<![CDATA[The Daily Tar Heel: Mens basketball]]> Sat, 02 Jul 2022 04:02:32 -0400 Sat, 02 Jul 2022 04:02:32 -0400 SNworks CEO 2022 The Daily Tar Heel <![CDATA[2022 postseason run 'lit a fire' for UNC men's basketball's upcoming season]]> Going into the locker room up 15 points after the first half of the 2022 NCAA championship game, the North Carolina men's basketball team seemed to be on the verge of achieving the unthinkable. The same team that was considered a bubble team earlier in the season was now just 20 minutes away from an NCAA title.

But as the game clock ran out, Tar Heel fans across the country fell silent. The No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks put a stop to North Carolina's improbable run, rallying in the second half to beat UNC 72-69.

UNC's "Iron Five" starting lineup, consisting of graduate transfer Brady Manek, senior Leaky Black, junior Armando Bacot, and sophomores RJ Davis and Caleb Love led the team throughout the run. In the offseason, questions arose as to who would stay and who would leave for the NBA Draft.

The questions were answered in April, beginning with Bacot's announcement that he will return for his senior season on April 13. Two days later, Black took to social media to share his decision to use his year of COVID-19 eligibility to return for a fifth year. In the following weeks, RJ Davis and Love also chose to return and play another year for head coach Hubert Davis.

"RJ, Caleb, Leaky, Armando, the older guys, all the returning guys, what they experienced last year has lit a fire inside all of them to have more experiences like that," Hubert Davis said in a press conference on June 15.

Returning four out of five starters, North Carolina heads into the 2022-2023 season ranked No. 1 in some preseason rankings. Bacot, Black, Love, and RJ Davis make up one of the most accomplished groups returning to college basketball, making UNC a strong contender for this year's national title.

Outside of UNC's returning starters, Hubert Davis' staff recently added Northwestern transfer Pete Nance. Nance was one of the most sought-after names in the transfer portal, and his size and shooting ability make him a formidable replacement for Manek. Rising junior Puff Johnson and rising sophomore Dontrez Styles may also help fill the hole left by Manek's departure.

Experience is definitely something the Tar Heels won't lack in the coming season. Aside from the four returning starters, Johnson, Styles, and other players of this year's team played in some big games throughout the season. Redshirt first-year Will Shaver, who chose to enroll at UNC and join the team midseason, will be eligible to play this fall and is already familiar with the pressure of high-performance situations thanks to UNC's championship run in New Orleans.

"The benefit that Will personally got from having that experience I'm very happy with," Hubert Davis said. "He is in a great spot now because he came early."

Incoming 4-star recruit Seth Trimble, while new to the college scene, also has his fair share of big-time games, securing gold for Team USA at the 2022 FIBA U18 Americas Championship.

Trimble and Shaver, along with incoming first-years Tyler Nickel and Jalen Washington, will provide depth to a shallow UNC rotation that was dominated by the "Iron Five."

"The five that I played a lot last year, especially towards the end of the year, they determined it by their play in practice every day," Hubert Davis said. "And it was confirmed by their play in the games."

Next year, Hubert Davis would like to play more of his bench but says that no spot is guaranteed.

"I want to have a bigger rotation, but I'm not going to give people playing time," he said. "I'm going to give everyone an opportunity."

With high-profile recruits and a strong returning core, North Carolina has a strong case for a comeback season complete with a national title.

"The thing that I like about our team right now is there is a hunger and a thirst and a desire," Hubert Davis said. "It's coming from the returning players, from what they experienced last year, and then the newness of the freshman that are really excited. So combining that together, I think we're in a good spot."


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<![CDATA[North Carolina men's basketball legend Lennie Rosenbluth dies at 89]]> Former UNC men's basketball player Lennie Rosenbluth died on Saturday at the age of 89. The cause of death is unknown at this time.

Hailing from The Bronx, N.Y., Rosenbluth was a forward who played three seasons for UNC from 1955 to 1957. In 1957, he led the undefeated Tar Heels to a national championship while averaging 28 points per game. In the NCAA title game against Wilt Chamberlain and the Kansas Jayhawks, Rosenbluth scored 20 points in a 54-53 triple-overtime victory. That same year, Rosenbluth was named a Helms Foundation Player of the Year, consensus first-team All-American and ACC Player of the Year.

During his time at UNC, Rosenbluth held a career scoring average record of 26.9 points. This mark, achieved without the 3-point line, has yet to be broken by a Tar Heel. His jersey, No. 10, is one of eight retired by the UNC men's basketball program and hangs in the front row of the rafters in the Dean E. Smith Center.

Rosenbluth was an instrumental early figure in the North Carolina men's basketball program. He led UNC men's basketball to its first NCAA title and was a key recruit for former head coach Frank McGuire, helping to establish the New York to North Carolina recruiting pipeline. Rosenbluth, a 2003 inductee into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, was also a renowned athletic figure in the Jewish community.

"Mr. Rosenbluth is a UNC legend," UNC men's basketball head coach Hubert Davis said. "Not only by his playing career but by his character and love for this program, university and community. He was genuine, kind and always supportive of my family and me. I will miss seeing him at our games and around our town. Carolina Basketball will always love him."

After graduating from UNC, Rosenbluth was drafted No. 6 by the Philadelphia Warriors in the 1957 NBA Draft. He played two seasons professionally and later became a high school teacher and basketball coach in North Carolina and Florida.

In 2010, Rosenbluth moved back to the Chapel Hill area, where he was a prominent member of the community and a familiar face at UNC's home games for the later years of his life.

"He had such a dignity about him," former UNC men's basketball head coach Roy Williams said. "The guys who came after him, they talked about Lennie with reverence. There was always something special about him."


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CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Rosenbluth moved back to Chapel Hill with his wife Dianne. Rosenbluth moved to Chapel Hill with his first wife Helen, known as Pat, who died in 2010. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.

<![CDATA[Northwestern transfer Pete Nance commits to North Carolina men's basketball program]]> On Saturday, Northwestern transfer Pete Nance announced his commitment to UNC.

Last season, Nance averaged 14.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, and recorded a season-high 28 points in a loss to Maryland in January. The All-Big Ten Honorable Mention led the Wildcats in scoring and hit 42 three-point shots at a 45.2 percent clip.

After working his way into the starting lineup at Northwestern in his sophomore year, Nance led the Wildcats with 163 rebounds and 17 blocks his junior season. Standing at 6-foot-10, Nance will look to improve North Carolina's depth at center and could act as a solid backup option for rising senior center Armando Bacot.

The former 4-star recruit out of Akron, Ohio was ranked by 247 Sports as the No. 88 player in the nation and No. 20 power forward in the class of 2018. Along with Northwestern, Ohio State and Michigan appeared to be top-choice schools during Nance's high school recruitment.

Nance recently underwent the NBA pre-draft process but pulled out of draft consideration ahead of the June 1 deadline. Nance's commitment comes after his visit to Chapel Hill this week.


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<![CDATA[Reviewing the senior seasons of UNC men's basketball's incoming recruiting class]]> North Carolina men's basketball coach Hubert Davis proved his abilities as a head coach during the Tar Heel's electric run in the NCAA Tournament this past season, leading UNC to the national championship game after being unranked for the majority of the season. This upcoming season, Davis' ability as a recruiter will be tested as his first recruiting class steps foot in the Dean E. Smith Center.

According to 247 Sports, UNC's 2022 recruiting class is ranked 15th in the country and third in the ACC, behind Duke and Virginia. The four players that make up that group - Seth Trimble, Tyler Nickel, Jalen Washington and Will Shaver - will look to provide more depth to last season's shallow bench rotation.

Seth Trimble

Seth Trimble, a 6-foot-3 point guard from Menomonee Falls, Wis., comes in as the highest ranked recruit in the 2022 class. Although rising junior guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis are returning for the 2022-2023 season, Trimble will look to make an impact as a key reserve for backcourt depth.

Trimble finished up his high school basketball season at Menomonee Falls with a 25-4 record and a run to the WIAA Division 1 state semifinals. The 4-star also set a new record for most points in school history, a record set by his older brother and former UNC forward, J.P. Tokoto.

After leading his team to the state tournament for the first time in school history, Trimble was named Wisconsin's Gatorade boys basketball player of the year, AP state player of the year and Mr. Basketball.

This week, Trimble, along with the class of 2023 recruit GG Jackson, represented Team USA and UNC basketball at the FIBA U18 Americas Championship in Tijuana, Mexico. Trimble averaged just under 10 points in six games and Team USA won gold.

Tyler Nickel

Tyler Nickel rounded out the 2022 recruiting class as the last player to commit.

Despite his 247 Sports 4-star status, Nickel lacks the national recognition some of the other players in his class have. At the state level, however, the 6-foot-8 power forward left his mark on the Virginia High School League record books after a standout senior campaign.

Nickel became VHSL's all-time leading scorer in February, breaking the record set by Lakers guard Mac McClung.Nickel totaled 2,909 points in his high school career.

Following his senior season, Nickel was named VHSL Class 2 Player of the Year and 2021-2022 Daily News-Record All-Valley Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

Jalen Washington

When Jalen Washington was recruited in July 2021, he was considered a 5-star recruit.

Over the same summer,he suffered partial tears in his ACL and lateral meniscus. Washington and his family opted for surgery to repair both injuries and Washington missed his senior season at West Side High School in Gary, Ind. Washington said that the UNC staff has been a huge help in navigating Washington's injury to get him back in shape for the season to come.

Although Washington is now considered a 4-star, the 6-foot-9 center has the potential to fill in the role that Manek left behind, once he makes a full recovery.

Will Shaver

In June 2021, Will Shaver committed to UNC as the first high school commit of the Hubert Davis era. This past semester, Will Shaver enrolled early at UNC, foregoing his senior high school basketball season.

As a redshirt early enrollee, the 6-foot-10 forward from Birmingham, Ala., could practice and "suit up" for games, he just wasn't able to play. However, Shaver got to travel and experience away games and the pressure of the NCAA Tournament.

This fall, he will be considered a redshirt first-year with four years of eligibility. Shaver, a power forward with versatile ability as a shooter, is the type of big man Davis has coveted in his new offensive scheme.


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<![CDATA[Former UNC men's basketball player Ademola Okulaja passes away at 46]]> Former UNC men's basketball player Ademola Okulaja has passed away at the age of 46. While the cause of death is unknown at this time, Okulaja has previously battled cancer.

Hailing from Berlin, Okulaja was a 6-foot-9 forward who graduated from UNC in 1999. In his senior year, Okulaja was named the MVP of the UNC squad and received All-ACC honors. During his time at UNC, Okulaja played on two Final Four teams in 1997 and 1998, alongside other greats such as Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter.

In his professional career, Okulaja played for many Euroleague teams, most recently for the German professional team Brose Bamberg. Okulaja also competed in two FIBA World Championships as captain of the German national team and was a bronze medalist in 2002.

After retiring from basketball in 2010, Okulaja put his MBA from UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School to work, running the entertainment company StreetLife International and sports consulting firm Pro4Pros. Okulaja represented clients such as Houston Rockets guard Dennis Schröder and Boston Celtics forward Daniel Theis.

Okulaja leaves behind a wife and two sons.


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<![CDATA[What student Tar Heel fans need to know about attending UNC athletics events]]> UNC students have a plethora of men's and women's athletic teams to cheer for, with 28 varsity sports programs that have won nearly 50 NCAA Division I team championships.

Students can get in free to any home sporting event by showing their One Card at the student entrance - with the exception of football and men's basketball, which require tickets.

Student ticket lottery

Student tickets for football and men's basketball are allocated through a lottery system run through the GoHeels Online Ticket Office.

For football games, students will receive an email about 10 days prior to game day notifying them that the lottery has opened. Students will then have 48 hours to enter the lottery before it closes. Several days after the lottery closes, all students who have entered the lottery will be sent an email notifying them whether or not they have won a ticket.

Lottery winners will be emailed their tickets 24 hours before the game.

There is a designated student entrance at Kenan Stadium, where students must show both their ticket and One Card to attend the game.

Most men's basketball home games use the same lottery system, save for a few select games that are open to all students on a first-come, first-served basis. Tickets for the Duke game prioritize graduating students, and lottery winners receive only one student ticket.

Tickets won through the lottery are not eligible for resale, although they can be transferred to another full-time UNC student through the online ticket portal.

Guest passes for football and men's basketball, which include one free student ticket and up to five guest tickets, can also be purchased online through the portal. Guest passes have designated seats and do not allow access to student sections.

Men's basketball student ticket phases

For men's basketball games with a lottery ticket distribution, ticket winners will be randomly assigned an entry phase.

Those with Phase 1 tickets are allowed entry into the Dean E. Smith Center 90 minutes before tip-off, Phase 2 tickets allow entry an hour before and Phase 3 tickets allow entry 30 minutes prior. Priority granted by Phase 1 and Phase 2 tickets is only valid during that phase's designated time period. If a student misses their time window, they cannot cut the current phase's line.

Certain sections of the basketball arena are designated for student seating, including lower-level and riser seats. All seating is first-come, first-served.

Carolina Fever

Carolina Fever is a free program available to all UNC students that offers rewards for attending sports events. Students are awarded points for attending certain events which are denoted on a schedule released monthly by Carolina Fever.

Fever events can be worth anywhere from one to three points. To earn full points at a Fever event, students must scan their One Card before and after each event.

The top 200 point-getters are guaranteed one student ticket to each home football game, and the top 150 are guaranteed two tickets to each home men's basketball game, except for the Duke game, for which they will get one ticket. At the end of the school year, students can redeem their fever points for prizes ranging from stickers to T-shirts.

Points can be earned from the start of the school year up to the last home men's basketball game. Any points earned after that date will roll over into the next year's points total.


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A student cheers during the NCAA men's basketball championship game against Kansas in the Dean E. Smith Center on Monday, April 4, 2022.

<![CDATA[Staff Picks: Who should UNC men's basketball target through the transfer portal?]]> On May 1, UNC men's basketball confirmed that sophomore guard Kerwin Walton would be entering the transfer portal. With Walton's departure, the Tar Heels now have one scholarship left outstanding, and will look to fill that void with a transfer.

After much deliberation, The Daily Tar Heel summer sportswriters have compiled their picks for who the UNC men's basketball team should tap to fill the open spot.

Matthew Mayer, Baylor

While four members of UNC's "Iron Five" are set to return in the upcoming season, a gaping hole in the offense is left with the absence of now-graduated forward Brady Manek. UNC should look to recruit another sharpshooter to join its ranks, one option being Mayer.

The 6-foot-9, 225-pound wing would bring an outside shooting presence, as well as postseason experience with the Bears. A 2021 national champion, Mayer averaged just under 10 points and five rebounds in 33 games last season, and he shot at 32.4 percent from behind the arc.

It's uncertain whether Mayer will return to college basketball, since he entered the NBA draft along with the transfer portal. If Mayer does decide to return for a fifth year, UNC could draw on Mayer's mullet to replace Manek's beard in Chapel Hill.

Shelby Swanson, summer sports editor

and Abigail Keller, staff writer

Pete Nance, Northwestern

Standing at 6-foot-10, the Northwestern forward doesn't appear on many draft boards. And although he doesn't slot into the Tar Heels' starting lineup as seamlessly as Mayer might, he could fill a greater need for North Carolina - depth at center. Nance is a more natural forward and could act as a solid backup option for senior center Armando Bacot.

Nance also has the ability to create offense for himself and his teammates, as he averaged almost 15 points and three assists per game last season. During his senior campaign, Nance hit 42 three-point shots at a 45.2 percent clip. Whether it's his elite three-point shooting or array of moves in the mid-range, Nance possesses a deep bag of offensive tools.

Evan Rogers, senior writer

Keion Brooks Jr., Kentucky

As a junior, Brooks averaged 10.8 points and 4.4 rebounds and started in all 33 games he appeared in.

Brooks isn't much of a three-point shooter, hitting just seven last season, so he wouldn't space the floor quite like Manek did. However, Brooks would be able to provide a presence in the paint that Manek didn't quite have. Like Nance, Brooks is more of a face-up big who can shoot from outside the lane and can also get to the basket.

He also has blue-blood experience - the Indiana native led the Wildcats with 27 points in an 80-62 win over Kansas this past season.

So what's stopping him from wearing Carolina blue?

Noah Monroe, senior writer

Kenneth Lofton Jr., Louisiana Tech

The big man from Louisiana Tech did it all for his team last season, averaging 16.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. Lofton also led the Bulldogs in blocks and was second on the team in steals, helping to earn him the title of LABC Louisiana Major College Player of the Year.

Lofton's 6-foot-7, 275-pound frame allows him to thrive on the low block and play a physical brand of interior offense. However, his touch around the rim is deceivingly soft, posing another challenge to opposing teams defending the paint.

Given spacing issues, Lofton probably wouldn't play alongside Bacot. However, he could serve as a solid backup option at the big man position, should Bacot get into foul trouble or need rest.

Daniel Wei, senior writer

Emoni Bates, Memphis

After one season playing for head coach Penny Hardaway, Emoni Bates put his name in the transfer portal. The 6-foot-9 small forward finished his first college season with an average of 9.7 points per game, connecting on 38.6 percent of his shots.

The Michigan native was one of the most highly touted high school prospects in years. Many media outlets considered him the top player in the 2022 class before reclassifying to 2021.

Bates could make noise right away for UNC at the three and four positions. Bates' size and ability to get to the basket can draw a defense to quickly slide to him, freeing up shooters like junior guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis.

Riley Kennedy, staff writer

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

Hubert Davis, head coach of North Carolina basketball, speaks at a press conference on Sunday, April 3, 2022, ahead of the NCAA championship game against Kansas in New Orleans.

<![CDATA[UNC men's basketball guard Kerwin Walton to enter NCAA transfer portal]]> On Sunday morning, UNC men's basketball team officials confirmed that Kerwin Walton will enter the transfer portal.

This past season, the sophomore shooting guard averaged 3.4 points and 1.2 rebounds per game and recorded a season-high 14 points in a win over the College of Charleston back in early November. During his two seasons with the Tar Heels, Walton cemented himself as one of the team's best marksmen, shooting a blistering 39.9 percent from the three-point line.

After working his way into the starting lineup in his first year with the program, Walton saw less playing time as a sophomore. By this past season's end, he was no longer a part of the regular rotation.

The former 4-star recruit from Hopkins, Minn. was ranked the No. 133 player in the nation and the No. 21 shooting guard according to 247Sports. Along with North Carolina, Minnesota appeared to be one of Walton's top-choice schools during his recruitment.

Walton is currently going through the NBA draft process, having entered the draft field on Apr. 27, and plans on using the experience to garner professional feedback. He plans on returning to college for his junior season.

With Walton's departure, the Tar Heels now have one scholarship left outstanding, and will likely look to fill that void through the transfer portal in the coming weeks.


@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

<![CDATA[Five star recruit GG Jackson commits to the UNC men's basketball team]]> GG Jackson, one of the most highly touted men's basketball recruits in the class of 2023, has committed to play for head coach Hubert Davis and the Tar Heels.

Jackson announced his commitment to play for UNC on Wednesday afternoon at Ridge View High School in Columbia, South Carolina. The event also celebrated Jackson's S.C. Gatorade Player of the Year award with a banner unveiling.

A power forward standing at 6 feet 9 inches tall, Jackson was the consensus number one high school player from South Carolina. This past season, he averaged 22.1 points and 10.9 rebounds per game.

Jackson's commitment marks the second class of 2023 recruit to commit to UNC. He joins Simeon Wilcher, a five-star combo guard from Plainfield, New Jersey, who announced his commitment to UNC in October 2021.

Duke, South Carolina, Auburn and Georgetown were among the other schools that Jackson was considering.


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Hubert Davis, head coach of North Carolina basketball, speaks at a press conference on Sunday, April 3, 2022, ahead of the NCAA championship game against Kansas in New Orleans.

<![CDATA[UNC men's basketball guard Anthony Harris to enter NCAA transfer portal]]> UNC men's basketball guard Anthony Harris has entered the NCAA transfer portal, team officials confirmed on Wednesday afternoon.

The redshirt sophomore last played for the Tar Heels on Jan. 8 against Virginia. Harris averaged 2.6 points over 14 games in the 2021-2022 season, logging in just under 12 minutes of playing time per game.

On Jan. 21, the team released a statement announcing his unavailability for the rest of the season.

"Anthony has worked hard to become a valuable contributor to our team," head coach Hubert Davis said in the press release. "We are disappointed for Anthony and our team, but he will continue to contribute and we know he will work hard so he can play for us again next season."

Harris still practiced and traveled with the team throughout its deep NCAA Tournament run.

When he did play, Harris came off the bench for sophomore guards RJ Davis and Caleb Love as a stout perimeter defender and solid 3-point shooting from the corners, making three of his five total attempts.

Harris' announced comes after transfer forward Dawson Garcia announced he had entered the portal. Also on Wednesday, junior Armando Bacot announced he would return to North Carolina next season.

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<![CDATA[UNC men's basketball forward Dawson Garcia to enter NCAA transfer portal]]> Just one season after transferring to Chapel Hill from Marquette, UNC men's basketball sophomore forward Dawson Garcia has once again entered the NCAA transfer portal, team officials confirmed on Wednesday.

Garcia hadn't played a game for the Tar Heels since the team's Jan. 22 road loss to Wake Forest. After missing the next six games, the team announced in February that Garcia would miss the remainder of the season due to a series of illnesses within his family.

"Not everyone will understand, but those who know our family are very aware of the circumstances and challenges we are facing," Garcia said in a statement at the time.

The Prior Lake, Minn. native came to UNC after a standout first-year campaign at Marquette, which also included a 24-point, 11-rebound double-double against North Carolina alongside head coach Roy Williams. At UNC this season, Garcia averaged nine points and 5.5 rebounds per game on 40 percent shooting.


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<![CDATA['This is just a blessing': NCAA Tournament gives Tar Heel apparel stores sales boost]]> In celebration of the North Carolina men's basketball team's monumental NCAA Tournament run, fans flocked to Franklin Street to buy UNC gear to remember the March Madness victories.

Businesses like the Shrunken Head Boutique, Underground Printing and Chapel Hill Sportswear experienced an increase in merchandise sales as UNC progressed in the NCAA Tournament.

"In the three years that I have been here, it is the busiest we have ever been," Ellianna Tickle, store manager at Underground Printing, said.

She added that as soon as Underground Printing received Final Four merchandise from its printer, the store was full of fans. Since the Sweet 16, Tickle estimated about 1,000 shirts have been sold.

Although Shrunken Head, a UNC merchandise store that's been on Franklin Street since 1969, has been closed since December 2021 due to flooding damage, it has also experienced a high volume of online and pick-up orders thanks to North Carolina's tournament run.

"Immediately after we won the game against St. Peter's, we hopped on our website, and we saw much more volume than it typically is during the week," Melissa Pate, Shrunken Head's store manager and granddaughter of the shop's founders, said.

Shrunken Head also held pop-up tables over the weekend and on Monday around Chapel Hill to help remind people that they are still in operation even though they do not have a storefront to sell merchandise.

"It's great to see a lot of people order for local pick-up from outside the store, which helped make up for some of the business we lost from being closed as well as a ton of people who ordered from us online," Alana Loken, brand manager at Shrunken Head, said.

Loken said Shrunken Head sold over 1,000 shirts since the Sweet 16.

Holly Dedmond, the store manager at Chapel Hill Sportswear, said the 2022 NCAA Tournament has been the busiest March Madness they have had in years. The store did not even have time to count how many shirts they ordered before they put them out on the floor.

"After the last two years with COVID and students not being on campus and not having fans in the stands for football and basketball, this is just a blessing," Dedmond said.

This is the first time current students saw UNC go to the national championship game since 2017.

"I just want to get some Final Four stuff, maybe some national championship bound stuff, to celebrate," UNC senior Kaley Johannes said.

With different T-shirt designs and other memorabilia, Tar Heel fans could find a variety of items along Franklin Street to commemorate the historic UNC tournament run.

"It's nice if one store doesn't have something, you know you can find it elsewhere," UNC alumna Molly McConnell said.

The men's basketball team's March Madness run contributed to a recent boom in businesses focused on UNC attire - a boom that is much needed as business owners attempt to recover from the pandemic.

"This school year, having students back on campus and in classes - that has really helped business," Dedmond said.

And now, the high number of people on Franklin Street with the tournament has helped bring revenue to stores.

"Business has exploded this last week with the Final Four," Dedmond said.


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<![CDATA[Despite a national championship loss, Tar Heel fans keep the dream alive]]> Up until the final seconds of Monday night's NCAA championship game, the energy in the Dean E. Smith Center was hopeful.

The stadium was packed with fans - students, families and community members - who gathered to cheer on the Tar Heels against the No. 1 seed Kansas for the national title.

Despite North Carolina's 72-69 loss, being able to watch the historic game surrounded by a sea of Carolina blue created a strong sense of togetherness, junior Halle Robinson said.

"Even though there is nobody on the court, everybody is so excited and there's such a community," she said.

Hours before the doors opened, fans lined up outside of the Smith Center, some chanting "TAR!" and others echoing the chant with a resounding "HEELS!"

'Bring it home'

Once fans were inside the Smith Center, joyful voices continued to ring through the crowd, filled with anticipation for the game ahead.

When UNC led by 15 points at halftime, the stands began to shake as fans danced to music and celebrated their team.

One tiny Tar Heel, in particular, leapt into the aisle of the Smith Center and began to dance.

Nine-year-old Corbin Perkins, a lifelong North Carolina basketball fan, walked into the Smith Center on Monday night with one goal: to rush Franklin Street.

"I'm feeling great," Perkins said. "Hopefully we win, otherwise we'll just be sad, and I want to party."

Like many fans, Perkins said he was feeling confident, and was looking forward to clinching the national title.

Unlike Saturday night's match-up against Duke in the Final Four, the nerves seemed to have subsided in the crowd.

Jaleesa Ames, a supervisor for the UNC men's basketball team, said she was confident as ever before tip-off.

"What letter comes after 'K'?" Ames said. "'L,' that's what Duke got. So, you know I'm feeling real real good tonight! We are going to win tonight! I ain't worried about Kansas, I ain't worried about none of that. We are going to rush the floor, we are going to be good and we're going to bring it home!"

To prepare for Monday's game, Ames said she listened to her favorite pregame playlist featuring "All I Do Is Win" by DJ Khaled and was excited to celebrate a national championship in the Smith Center, even though the team wouldn't be playing on its home court.

"Like they said, whether you're at home, whether you're with us, whether you're in the stadium, you know - have a good time, act like you're with us," Ames said. "We are still going to do our fingers as we would do, we're going to stand up and clap when they score."

'Still our hearts beat true'

Junior Isabella Lore transferred to UNC this year and said the sense of community she found throughout the tournament, and in the stadium Monday night, made her emotional. No matter the final score.

"The reactions of the people in the stadium made being here completely worth it," she said. "I'm just so happy to be here."

Rose DeLaTorre, a UNC fan whose husband is the chairperson of the University's Music Department, returned to the Smith Center Monday night.

DeLaTorre said that she had sat in the band section during the Final Four game against Duke and, for luck, wanted to return Monday.

Her one piece of advice for the team prior to Monday night's tip-off was simple.

"Don't have any turnovers," she said. Just go hard! Go Heels!"

Despite the loss, the Tar Heels did go hard. As the buzzer sounded to conclude the first half, fans danced and cheered with a sense of ease and excitement before returning to their seats for the second half.

However, shortly into the second half, the tides began to change and nerves began to rise. After a hard-fought game, UNC lost the national title to Kansas by three points.

Even as the outcome looked bleak, nearly every fan in the Smith Center stayed until the very end. Students wrapped their arms around each other and swayed back and forth to UNC's alma mater, "Hark the Sound."

The song ends with: "Though the storms of life assail us, Still our hearts beat true, Naught can break the friendships formed at, Dear old N.C.U."

The crowd filed out of the Smith Center to "Carolina in My Mind" by James Taylor.



A student cheers during the NCAA men's basketball championship game against Kansas in the Dean E. Smith Center on Monday, April 4, 2022.

<![CDATA['Somebody's got to pinch me': Students in New Orleans react to NCAA championship]]> Born. Bred. Dead.

No matter what happened after last night's national championship game, senior Hallie Rouse stood in the tunnel of Caesars Superdome and said that she was a Tar Heel born, bred and dead.

"I feel like I'm going out there to play, honestly," Rouse said. "I'm nervous, stomach in butterflies, everything. I'm super excited, but super nervous at the same time."

She said it would mean the world to her if the Tar Heels won the national championship. For luck, she and her roommate even did the same face paint they did for the Final Four game against Duke on Saturday.

But the Tar Heels fell to the Kansas Jayhawks, 72-69, following a second-half Kansas comeback that was the largest in NCAA title game history.

'Somebody's got to pinch me'

Early last week, Final Four and potential national championship tickets were distributed through the UNC lottery process, leaving only a few days for students to assemble travel plans to get to New Orleans.

Hundreds of students made the journey to the tournament.

Senior Breah Walker said that there was not a second to breathe during the Duke game and her heart was pounding the whole time.

She said the experience was surreal.

"If you'd told me, 'Carolina will be in the national championship and you're going to be there,' I would have laughed in your face two months ago," Walker said.

Senior Abby Baggett also attended the Final Four game on Saturday night. Being in the center of the tournament was incredible, she said.

"Somebody's got to pinch me," Baggett said. "This is a dream. It was just incredible, and I think the fact that it was Duke just made it that much more."

The Final Four matchup - the rival teams' first in March Madness - was a back and forth battle all night.

It wasn't until the last seconds of the Duke game that fans knew it would be a win for UNC, sophomore Kim Navarro said.

"Once (Duke) missed that last free throw, I was like, 'Oh. We made it'," she said.

That was the moment that she knew the Tar Heels would be going to the national championship - their first appearance in the title game since 2017.

Baggett said she was nervous hours before tip-off, but believed that UNC was fired up and ready to play.

Regardless of the outcome, Baggett said that she is proud of the team, and she couldn't have asked for a better end to the season.

The season would end with 4.3 seconds and Caleb Love's last missed attempt at a 3-pointer, Kansas red and blue confetti raining down in the Superdome.

'It's for all of you'

The Tar Heel squad returned to Chapel Hill on Tuesday to a crowd of fans waiting for their arrival at the Dean E. Smith Center.

The players lined up underneath a screen with a photo of them that read "Proud of this team. Proud of this staff. Proud to be North Carolina."

Head coach Hubert Davis spoke to the crowd gathered at the Smith Center.

"You guys are such an encouragement to us," Davis said. "You helped us this entire season, your love and your support for us, cheering us on. It made us play harder, it made us practice harder, it made us prepare harder - For you guys, it's not just for us. It's for all of you, and I just wanted to say thank you so much."

To Navarro, what makes the Tar Heels unforgettable is their ability to create community at the University.

"If there's anything that can bring UNC students together, it's basketball," Navarro said.


<![CDATA['We came this far': Togetherness and the "experience" after UNC's 72-69 title loss to Kansas]]> NEW ORLEANS - When the buzzer sounded, RJ Davis put his head in his hands and let himself feel.

At that same moment, as the final whistle was blown on No. 8 seed UNC's 72-69 loss to top-seeded Kansas in the national championship game, Caleb Love buried his head in his jersey.

Seconds later - across the court from where Davis was now sobbing into the chest of Kansas Director of Basketball Operations Fred Quartlebaum - head coach Hubert Davis walked over to Brady Manek, who had slipped on the final play.

The transfer-turned-Tar Heel looked visibly hurt, and was attempting to stand up, fighting a mixture of pain and emotion that can only come from a close loss with the stakes this high.

The rookie coach put his shoulder under Manek's and embraced him, helping him off the court and into the future.

"That's my job, is to support them and care for them and to love them and be there for them," Hubert Davis said.

This loss hurt for the Tar Heels. A postgame talk with their coach before the press conference began didn't help that, at least not in the moment.

Love spoke softly and with his shoulders shrugged. RJ Davis stared down to the floor and had to prepare himself to speak. Even Hubert Davis himself gazed off into the distance in between each answer, seemingly deep in thought.

It didn't matter that some experts thought UNC might not make the NCAA tournament two months ago. It didn't matter that they had lost to Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament. This team had spent the last three weeks playing the best basketball it had ever played, and it led them all the way from the No. 8 seed to the national championship game.

This was a team that had forgotten the weight of expectation and outside noise long ago. They were playing for each other now, in the face of every pundit and critic who said they couldn't get this far.

Each step of the way, they defied the odds and rose to the occasion.

They just wanted to do it one more time.

"We all really wanted to win," junior forward Armando Bacot said. "We came this far, and this was a huge goal for us, was to just hang up a banner. And we just really wanted to win."

So yeah, it hurts. Expectations be damned, a heartbreaking loss like that won't ever be painless.

But don't think for a second that they're disappointed. Hurting, sure - but not disappointed.

This was a team that shocked the world by defeating the Duke Blue Devils in Mike Krzyzewski's last-ever home game. This was a team that ran the NCAA tournament gauntlet, defeating top-seeded Baylor and a powerhouse UCLA squad, before Love himself ended Krzyzewski's career in the Final Four with the most ludicrous shot he may ever hit in his life.

And this team did all that while the world said it couldn't, over and over again.

"I can't remember a time in my life where I should be disappointed, but I'm just filled with so much pride," Hubert Davis said. "I'm so proud of these guys."

All season, through the highs and lows of ACC and tournament play, the rookie coach has repeated phrases and sayings as mantras for his team. "Energy, effort, toughness," "plant our feet, stand our ground, fight," "throw the first punch" and more have all become parts of North Carolina basketball's lexicon.

But in the tournament and the Final Four, a new one arose - the "experience." The first-year head coach wanted his players to have "experiences" they could remember, to "experience" the results of their hard work, smart play, togetherness and toughness.

Even in the locker room after the loss, Davis harped on the importance of experiences for his team and himself.

"Along the way," he said, "as they were experiencing it, they were giving me more stories and testimonies and memories by just having a front-row seat to be around them."

So don't let the pain fool you. Don't mistake the tears and anguish for anger and frustration. Those emotions aren't signs of what was - they're signs of what could've been.

This team saw what could happen when it tuned out the noise and played like a unit. Without that weight of expectation, they saw that their ceiling was, at the end of the day, limitless. That belief, that drive, led them to do the impossible, again and again.

After experiencing every monumental high, clutch bucket and ecstasy-inducing win as a team, they're now left to experience this desolate moment the same way - together.

Maybe that'll ease the pain.

"It hurts for us to get this far and come up short like this, with everything we went through," Love said. "But you know, the positive thing is, I wouldn't want to go through this with anybody else."


@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

<![CDATA[After improbable ride to the title game, UNC basketball finally runs out of gas]]> NEW ORLEANS - Under the brightest lights, the wild train made its final stop.

In a span of just five weeks, North Carolina's indestructible "Iron Five" starting lineup ran on its own type of fuel. Each Brady Manek scream, impossible Caleb Love three or crucial Armando Bacot rebound transformed the Tar Heels from NCAA Tournament dreamers to a group 20 minutes away from a national title.

But on Monday night, after surrendering the largest comeback in championship game history, the Tar Heels sat stunned and looked for the magical juice that made them victorious in their recent slew of epic bouts.

When they went to refill the tank, there was nothing left to add.

In a 72-69 loss to Kansas, the fuel that propelled North Carolina to the grand stage was finally depleted.

"It hurts for us to get this far and come up short like this with everything we've been through," Love said.

Once a 15-point halftime lead transformed into a six-point deficit midway through the second half, the Tar Heels quickly became entrenched in an uphill battle. UNC just didn't have the legs to make the climb.

Following two performances of late-game heroics, Love shot 4-18 after the break while Kansas' Remy Martin nailed dagger after dagger to push the Jayhawks ahead. In the waning seconds, just a few steps removed from the spot he buried his game-clinching shot against Duke, Love let it fly for a chance at overtime. Instead, the ball promptly drew nothing but air as the Kansas celebration began.

Sophomore guard RJ Davis - despite making two straight shots to trim the Jayhawks lead to two with under 10 minutes to play - made only five of his 17 shots and was held scoreless for the remainder of the contest.

"We were just trying to remain positive and things weren't going our way," Davis said. "The shots that we usually make we were just missing, coming up short."

The fatigue was contagious, as it spread to even the most unlikely of suspects.

After senior wing Leaky Black slammed the basket stanchion and left the court in frustration following his fourth foul under 14 minutes to play, the seldom used sophomore forward Puff Johnson stepped in and scored 11 points in the most important 18 minutes of his season.

But all at once, he hunched to the floor after suffering a literal gut punch that ceased all the team's budding momentum, ending his night.

And finally, there was the Tar Heels' anchor.

Two days after vowing to "thug it out" and play through an ankle injury suffered in the final minutes against Duke, Bacot went through roundclock treatment to get on the floor for the biggest game of his life. Minutes before tip-off, he could barely get his feet off the ground.

He notched a double-double in the first half alone, but the pain was too much to overcome, especially when tasked with slowing down the Jayhawks' David McCormack on the low block.

"I really couldn't, the whole game, get the push on anything on my post-ups, defensively, anything," Bacot said. "It was just like I kind of was out there and it was just hard for me to really stand my ground."

With his team trailing by one with less than a minute remaining, Bacot drove right hoping to get a clean look at the rim.

Instead, he crashed to the floor and as the Jayhawks ran the ensuing break. Jumping down the court with a clear grimace on his face and flat-tired ankle dangling in the air, the only thing that flashed across his eyes was the dream of a title slipping away.

"I really couldn't put any weight down on my right leg," Bacot said. "Right then and there I knew I was probably done at that point."

Immediately after Bacot limped off the floor for good, the undersized Brady Manek was forced to wall up against the Jayhawks' imposing 250-pound forward. Despite pushing him to the middle of the paint, McCormack extended for a hook shot that would ultimately be the final bucket of the night before the red and blue confetti fell from the Superdome sky.

After two seasons of not having a "North Carolina basketball experience," Bacot tried to will his team to the promised land, but it just wasn't enough.

"It's not just his effort tonight," head coach Hubert Davis said. "The effort that he displayed tonight, he's done it all year consistently."

Forty-seven days ago, when UNC suffered its most embarrassing home loss of the season to Pittsburgh, Davis and his team searched for an identity. Instead of being a group on the cusp of national acclaim, the Tar Heels were closer to spending the early days of spring at home than in Fort Worth, Philadelphia and New Orleans.

Then something clicked, and after four instant classics, the team was on the doorstep of its shining moment.

But in the end, the road was just a little too long.

"It was the national championship - I don't think anybody was thinking about being tired," Love said. "We were just trying to go out there and do whatever we had to do to get the win and it was just unfortunate that we came up short."


@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

<![CDATA[UNC men's basketball comes up short of a national championship in 72-69 loss to Kansas]]> After leading by 15 in the first half, the North Carolina men's basketball team was outscored by Kansas 47-29 in the second half in a 72-69 loss in the national championship.

What happened?

The Jayhawks were dialed in to start the game, blitzing out to a 7-0 start. UNC got on the board two minutes in, when graduate forward Brady Manek drilled his first triple to stop the run. Kansas' David McCormack added a left-handed hook to extend the lead to 9-3 before the first media timeout.

After Kansas built momentum, UNC quickly responded. Over the next several minutes, the Tar Heels went on a 9-3 run to build a 12-11 lead. However, the Jayhawks countered with baskets on the next few possessions and held a 15-12 advantage with 10:45 left in the half.

A banked-in three from Kansas' Remy Martin put the Jayhawks up four, but UNC responded with an 8-0 run led by a flurry of jumpers by sophomore guard RJ Davis. At the under-eight timeout, the Tar Heels were up 22-18.

After Kansas tied the game at 22, the Jayhawks tried to get the ball inside to McCormack but turned the ball over twice. On the other end, Manek nailed two straight threes to put the Tar Heels up six before Kansas called timeout. UNC continued to push the pace offensively and added four more points to go up 32-22 with 3:46 to go.

The Jayhawks maintained their focus on getting the ball inside, yet stout defense from the Tar Heels held them scoreless. UNC scored six more points to conclude its 16-0 run while keeping Kansas off the board for almost four minutes of play. Following a series of defensive stops, the Tar Heels headed into the break with a 40-25 lead.

Kansas ran out of the break with six quick points before a three by sophomore guard Caleb Love stopped the run. The Jayhawks continued to trim away at the deficit, and an and-one finish from Jalen Wilson made the score 45-37 just over four minutes in.

Senior wing Leaky Black picked up his fourth foul with 13:52 to play, which helped Kansas chip away even more. Following a series of turnovers, the Jayhawks ran the break to cut UNC's lead to 46-45 before head coach Hubert Davis called timeout. Love made a layup high off the glass after the break before Kansas' Christian Braun made one of his own to make it 48-47.

Over the next several minutes, the Jayhawks regained the lead. A Martin triple and and-one finish by Wilson put them up 56-50, but Davis scored twice to close the gap. Down 57-54, sophomore forward Puff Johnson made a corner three and drew a charge on defense, and the game was tied at 57 with 7:48 to go.

Out of the break, another Martin triple put the Jayhawks ahead. Johnson made another finish inside, but Kansas responded with a three from Wilson. Then, Johnson attacked the rim for an acrobatic layup to help the Tar Heels strike back. Martin made a left-handed layup, and Kansas was up 65-61 at the last media timeout.

Four free throws tied the game, but Martin hit a triple from the wing to push the Jayhawks ahead. But on the next two possessions, Love made a layup and Manek made a putback tip-in to give the Tar Heels their first lead since midway through the half. Kansas responded on the other end, and after Bacot reinjured his ankle, the Jayhawks held a 70-69 lead with under 40 seconds to play.

With Bacot out, McCormack scored another hook shot to put his team up three. Love missed a three on the other end, and after a series of offensive rebounds, Manek threw the ball out of bounds with just over four seconds left to give Kansas possession. But on the ensuing inbound pass, Kansas' Dajuan Harris stepped on the sideline to give the Tar Heels one last chance.

After inbounding the ball to Love, he put up a double-pump three but airballed as time expired to give Kansas the 72-69 national championship win.

Who stood out?

Playing with an injured ankle, Bacot was the Tar Heels' anchor on the inside. He notched a double-double in the first half alone and ended the night with 15 points and 15 rebounds.

With Black in foul trouble, Johnson erupted for 11 points - including nine in the second half - in just 17 minutes.

The Jayhawks were led by Wilson and McCormack, who each finished with 15 points.

When was it decided?

After leading by 15 at halftime, UNC collapsed early in the second half and the Jayhawks built a six-point lead with just over 10 to go. Both teams battled for the next seven minutes and with 3:06 to play, the game was tied at 65.

Up one with under a minute to play, McCormack's shot gave Kansas a three-point lead. The Tar Heels had one last chance, but Love's miss sealed the team's fate.

Why does it matter?

Following a regular season of teetering on and off the NCAA Tournament bubble, North Carolina's improbable championship run fell short in the final leg.

When do they play next?

The game marks the end of the 2021-22 college basketball season.


@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

<![CDATA[Preview: Three keys for No. 8 seed UNC vs. No. 1 seed Kansas in the national championship]]> On Monday night, the No. 8 seed UNC men's basketball team will play in the national championship game for the first time since 2017.

Saturday's 81-77 instant classic win over No. 2 seed Duke may have been one of the most cathartic and impactful victories in the history of the Tobacco Road rivalry - but the Tar Heels have little time to dwell on that win. The only thing now standing between the Tar Heels and a title is the No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks.

The blue-blooded Jayhawks enter this game off an 81-65 win over Villanova in the Final Four that often looked more one-sided than the score indicates.

In what could shape up to be this team's toughest match of the season, here are three keys to the game to help ensure a Franklin Street championship parade.

Contain Ochai Agbaji

Just 48 hours after trying to figure out how to stop Duke's Paolo Banchero, the Tar Heels will immediately be tasked with slowing down another collegiate star in Kansas forward Ochai Agbaji.

The consensus first-team all-American has averaged 18.9 points per game for the Jayhawks and flashed the ability to score from all three levels. He leads the team with a 41.1 percent clip from deep, but his physical 6-foot-5 build also allows him to thrive in the painted area.

In the semifinal game against Villanova, Agbaji made his first six shots - all triples - en route to the win. Despite his hot shooting, Kansas shifted to other players on the offense, namely forwards Jalen Wilson and David McCormack.

UNC has a number of defensive options to shadow the Jayhawks star, but the likely candidate is senior wing Leaky Black, who has taken on many of the team's top assignments this season. Against Duke, Black held AJ Griffin - a likely top-10 NBA Draft pick - to just six points on 1-7 shooting.

Like the Blue Devils, Kansas has star power throughout the lineup, but keying in on the team's most versatile weapon will be vital in holding the Jayhawks' offense at bay.

Hot start on offense

Critical to UNC's win over the Blue Devils was an open flow of buckets right from the jump. Black opened the game's scoring with a 3-pointer, but Duke was able to jump into a small lead off of two massive dunks from center Mark Williams.

All season, UNC head coach Hubert Davis has preached the success that comes with landing the first scoring punch, and it looked like the Blue Devils had asserted their dominance in the paint after those slams.

But the Tar Heels showed that the first true haymaker would be their own.

A pair of free throws from graduate transfer forward Brady Manek and a slam from junior big man Armando Bacot put the score at 8-4. While Trevor Keels responded with a layup, sophomore guard RJ Davis kept up his hot hand in the NCAA Tournament, draining a 3-pointer to give UNC a five-point cushion.

To be sure, the Blue Devils clawed back and turned the game into a blow-for-blow brawl, but UNC starting out hot gave them an ample cushion and enough confidence to take - and make - the shots they needed. Against a team like the Jayhawks, where players like Agbaji and McCormack can hit big shots and throw punches early, a hot start from the Tar Heels will be just as essential.

Armando's injury

When Bacot fell to the Superdome floor with an ankle injury with five minutes to play against Duke, all 70,000-plus fans in attendance held their breath.

With the game tied, it seemed like the Blue Devils would march to the title game in the absence of the Tar Heels' most consistent player. Instead, the forward returned a minute later to give the team a much-needed defensive presence that helped keep the game close before UNC pulled ahead for good.

Bacot was noticeably beaten up after the game, limping throughout from station to station around the corridors of the arena. But considering the stage the team is currently standing on - as well as remembering the rollercoaster ride the last two years have been - he was adamant on playing in the championship.

He'll immediately draw the assignment of McCormack, a third-team All-Big 12 selection that scored 25 points against an undersized Villanova squad. Keeping him out of the paint and off the glass will be a priority, but Bacot has proven to be one of the better rebounders in the nation, as his 21 against the Blue Devils were the most in a Final Four game since 2003.

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

<![CDATA[Following long trip to Chapel Hill, Brady Manek awaits his final destination]]> NEW ORLEANS - Last May, Tina and Cary Manek maneuvered through nearly 1,200 miles of humid air, cracked roads and an abundance of tears as they took their son to his final destination.

After four years at Oklahoma, the only state he had ever known, Brady Manek arrived to Chapel Hill as the perimeter-shooting big man the team had coveted following two-straight seasons that saw far more clanks than swishes.

His early days on campus were met with adjustment, as many students were unfamiliar with who he was, sans for the college basketball Twitterhead, of course. These transitions carried over to the hardwood, as the longtime starter was shifted to a reserve role in some of the team's early season defeats.

But throughout it all, the final stop solely rested on his mind.

After becoming an integral part of UNC's improbable title run - which will make its last stop against Kansas on Monday night - the long-haired, ginger-bearded transfer is just 40 minutes away from permanently solidifying his spot in Chapel Hill lore.

"This year has been special and this place is special," Manek said. "I just wanted to enjoy this season, and this experience is anything more than anything me or my family could have ever dreamed of."

While Manek made the original trip to North Carolina with his actual family, he has since forged relationships with those he laces up with each day.

Though it took time, he now fits right in.

"When we first saw him, we didn't really know," junior forward Armando Bacot said. "We thought he'd be some country Oklahoma boy but he's one of the boys, for real."

When Manek first entered the Tar Heel lineup, his presence marked a shift in the tried-and-tested philosophy of UNC running high-low action with two bigs that dominated on the low block.

As spacing in college basketball became more coveted, head coach Hubert Davis understood the challenges of game-planning for a lengthy sharpshooter, so he decided to add a weapon of his own.

The move immediately paid its dividends, as Manek has now scored in double figures in 18-straight games.

"Instead of me going through the scouting and wondering how do we defend this guy, how do we play ball screens, how do we match up with them - it would be great if we had one of those guys," Davis said. "Having the four that has the ability to play on the outside opens up our offense, and I don't think there's anyone better in the country at being able to do that than Brady."

With the Tar Heels set to play the Jayhawks, Manek's four-year run in the Big 12 will give him a sense of familiarity against the team's third blue-blooded opponent in the last four games. As he'll tell you, though, the past is hardly relevant on the game's biggest stage.

Instead of dwelling in the rearview mirror, in the last game of his collegiate career, his narrow-minded focus is only looking forward to doing whatever it takes to help his team cut down the nets.

"I've been doing this for a long time, I'm just excited this is the last game possible to play," Manek said. "But I haven't really thought about it - I've been in college long enough."

Months after the initial journey from home, Manek will get the chance to write his final chapter at his final destination.

And even after a season of new ups and downs and new relationships formed, alongside him will be Tina and Cary - the two that have been with him through it all.

"It was a family effort on me coming to North Carolina," Manek said. "And they've supported it all year."


@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

<![CDATA['Stay together': With Kansas ahead, UNC must use connectedness to push for title]]> Hubert Davis has been preparing for this moment for a long time - like, a very long time.

On Monday, the rookie head coach and his ascending No. 8 seed Tar Heels will take on the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks in New Orleans with the NCAA championship on the line.

Those kinds of stakes against this kind of team might be a new thing for his players, but they're all too familiar to Davis.

In the 1991 NCAA Tournament, Davis - still a hot-shooting Tar Heel guard - was part of a No. 1 seed UNC squad that reached the Final Four in Indianapolis. The team that stood between the Tar Heels and their first national title game since 1982 was a Jayhawk squad coached by future UNC legend Roy Williams.

Although Davis scored 25 points that game, the Tar Heels still fell in the semifinal, 79-73.

"That was the toughest loss I've ever experienced in my entire life," Davis said.

Not only was it a tough loss, but it was one he wouldn't let himself live down. By his own admission, between 1991 and winning a national title as an assistant coach at UNC in 2017, Davis watched that heartbreaking game at least once a year.

Twelve NBA seasons, a media career at ESPN and his first five years of coaching at his alma mater didn't ease the pain that came with each viewing. It took that 2017 national championship to do the trick.

"It would make me cry," Davis said. "It's interesting - every time that I watched it, I would think, 'It's going to turn out differently.' And it just didn't."

Even in defeat, it takes a special team to make that deep a run in the tournament.

Davis acknowledged the talented players that 1991 squad had - himself, King Rice and three-time NBA champ Rick Fox, to name a few - but more than anything, he believed that their greatness came from how connected they were, how they played in tune with one another, on and off the court.

He sees that same connectedness in this squad. And they're not just playing for a chance at a national title, they're playing for the whole darn thing.

The kind of connectivity that fosters greatness wasn't always guaranteed from this squad. One of its breakout stars, graduate transfer Brady Manek, had never been to North Carolina prior to joining the team last offseason from Oklahoma.

"You go to a new school, it's going to be weird," Manek said. "You don't know anybody, but they all grew to know what I brought to the team at my position. Just playing pickup over the summer and getting to know everybody, they definitely bought into what I brought to the team."

The Tar Heels must be thankful they bought into Manek's game, too - he's been one of the main reasons for UNC's offensive potency. His size and range help open up the floor and create space for players like sophomore guards Caleb Love or RJ Davis to get to the rim or create a shot.

That spacing and smoothness wasn't always there, though. Early in the season, moments of "hero ball" and poor shot selection led to some not-so-great performances from the Tar Heels.

Even Manek acknowledged that there were shots he probably shouldn't have taken.

But none of that matters now. The system has worked just as intended throughout the end of the regular season and the NCAA Tournament, right when it really needed to. Now, after the weird losses, close wins and impressive displays that have dotted the season, the one thing this team has to show for it, more than anything, is connectedness.

"With the national championship on the line, I feel like we need to be our most connected," Love said. "We need to stay together in every kind of way, because you know it's going to be a game of runs. They're going to go on their runs, and we're going to go on our runs, but we always have to stay together."

Hubert Davis knows how unity fosters growth. He experienced it in 1991, and he's worked tirelessly to create it in 2022.

His players had to visit his office once a week during the season and three times a week in the offseason. In his mind, you can only truly coach a squad you know.

And now, this team that he truly knows - full of players that truly know each other - will be playing to win it all.

"That's what makes times like this, playing for a national championship, so impressive, so much fun," Davis said.


@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com