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North Carolina Midnight Madness

October 21, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Midnight Madness in Chapel Hill

by Michael Protos

Tar Heel faithful – your savior has arrived.

To welcome Roy Williams as the new coach of North Carolina men’s basketball, more than 21,000 fans flocked to the Dean E. Smith Center on Friday night for North Carolina’s Midnight Madness. Although the event marked the first official opportunity for the team to practice, the real extravaganza was Williams’ first introduction of the season.

After spurning an opportunity to become North Carolina’s coach three years ago, many fans consider Williams as the lost son who has returned home. When Williams strolled onto the court Friday night, the entire stadium greeted their hero with a standing ovation that lasted nearly two minutes. North Carolina’s mascot knelt at center court and reverently bowed to Williams. Soon, an entire side of the stadium mimicked the mascot, bowing in praise and awe for the man whom all North Carolina basketball followers hope, and sincerely believe, will lead them into the NCAA’s Promised Land – the Final Four and a national championship.

Tears came to Williams’ eyes, perhaps because he did not anticipate such a devoted congregation at his grand entrance. Perhaps the tears came from the joy to coach his alma mater, the place where he started his collegiate coaching career as an assistant under Dean Smith.

Now, he follows in his mentor’s footsteps as coach of the Tar Heels. Williams brings a 418-101 career record from Kansas to North Carolina. Already a proven winner, Williams has a high probability of continued success in his new, and old, home at North Carolina.

One thing is certain – if the raucous Tar Heel fans fill the Smith Center as reliably as they did Friday night, North Carolina will have one of the most powerful home-court advantages in the game. By 11 p.m., school officials had to close the Dean Dome’s doors and turn away fans because there was no more room.

Before the clock struck midnight, the team entertained the crowd with skits and dance sessions. North Carolina alumnus and ESPN personality Stuart Scott commentated the skits and stoked the crowd’s hatred of their closest rivals – Duke and NC State.

One skit featured sophomore forward David Noel donning women’s clothing in a twisted version of the dating game, which mocked NC State and Duke. Noel, also known as Divine during the skit, chose Rashad McCants over the other two embarrassingly unattractive contestants, who supposedly represented the Blue Devil and Wolfpack populations.

For probably the first and last time in his career at North Carolina, Williams displayed his best attempt at the Harlem Shake, dancing at center court with his players during a club skit. Many of the players proved their skills are not limited to the basketball court, and Williams’ shoulder-shaking dance move proved Williams is not too proud to bust a move with the best of them.

When midnight passed, the show started for those who came to see the team’s performance playing basketball. Midnight Madness cannot be a barometer for the upcoming season because the players are seeking to entertain the audience as much, if not more so, as they are working on sound fundamentals.

But after watching the drills and a short exhibition, there were several clear observations. North Carolina has the personnel necessary to run up and down the court at will. Noel and junior forward Jawad Williams might be the Tar Heels’ best athletes. Remember the dunk by Vince Carter at the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest in which Carter slammed down the ball, then slid his arm into the hoop all the way down to his elbow? Williams repeated that performance to highlight his vertical ability.

Noel, who flashed his athletic potential at times last season, also attacked the rim with authority and maturity. He has the God-given ability to erupt off the court as if he was on a trampoline but the savvy to not lose control for the sake of entertainment. Look for both Noel and Williams to have solid seasons that will recall the lineup of Antawn Jamison and Carter.

The short exhibition game was rather lackluster. The Tar Heels showed a healthy perimeter game but did not frequently pound the ball into the paint. Sophomore forward Sean May appears healthy after recuperating from a foot injury that sidelined him for most of last season. May surprised the crowd by stepping out beyond the arc and draining a three-point shot.

But the night belonged to Roy Williams in his return to Chapel Hill. He says he looks forward to the season opener, with the promise of good things to come. At least 21,700 fans who packed the Dean Dome to greet him Friday night couldn’t agree more.


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