Seventeen players stepped onto the Roy Williams Court in the Dean E. Smith Center on Friday afternoon, but they weren't the players the nation has come to recognize as the preseason No. 1 team.
The team that came out of the locker room was the UNC junior varsity men's basketball squad, returning once again after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.
In its return, UNC didn’t disappoint. The Tar Heels employed every man on the roster to crush Voyager Academy, their prep-school opponent, in a decisive 76-32 victory.
There were questions surrounding the teams' return — North Carolina is one of the last Division I programs in the nation with a JV team — but former head coach Dean Smith's wishes to continue to field the team prevailed. The junior varsity team is set to play a full season in 2022-2023.
As the team warmed up, it was clear the players were feeling the effects of being on the storied Dean E. Smith Center court. Necks were craned towards the jerseys hung from the rafters, commemorating legends of the UNC basketball program that had stood in in the same spot.
“I've been a UNC fan my whole life so I've always watched games from the stands,” sophomore forward Will Tyndall said. “Just to be able to play on the court and score on those baskets with those banners up there is just incredible.”
Sophomore guard George Hill said playing in the Dean E. Smith Center was a "surreal moment" and "a dream come true." He shot 100 percent from outside the arc, putting in a strong performance to help the team secure the win.
“It's just an honor to be a part of this great program,” Hill said.
UNC's team was formed earlier this month and has had limited time to develop its unity and playing style. The group of recruits survived each round of cuts during tryouts. Most had not played competitive basketball since high school.