Hosted again by ESPN anchor Stuart Scott, and fueled by a capacity crowd, Late Night started a journey the Tar Heels hope ends in New Orleans.
During a 20-minute scrimmage, fans got their first glimpse at a team many believe to be the best in the country.
Harrison Barnes led all scorers with 11 points, Tyler Zeller had nine points, and fans got a first look at the freshman class, headlined by James McAdoo and P.J. Hairston.
Zeller said the transition to the physical nature of college basketball won’t be easy for the freshmen.
“We have enough veterans that we can put up against the veterans and they can pick up the speed as they go,” he said. “They’re going to struggle for a couple of weeks, but that’s kind of part of being a freshmen.”
Dexter Strickland added, “They’ll learn quick. Coach does a great job of making everything clear to the freshmen. It shouldn’t be a struggle for them fitting in.”
Fitting in on the basketball court comes a lot easier for some of the players than fitting in on the dance floor. The freshmen, dressed in white pants, shiny tops and life vests danced to “Rock the Boat.” Another number was a dance crew battle between groups led by seniors Justin Watts and Zeller.
The butt of many dance jokes since arriving in 2008, Zeller received some positive feedback from Scott.
"Four years of Late Night have helped Tyler Zeller, huh?” Scott said jokingly.
Added Zeller: It’s fun – freshmen year was kind of frustrating because no one knew how bad I was at dancing. Now, everybody knows how bad I am at dancing… I enjoy it. The skits are always funny to me."
A recurring skit throughout the night was a spoof of ESPN’s “This is SportsCenter” ad campaign called “This is Carolina basketball.”
In one spot, assistant coaches Joe Halladay and Jerod Haase were leaving the basketball offices discussing evening plans. As they walk to their cars, Barnes, in full uniform, is playing saxophone. In another “This is Carolina basketball” skit, strength and conditioning coach Jonas Sahartian, impersonating Roy Williams, is furious with the starting five performance, and pulls them out of the weight room. He walks outside and brings in “Blue Steel,” urging them to give better effort before again chastising the starting unit.
Scott, a 1987 UNC grad, has hosted the event many times. This year proved to be a little different.
Without Scott’s knowledge, Williams brought him to center court and showed a video highlighting Scott’s broadcasting career and memorial Late Night moments. In Scott’s name, UNC basketball gave a $20,000 check to UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“Stuart Scott you are a priceless gem,” Williams said. “We love you."
Former UNC standouts like Lennie Rosenbluth, Vince Carter and Raymond Felton were in attendance. Carter, who donated $2.5 million to Carolina basketball earlier this year, received a video tribute and a long, loud standing ovation.
As the evening ended and the team came together at center court, attention turned to the first full practice that awaits on Saturday morning at 8 a.m.
“We’re looking forward to a great season,” Strickland said. “We had fun tonight, now it’s time to get serious and try to win a championship.”