BROOKLYN — After appearing in the national championship game for the past two seasons, the North Carolina men’s basketball team is no stranger to big stages.
But playing in Brooklyn for the 2018 ACC Tournament offers the Tar Heels a different kind of spotlight – one that both players and fans have relished so far.
Senior Joel Berry II played in Brooklyn for last season’s ACC Tournament, and he said he notices a special level of energy playing in the nation’s biggest media market.
“You can always tell the vibe around here is basketball, basketball, basketball,” Berry said. “It’s all around a lot of fun, and I’m just trying to soak it in and enjoy it as much as possible.”
Berry said his family made the trip to see him play, and the tournament offered his younger siblings a chance to see NYC for the first time.
Head coach Roy Williams has coached plenty of games in New York, but he had one concern.
“Why can't we find someplace warm to play this sucker?” Williams asked at the end of his press conference Tuesday.
A few of Williams’ players joined him in complaining about the wintry weather that hit the area Wednesday. Nearly a half-foot of snow fell and surrounding areas saw even more snowfall.
Andrew Platek is no stranger to the weather. The first-year grew up in upstate New York and visited NYC growing up. But this year’s visit is different for him, considering where the games are being played.
“It’s awesome, I love it,” Platek said. “To play in the Barclays Center – obviously you have the Nets playing here – so many great players have played on that floor. It’s an honor.”
Despite venturing farther north than usual, the Tar Heel faithful still showed out in droves for Tuesday’s 78-59 second-round victory against Syracuse. Swaths of Carolina blue connected in the Barclays Center for a number of “Tar Heel” chants and other Chapel Hill favorites.
Senior Theo Pinson was glad to see so many supporters far from home. He knows how unique of an opportunity this tournament is for fans living far from North Carolina.
“These people don’t really see ACC basketball very much,” Pinson said.
People like Daniel Leake, who graduated from UNC in 2015. The Greensboro native said the tournament should return to its traditional home in Greensboro (it will in 2020, after spending 2019 in Charlotte), but he welcomed the opportunity to see his alma mater without needing to travel back to North Carolina.
“It’s great because I don’t get to go home much,” Leake said. ”This is the only game all year I get to see in person, so it’s nice to have them traveling up north for once.”
Leake attended the Tar Heels’ win against Syracuse with a group of fellow 2015 graduates who moved to New York after graduation – a group that included Raleigh native Peyton Burgess.
A Daily Tar Heel alumna, Burgess said her father was traveling north for the next round of games. She was excited to see the UNC community extended north.
“It’s fun too because it brings everyone together,” Burgess said. “All the Tar Heels that are up in New York – it brings everyone together for the game.”
With their win over Syracuse, the Tar Heels’ record in New York City improved to 37-24. Playing in New York is something many young players dream of and junior guard Kenny Williams is enjoying his chance in the Big Apple spotlight.
“New York is the mecca of basketball,” Williams said. “Everyone wants to play there.”
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