 27 minutes, has had to step up as a leader for the JV team in lieu of Kane Ma’s move up to varsity. But O’Han sees this change, and any other, as something besides a challenge. He sees it as a way for him and the team to become better, smarter basketball players.
“Last year, Kane definitely took a lot of our shots and ran our offense,” O’Han said. “We’ve had to fill that leadership role and shot taking, and I think we’ve done a good job distributing throughout our lineup and finding the best shot. We’re really unselfish on offense.”
The ultimate goal for these players is to prove themselves to varsity players and coaches alike, hoping to eventually rise to that level as Ma did this year. So winning isn’t enough — they have to dominate.
They made the extra pass, they dove for the ball, they held the Tigers to only 30.2 percent from the field and 15.4 percent from three. They did these things to prove themselves. But they still aren’t satisfied.
“It definitely wasn’t our best defensive performance,” junior Caleb Ellis said. “But we won by 30, so, what can you say?”
Ellis finished 6-8 with 19 points and four rebounds in 20 minutes. He contributed to the Tar Heels’ aggressive press defense with two steals. He’s one of the players who makes the extra pass and dives for the ball. Because he, like every other player on this team, has something to prove.
“You never know who’s watching when we’re playing our games,” Ellis said. “So, we go out there and try to get better every day. And whatever happens will happen.”