Players, coaches await decision

CHAPEL HILL – Throughout the cold, windy Monday afternoon outside the Dean E. Smith Center, the two cars stayed put. Athletic Director Dick Baddour's Acura sat in reserved parking spot No. 1, while head coach Matt Doherty's BMW hid in the back tunnel. But inside the basketball facility, the two were meeting – and the outcome could dictate which direction the historic program takes from its current crossroads.

"They had their meeting," confirmed Thomas McKinney, UNC's strength and conditioning coordinator, in the Smith Center parking lot. "This is a tough day for Carolina basketball. Just not knowing is what's difficult."

The assistant coaches came and went during the afternoon, as did the players, many picking up their basketball gear to go play some pickup at Woolen Gym. There was Sean May, Melvin Scott, David Noel, Raymond Felton, Will Johnson, Damion Grant and others snuck in and out. Jonathan Holmes stopped by as well, for a birthday gift.

"I just came in to get my cake, that's all," the senior guard explained.

The 2002-2003 season ended last Wednesday, with a third-round NIT loss to Georgetown, and since then most players haven't spoken with Doherty.

"I know he's tried to call a couple of players," May said Monday, "but I personally haven't talked to him."

However, the players have spoken with Baddour, in both a team meeting setting and in individual meetings Thursday and Friday.

"It was all right," May said. "Some guys were long [meetings], some guys were short [meetings]. Guys just told them how they felt. Besides that I don't know. We really haven't talked about it much with each other – we're going to just let it play out.

"We're in a position where people think we're trying to have our coach fired. We're not. They asked for a meeting and we went in and talked to them about it. We don't know when they're going to make a decision or what's going to happen."

Over the weekend, the coaching staff got together and at another juncture Baddour met with Doherty to further the postseason evaluation, according to sources close to the program.

And at the root of the evaluation is Doherty's relationship with his players. May's background gives him added perspective on the situation. He has been exposed to arguably the harshest coach in the college game, as his father played for the Indiana legend who is now at Texas Tech.

"I've seen one of the toughest coaches ever – Bob Knight," May said. "I went to his practices for two years and I've seen how he treats his players, but in the end it's tough love. They respect him and do what he asked.

"With Coach Doherty, he has a different style, that's the way he is and some guys don't like it. Me, I personally don't have a problem with it. No matter where you go you're not going to like a coach – that's a given. You're not going to understand what he's doing for you until you're gone. That's something that's been explained to me many times by my father. It's a tough situation and you make the best of it."

Recent media reports have suggested that the players have provided guarded truths to reporters' questions this season, deciding not to air the behind the scenes issues that are now at the root of Doherty's evaluation.

"Of course there's some stuff you keep within the family," May said. "But there's some stuff that everyone needs to know and hopefully we've helped you [reporters] do your job by letting everyone know."

The players have tried to remain focused on next season, fueled by some promising wins late in the season and a unique crowd experience from the general admission seating in the NIT.

"I realize they just love us," McKinney said of the fans who filled the Smith Center and provided crowd noise at a level never before seen in the arena. "Now it gives us extra added energy. They [the players] are already asking questions on how to get better."

The team is staying out of the weight room this week, but according to McKinney the offseason conditioning begins on Monday.

"Regardless, at the end of all this, I'm going home this weekend to sit down with my dad, think about some things," May said. "Because at the end of all this, I have a lot to think about if Coach Doherty's here or if he's not. There's a lot to think about, period, but I'm pretty sure I'll return next year."

The waiting, and the uncertainty, has clearly put strain on both the players and the coaches.

"I think drawing it out just puts a lot of pressure on us because we don't know who's going to be here and who's not," May said. "I just think they need to make a decision and let us know or even let us know if they're going to wait a while. Let us know something because I'm sick of walking around with nothing."

But Monday there was no word from the University or a timetable for the decision. The Smith Center employees exited, the sun set and the temperature dropped, but the two cars remained. And the future of North Carolina basketball hung in the balance.

J.B. Cissell contributed to this story.

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