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January 16, 2002 Featured No Comments



The Junior Tar Heels – Part 1

by Dan Hauptman

The baby blue uniforms have “North Carolina” written in white on the players’ chests, but this is not the legendary team that has won four championships and advanced to 15 Final Fours. The backs of the hand-me-down uniforms don’t even have the names of the players on them, leaving only the friends and family members of the hoopsters to distinguish one from the others. That is appropriate because the majority of the smattering of fans in the Smith Center are there for one reason: they are either related to or friends of the players on the home Tar Heels or the visiting opponents.

For this Carolina basketball squad, the season opens with a minuscule amount of fanfare. There is no band playing, no cheerleaders flipping, and barely any fans sitting in the predominantly blue arena. The junior varsity men’s basketball team begins another season playing as the opening act for the much more famous University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill varsity squad.

Junior varsity games begin three hours prior to the varsity contests. This year, as is the case every year, all 12 JV games are played at the spacious Smith Center. The Dean Dome has never looked as empty during a game as it looks when the non-scholarship, primarily underclassmen, junior varsity players roam the court in front of a maximum crowd of a few hundred viewers. There is no problem for the players hearing the coaching advice from head coach Doug Wojcik, as there is very little noise in the historic arena besides the sounds of pure basketball being played on the floor.

The University of North Carolina is a very rare Division I school that boasts a junior varsity team. As a result, the schedule is comprised of a few prep schools – mostly those with recruited players on them – as well as post-graduate high schools and JV teams from Division II and III schools in North Carolina. The team does not belong to any conference, has no chance of playing in any sort of postseason tournament, and according to Wojcik and many of his players, the club’s biggest rivals are two military academies, Fork Union and Hargrave.

“The junior varsity team at Carolina has been a tradition for many years,” said Wojcik, who is in his second year coaching of the team. “With 80 percent of students at UNC from North Carolina, it is another way for them to continue their basketball careers past high school. It’s not a feeder program in the sense that it is going to help us win at the varsity level. It’s more for the kids and the opportunity to continue to play basketball.”

In addition to coaching the JV team, Wojcik is in his second year as an assistant coach for the varsity team. His duties for the varsity team consist of coordinating the recruiting as well as scouting opponents and prospects. Wojcik has a lot more power at the JV level, as he has the final say on all matters dealing with his 14-player team.

“It’s a lot of fun coaching the team,” said the 37-year-old coach. “It’s a great experience for me. It’s phenomenal. I get to call timeouts; I get to go through practice. There are long days, but it’s still good for me.”

The JV program is further enriched by the fact that at least one player per year is usually promoted to the varsity squad. On the 2001-2002 North Carolina varsity team, there are three players that previously played junior varsity basketball at the university. Sophomores Phillip McLamb and Damien Price both made the team after playing for Wojcik last season.

“By playing for the junior varsity team, there is always the possibility of someday making the varsity team, like two kids from last year’s team did this year,” Wojcik said. “Based on them (McLamb and Price) playing last year, I recommended them to initially start practicing with the varsity team because we were short on personnel. Their physicals from last year and the fact that they competed last year made them eligible to play right away. At the time we didn’t know they would make the varsity team. They did really well and so now they are staying on varsity and helping us out.”

The third varsity walk-on this year, senior Joe Everett, followed his older brother Jim’s footsteps and advanced to the varsity level after spending two years playing junior varsity basketball. Jim Everett graduated in 2001 after playing two years on the junior varsity team and two years on the varsity squad. A third Everett brother, Charlie, is a freshman forward on the JV club.

“This has been a great ride for the whole family, especially Charlie,” said Jim Everett Sr., who drives from Charlotte to all of his sons’ games. “He is the youngest and has been hanging around his brothers while they have played JV and varsity basketball the last few years. It has been a lot of fun for all involved. The players are treated great and are worked very hard. It is also a great experience for the opponents. They get to play North Carolina at the Dean Dome.”

In addition to the lure of possibly running out of the tunnel as a varsity basketball player, there are other perks that entice students to participate in the unique Carolina junior varsity program.

“I think a lot of them have always dreamed of wearing a North Carolina uniform,” Wojcik said. “They get to practice in the finest basketball arena in the country, they get to play three hours before varsity games, and they get tickets to varsity games. There are plenty of incentives.”

The current junior varsity team wears jerseys that varsity players wore about five years ago. In addition to suiting up in an outfit undoubtedly worn on a grand stage by a former Tar Heel, each JV player also receives two tickets in the student section to the varsity games, Nike sneakers and clothes and other more abstract rewards.

“The first reason I play is to wear North Carolina on my chest. I also just really love basketball,” sophomore center Bryan Bell said. “I have loved it since I was little and I wanted to pursue it and hopefully go onto varsity next year. This is a good stepping stone.”

Freshman forward C.J. Hooker agrees: “Wearing the Carolina uniform and stepping out in the Dean Dome; there is no greater feeling. It’s like a dream come true. When I was a kid I always wanted to come here and put on the uniform. When we first put them on in the locker room, we were all speechless.”

On to Part 2

     

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