I take almost any excuse I can get to talk about the 2017 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. At the time, I was a freshman at UNC, and I can confidently say that April 3rd, 2017 – three years ago this week – was the best night of my life. But I say that not because Carolina took down Gonzaga or because of Justin Jackson’s incredible dunk (though it was magnificent), it was the day I truly fell in love with UNC.
I remember where I was, who I was with, and what I was doing for every game of the tournament. The sweet sixteen I watched in Fetzer gym during my first dance marathon. The elite eight I watched in my suitemate’s room while I was doing French homework.
My ten-story freshman dorm has a tradition of flooding to our balconies and screaming “TARR” at the top of our lungs, while the dorm across the street answered us “HEEELSS” after a good basketball win.
We did this many times that year, but I very distinctly remember doing it after Luke Maye’s breakout performance in the elite eight, securing our spot in the final four. It was right around midterm season and everyone was drowning in homework and studying, yet hundreds of us paused for a second to bask in a Tar Heel victory.
The title game was unlike any other. When the clock hit zero, we – and by we, I mean any and every UNC fan within walking distance of campus – flooded Franklin Street. We rush Franklin each time we beat Dook, but this time was very different. We hadn’t just taken down our arch rival, we earned the title of best college basketball team in the nation.
It’s incredibly hard to put that night into words. For starters, I sprinted as fast as my legs could carry me from my viewing party to the heart of Franklin and Columbia, and I NEVER run. In that moment, I remember feeling like I was on top of the world.
I was in the middle of one of the largest crowds I’ll probably ever be in, body on body, with barely enough room to breathe. I was with a few friends, but I was completely engulfed by strangers, it just didn’t feel that way. No matter what was going on in our lives, we celebrated in solidarity as Carolina fans in this inexplicable, once-in-a-lifetime tradition.
College survival tip #16: Totally embrace your college’s school spirit, even if it’s not something you would’ve done in high school. It’s a chance to take a much-needed break and will make a new place feel like an instant home.
To someone who doesn’t care much about sports, this all probably seems a little crazy. But for us, it’s about much more than the sport. Carolina basketball is so deeply integrated in our school’s culture that it’s part of each and every one of us. It’s a common ground that any Tar Heel can bond over, no matter where they come from or what they do.
Something as simple as watching basketball may seem insignificant, but it has its own meaning at UNC that only Tar Heels can fully understand. When people think of university, they think of attending classes and getting involved in extracurriculars, but it’s really about much, much more.
While it may not be sports at every school, each university has its own traditions embedded in its culture. They may seem like a waste of time because they’re not directly related to earning a degree or job post-grad, but they’re arguably the most meaningful.
During these times I could have been doing countless other things that probably would have been much more productive uses of my time. But I wouldn’t have developed this same connection to my university and I certainly wouldn’t have as distinctly vivid memories of my freshman year.
Out of context, a basketball game may not mean much, but to me, these basketball games helped me find my place and will forever characterize my college experience.