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The Hurt Runs Deep For UNC, But Not For Normal Reasons

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Over the last night, I have been contemplating how to bring you guys a story that wasn’t told or at least something different from stats and numbers from the NCAA National Championship. Last night’s game was an event that can never be described in words. We witnessed a top 5 college basketball game and arguably, one of the best NCAA National Championship; especially in my lifetime. So, what’s bigger than Villanova winning the ‘ship since 1985 or UNC losing in 4.7 seconds? UNC losing Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige and Joel James.

The first two names I’m sure you’re in agreement, but why James? Sometimes your role is bigger than playing on the court. Often we ignore the players who don’t get a lot of minutes because we don’t see their leadership, but with James, he was a huge part of UNC’s glue.

The night was full of tears and disappoint as UNC faced the biggest dagger of their accomplished 2015-2016 season, the loss of a National Title. Coach Williams approached the post game conference emotional and kept reiterating how much he loved this team and the countless apologies of “not doing enough”, but it was something that Coach said that stuck with me and inspired this editorial…

“The difference between winning and losing in college basketball is so small. The difference in your FEELINGS is so large, but that’s the NCAA Tournament. That’s college basketball. That is the wonderful kids I love”

This game was more than just winning a title for UNC, it would’ve been the last signature on Johnson, Paige and James’ legacy with Carolina. It would’ve solidified the growth they exhibited in their four years under Coach Williams and their impact on UNC Basketball.

Brice didn’t come to the stage after his final game, but Marcus did. And with the emotions flying high, he couldn’t fight back his tears when talking about taking off his jersey for the final time.

In every interview, Marcus never brought the attention to himself; Even at times speaking of his own failures and disappointments. It was always team first with Marcus. The leadership he provided for this team was sound and forgiving. In his final year, we may not have seen the Marcus that was glorified as the best PG in the NCAA, but we did see a matured, mentoring, and “clutch” Marcus Paige. He allowed others to take the spotlight and helped his team in any capacity they needed him to and made unbelievable shots.

MArcus Paige

I don’t know if many people expected Brice Johnson to have a breakout season, but I don’t think we have seen a better display of emergence than we have in Johnson. Johnson entered his senior year breaking records and becoming the force behind UNC’s many wins. With the help of Joel Berry II, Johnson took over the responsibility of being their lead player when Paige was out; He didn’t look back. Over the season, many questions were directed towards Johnson’s emotion’s on the court and Coach Williams had the perfect response,

“He’s demonstrative whenever I ask him what he wants for breakfast. That’s just Brice”

But it’s that Brice fans have come to love. Whenever UNC played, fans knew they could count on a dunk, yell or an even a “WTF” look at officials. His aggression will be missed on UNC’s court.

Brice Johnson Let’s talk Joel James, my wild card. As fans, we never think about anyone on the bench. We think “Well they’re on the bench for a reason. Why worry about their stats?” What I have come to learn is that its bigger than the 5 on the court; It’s important to have a sound mind on the bench and from what I’ve heard, it was James. While James was once the big man until he was replaced with Meeks, we didn’t see his disappointment reflect when he played. James doesn’t have the numbers or stats as his teammates, but off the court, they aspire to be him.

We often times overlook that the bench hurts just as much if not more than the starters. We get so caught up in who we consistently see, that we miss the bigger picture. James is an example that losses should never focus just on how Johnson, Paige or Meeks feel, but what about Dalton, Coker, Egbuna, Maye, White or Williams? Having a supportive bench is possibly one of the most important aspects of team sports.

Coach Williams is losing parts of his favorite team. To me, at that conference that hurt more than possibly losing this game. Coach wanted to win this for his team. The team who was heavily criticized despite their winnings, the glooming cloud of the NCAA or the team he’s had the pleasure of growing with in 4 years. There wasn’t a dry eye. When talking about this team all season, Coach glowed with such pride and praised them every chance he got, but last night it hit him, their run is over.

Imagine sitting during that and not dropping a tear. Coach Williams has been under scurrility this entire season concerning his coaching abilities and whether he’s capable of leading UNC to another title. While he did lose on the big stage, Coach won the hearts of his players with his dedication to them and to me that’s a win. One thing no one can ever do with Coach is question his loyalty to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Not one UNC player should hang their head. Its been a hell of a year for all of them. Missed shots, injuries and often times unwanted press, through it all they’ve accomplished something 62 other teams couldn’t, reaching the National Championship. While UNC fans may miss the intensity of Brice Johnson, the confidence of Marcus Paige and the stability of Joel James, imagine what’ll be like to see them play that exact same way on the next level; you’ll get that feeling all over again. Undoubtedly, this is one of the best UNC teams under Roy Williams, but fans, you still have a coach who is able to recruit more great kids such as the ones you’ve grown to love.

And cheer up, only 342 days until Selection Sunday! Oh yea, and there’s always Theo Pinson.

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