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Sunday began the final week of the school year in The Daily Tar Heel’s office. Amid the chaos, when our opinion editor approached me and asked me to write the final sports column of the year, I made sure at least a little of the day was set aside for reflection.
With another season in the books, the North Carolina men’s basketball team has quickly turned its attention toward recruiting for next season. All players are expected to be back with the exception of J.P. Tokoto, and Roy Williams is hoping to land at least one of the nation’s top uncommitted prospects to join the Tar Heels.
LOS ANGELES — She paced. Around and around the concourse Sherryl Paige went, until finally she paused for a moment to hug Taylor Sharp, her son’s roommate. Then Marcus’ mom paced some more until moments before tipoff.
LOS ANGELES — They arrive at the Smith Center 30 minutes early every day to learn of their assignments. They run through the opposing team’s inbound plays, defensive tactics, offensive tendencies and major plays. Then, when the rest of the North Carolina men’s basketball team arrives later, they mimic the opponents as accurately as possible so that the first and second UNC teams know exactly what to expect. Come game time, they’ll rarely — if ever — find their names on a box score. They won’t show up in the postgame notes, either.
LOS ANGELES — J.P. Tokoto takes hour-long showers — "the longest in America," according to his roommate. He sings to himself constantly, plays loud music and overloads on chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese.
Outside of the Paige residence in Marion, Iowa the cement basketball court on which the siblings grew up is now painted — half red, half light blue.
Hours after sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks was scheduled to see a doctor Monday, North Carolina men’s basketball coach Roy Williams said on his radio show with Jones Angell that he is not sure Meeks will play Thursday in UNC’s Sweet 16 matchup with No. 1 seed Wisconsin. Meeks did not practice Monday.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The room went silent when Roy Williams began to describe just how much this one meant.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Kennedy Meeks paused and then reiterated himself when reporters struggled to believe him.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. —Roy Williams laid everything out so he was 100 percent sure they understood.
The waiting game is over. The Tar Heels are headed to Florida.
Greensboro — Brice Johnson wasn’t looking at anything in particular. Not the scoreboard, not the jumbotron, not the noisy fans that packed Greensboro Coliseum Friday night.
Greensboro — On the eve of one of the most anticipated matchups of the ACC Tournament, before the team's evening snack, the sickest player on North Carolina's squad headed up to Roy Williams' hotel room in Greensboro ready to make his case.
GREENSBORO — It’s a stark contrast from the Brice Johnson four days ago — the one that quietly sat alone in the North Carolina player's lounge, lamenting an 84-77 loss to Duke on Senior Day. That Brice Johnson had his head down with very little to say.
The tallest of orders required a change in plan — but when it was all said and done, the result was still the same.
The scoreboard read 29-18 — the worst half the No. 15 North Carolina men's basketball team had put together all season, tied for the worst half under Coach Roy Williams since he arrived in Chapel Hill in 2003.
He taught them what he regarded to be a man’s greatest obligation in life: loyalty. And on Sunday, they proved they’d listened and learned.
This was an old-fashioned, impossible-to-script, picture-perfect basketball showdown in its purest form: two teams that despise each other. Hundreds of screaming, raucous, eccentric students painted from head to toe, looking for their six-and-a-half week stay in freezing tents to culminate with jubilation. A moment of silence for the passing of a North Carolina coaching legend, that rivalry aside, brought together all of Cameron Indoor Stadium in touching silence Wednesday night.
Roy Williams wasn’t there to see Marcus Paige.