Enough of the rambling about my superior balling skills, let’s get back to the tryouts. We finished up that day, and I confidently stood waiting for my name to be called amongst the other players who made the team. The tryouts were at my elementary school, just minutes away from my house, so I knew once my name got called I would have plenty of time to get back home for the start of the UNC-Duke game.
But wait, there had to be a mistake. My name wasn’t called with all the other players who made the team. I won’t go into too much detail here, but let’s just say I was devastated.
I mean, imagine being a budding NBA superstar only to realize your career was being derailed far before it took off. How would you feel?
I went home from the tryouts feeling hopeless, but I still decided to watch the UNC-Duke game anyway. Within minutes, some of my initial disappointment had faded away, replaced by my burning hatred for the Blue Devils.
I remember I hated Gerald Henderson going into that game, but he wasn’t public enemy No. 1 in my mind. No, that honor was reserved for Greg Paulus, the whiny-faced guard who routinely liked to slap the floor on defense.
But by the time the game was done, my opinion would change.
I sat on my parents’ bed eating Utz tortilla chips, absorbing the game in front of me. All thoughts of my forced early retirement from basketball had vanished by halftime.
But I remember it even more for something else. Late in the game, with the outcome not in doubt, Henderson came down from his jump and slammed his elbow into Tyler Hansbrough’s nose. The impact was immediate. Blood streamed down Hansbrough’s face. I remember being angry at three people: Henderson for intentionally breaking Hansbrough’s nose, CBS commentator Billy Packer for alleging the incident was accidental and UNC players for not letting Hansbrough charge Henderson.
In the end, UNC won, 86-72. It was one of those games I never forgot because it helped me cope with the pain of getting cut from that AAU team.
I will never forget that game. Henderson quickly became my least favorite Duke player, maybe ever, something that did not change even when my Charlotte Bobcats drafted him.
And the game helped me get over the tragedy of having to pick a new career path while still in elementary school.
That’s why when I think of UNC-Duke games, I always start with that one.
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