Sometimes I have unrealistic expectations, I can accept that. But the thing about me is, when I believe in something, I believe in it with my whole heart. Once I have my mind made up, there is nothing that anyone can say to me to change my mind. Nothing exemplifies this more than my feelings towards Carolina basketball.
In early September, I was sitting at home with my roommates like any other late night in our apartment. We were discussing the highly anticipated upcoming basketball season – with two five star McDonald’s All-Americans leading our freshman class, by the time March rolled around, UNC would be unstoppable. The 2020 Final Four is in Atlanta, GA – my roommates and I vowed that we would go when UNC inevitability made it to the big dance.
We plastered our communal chalkboard with phrases like “#RoadToAtlanta”, fun facts about the freshman to get to know them better, and a countdown until the first home game in the Smith Center. Call us hopeful, but we knew that our senior season would be the best in Carolina’s history.
The season started the same as every other year – we won our exhibition game with flying colors and took a couple of tough losses early in the season. We saw a breakout performance from the talented freshman Cole Anthony and encountered a few injuries along the way. I didn’t sweat the hiccups, we always face a few while we’re getting into the swing of things.
Then the season took a real turn, and by turn, I mean a dive head-first off a cliff. I’m sure every Tar Heel has a different perspective for the season, but for me it wasn’t until the Wofford game that it really sunk in. We were playing in the iconic Carmichael Arena against an underdog team that we have a history with. Personally, I was stoked about the chance to see my team in a historic environment, so stoked that I drug my roommate to the 4pm game before 8am to wait in line (love you Kieran).
We were the first in line and got the best spots in the stadium, everything was as it was supposed to be… until all of the sudden, it wasn’t anymore. Anthony, our star player, was announced indefinitely injured, which shook up our starting lineup. I can’t exactly recount what I witnessed after that because I honestly think I blacked it out of my memory. What I can say is that I knew the team in front of me was not the 2020 Tar Heel team that I thought existed.
You can fill in the blanks about what happened next. I quickly came to the harsh realization that UNC might not make it to the national championship this year. Worse, they may not even make it into the tournament at all.
That night when I finally faced the truth was a really tough night for me. I know, that sounds so stupidly dramatic… it’s just basketball right? Wrong. This is the last season I’ll ever get to scream my lungs out from the heart of the student section. It’s the last season I’ll ever spend hours outside of the arena to earn that front row spot. It’s the last season I’ll ever get to cheer on the players as not just athletes, but as my classmates.
College survival tip #3: Things will almost never go the way you planned. You’ll find your strengths when you’re faced with adversity, and you’ll feel much more accomplished knowing you survived a challenge.
I continued going to games, and continued to get my heart ripped out game after game, loss after loss. Georgia Tech, Pitt, Clemson, Boston College… you name it, I was there and eventually pouted my way out of the Dean Dome distraught and in a horrible mood. But yet, there was something that kept me coming back – my passion.
I love Carolina basketball because of so much more than winning games. I love it because it’s a family, the Tar Heel pride is unlike any other. I love it because it lets me forget about all of the stress of classes and my extracurriculars, even if it creates its own form of stress. I love it because of daggum Roy Williams.
The truth of the matter is, all of those things that I listed off about my senior season remain constant whether we win or lose. At the end of the day, I can still scream louder than socially acceptable in any other situation from the front row of the risers (maybe even more so these days) no matter what the score is.
Life is really about finding the good in the bad. Whether its an exam score you wish was a little higher or a morning class you wish was a little later, there will always be things that don’t perfectly align with your expectations. So maybe the 2020 UNC basketball season isn’t the one I dreamed of, but I refuse to let that kill the magic of being in the Dean Dome as a student for one last season.