Maybe you don’t know it yet, but when you step onto campus you’ll realize the basketball players you grew up watching on primetime television aren’t that different from you and me.
With a campus culture that revolves around basketball for months at a time, it can be easy to forget sometimes. The UNC-Duke game reaches every nook and cranny of Chapel Hill every year and the towering figures you see walking along campus might not look like the average student.
And to be clear, in some ways they are different. Not many of us in this world were awarded the athletic prowess or vertical abilities to dunk with ease, or dribble circles around world-class college defenders. Not many of us grew up to be almost seven-feet tall, or will have to answer to the media on a daily basis for our mistakes.
But you’d be fooled to believe those 18 to 22 year olds — athletes our own age who are almost never thought of that way — don't have a lot in common with the rest of us.
When I first stepped on this campus, I thought it was weird to be walking alongside athletes I’d only ever seen on ESPN, or from the nosebleeds of the Dean Dome. It was strange to see Joel Berry, Luke Maye, Brice Johnson or Marcus Paige standing in line at the Chick-fil-A in Bottom of Lenoir, or walking to class. But I got used to it.
The frequency with which you run into people the sports world wants to know all about becomes even more cool when you remember what you have in common. You're here in Chapel Hill too getting an education. For me, just understanding that has made interviewing the team for the DTH a whole lot more fun.
Regardless of growing up a UNC fan or not, my best advice is to treat basketball players and all kinds of athletes with respect. After all the years idolizing players, staying up late watching the games or wearing your favorite player’s jerseys on your back, we want to believe they are different. But I learned they aren't the larger-than-life figures I once thought them to be. They're just people.
I couldn't learn this until I experienced it firsthand. On one of my first days of classes, I was walking through the Pit when I saw someone come out of Student Stores as a handful of Gatorades came tumbling to the ground.
The person was clearly embarrassed. After a moment, I realized the figure a couple dozen yards away from me was Luke Maye. He was trying to figure out his first week of college life, just like I was.
I learned a lot from that moment, just as I have from being around all kinds of people who go to this University. Without an athlete's perspective of my own, I know for sure basketball players sometimes lose their cool playing video games and do things they probably shouldn’t. They endure classes, exams, hard and long days, get lost on campus the first couple of weeks and the embarrass themselves.
So with that newfound knowledge, don’t abuse your new privileges as fellow students. Don't be creepy, follow them around, try to get their autograph, or be afraid to talk to them like you would anyone else.
These players don’t deserve to be the subject of your daily obsessions, nor should they be cast aside for being too different — too unapproachable for someone like you.
They are everyday college students like all of the rest of us who are trying to figure their way around classes and adulthood. Treat them as such.
They just happen to be incredibly good at basketball, on top of that.
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