Tommy: The Reason We Watch

Say what you want about the NIT, whether it is Not Interested or Not Invited or Who Cares. If you missed Carolina's win over DePaul, you missed out on seeing what Carolina Basketball is all about.

First off, I want to say this. Carolina in the NIT is not something anyone, unless you are the resident ABCer, wants to get used to seeing on a regular basis. But, that said, as long as the NCAA takes automatic bids from 31 conference champions and only 34 "at large" teams, saying those in the NIT field are "playing for 66th" is off base. Do not get me wrong -- seeing teams like UNC Asheville, Vermont or IUPUI get in the Big Dance is what college basketball should be about -- but unless the selection committee chooses from the RPI's top 65 only, the NIT will continue to have a strong field and being a part of that field should not be seen as a failure. Judging from last night, the North Carolina basketball team realized just that, just in time.

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I said about all you can say about Raymond Felton in this space over the last couple of months. Best point guard in the ACC. Should be the unanimous choice for ACC Rookie of the Year. After watching him last night, it's time to go even further. Felton, assuming he stays at Carolina at least three years, is quickly racing up the ‘status' chart to a Ford-ian level. Phil Ford that is.

Though Ford is quick to downplay his legend status, clearly he is the number one guy when you talk about Carolina basketball and the history behind the program. Michael Jordan may have been named the ACC's top athlete, but ask anyone that has followed Carolina basketball for more than just the past few years who is the poster child for Carolina Basketball and they'll tell you Phil Ford, hands down. Ford is the one Tar Heel, with his well-documented successes and stumbles, that is universally loved by those that support the University. And well he should be since you would be hard pressed to find anyone (from, but not limited to the athletic side) that better typifies what the University of North Carolina is all about.

After seeing the Heels lay an egg for the last eight minutes of the first half, many prepared for an embarrassment rivaling the 40-point drubbing at Maryland. As many ‘name' schools have done in the past, Carolina was primed for a first round departure from the tournament more than a few players had no interest in playing. Given the valuable court time that is available in these last few games, bowing out after one game would have been much more than an additional "L" in the record column.

While we'd all love to know what was said in the Carolina locker room over the halftime break, one player clearly took it upon himself to ensure Carolina's rocky season would continue on.

I've watched a ton of Carolina basketball games and follow the Heels as closely as one possibly can and I can say this -- I have not seen a player wearing the Carolina uniform lay it all on the court as Raymond Felton did in the second half of the DePaul game. (If you have, email your story to me and I'll post'em here next week.)

Many observers of the game, including this one at times, believe a coach is responsible for getting his players ready to play. To an extent, that is very true. The art of motivation is critical for any coach of any sport. But at some point, the players of the game have to take it upon themselves to handle business and do what it takes to win. All the instruction in the world can't make a player play. "Want to" and "desire" make all the difference in the world of sports and given a choice, I'll gladly take guys with lesser talent and superior heart and desire over super talents with little else.

In a time where even eighth graders with some ability are treated as prima donnas, players that bring it every night no matter the circumstances are few and far between. Fortunately for the Tar Heels, Raymond Felton is one of the few. Dive on the floor? Check. Play lock down defense? Yup. Drive, pass, score at will? No problem. Spill blood for the team? Done that, too. Lead by example -- probably the most important trait any person can have? 24/7.

In his weekly press conference, Matt Doherty spoke of the limited times a player has the opportunity to wear the Carolina jersey in a lifetime and when given the opportunity to do so, one should never pass it up. Led on the court by Felton, those wearing the Carolina jersey took those words to heart in the second half last night.


Have a comment? Email Tommy at carolina93@nc.rr.com.

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