AJ's Monday Musings

In just three games this weekend, North Carolina's baseball team made a statement.

The Tar Heels quickly disposed of the field in Starkville, Miss., including home standing Mississippi State (twice) - a program rich in tradition and from the vaunted Southeastern Conference – in the sub-regionals of the NCAA tournament. UNC had been in the NCAAs in recent years, but struggled to advance.

Ironically, the Tar Heels didn't get off to a great start this year as they have in past seasons. Yet Carolina finds itself headed to a super regional, and one step closer to making it back to Omaha, Neb., site of the College World Series, for the first time since 1989.

In a year in which UNC sports, especially the more publicized ones, have been down, the baseball team could spring a surprising enough run to somewhat make up for what many Carolina fans feel ahs been a terrible year.

As amazing as Tar Heels men's basketball has been for nearly five decades and as good as the football program, which has been vastly under appreciated by the media, has been, Carolina has had consistent success in other sports.

UNC's women's soccer is the best team sports program in the nation. In fact, Anson Dorrance's clubs have been so consistently excellent, Dean Smith has often referred to Carolina as a women's soccer school. The men's lacrosse program was once right there with Syracuse and Johns Hopkins as tops in the country. Women's basketball under Sylvia Hatchel has won a national championship and been a consistent Sweet 16 contender for the last decade.

The other, lesser profile sports have had success, but the previously mentioned teams, along with what has been a quality baseball program under former coach Mike Roberts and now Mike Fox, that have either been the best or generated the most interest. Yet, Carolina fans swear by men's hoops first and football second, and that's about it.

But what if UNC football struggles under John Bunting – a possibility, not a prediction – and the basketball program is tainted enough to fall short of the fans' expectations with Roy Williams now at the helm? Heck, I already received six e-mails this weekend from angry UNC fans complaining about Williams not landing Linas Kleiza!

But imagine if the two biggies struggle and fans get disgruntled, but the baseball team makes it to Omaha this year and wins a title next year, or even later this month. How important would this be to the average Carolina fan?

Personally, I think a lot of fans will hop on the bandwagon (no problem here) and even wear national championship t-shirts and maybe slap a few bumper stickers on their cars (note to readers: I actually saw what appeared to be a fresh Wake Forest NIT title sticker the other day). But I think titles in anything else other than women's basketball wouldn't matter. The men's soccer crown didn't generate much enthusiasm.

Would you fans celebrate a men's lacrosse championship like Virginia is? Would it last? Could you imagine yourself making the trek to Chapel Hill for a weekend to see the baseball team play a couple of times and the lacrosse team play?

Brian Hendrickson, a good friend and co-worker at the Wilmington Star-News, covered UNC-Wilmington's trip to Baton Rouge this past weekend and was amazed by LSU's support. They drew around 7,000 fans for each game, and he said at least that many were in parking lots tailgating and listening to the games on the radio. He also said there must have been at least 60 RVs around the ballpark. Hendrickson referred to the seen as "Almost like a college football atmosphere."

Clearly, LSU baseball is far superior to UNC in terms of tradition, but could this ever happen in Chapel Hill?

Baseball is a wonderful sport, and the college game, despite the lack of wooden bats and generally poor bullpens, is an exciting game. Fewer pitches are taken, but lets face it, the kids aren't gazillionaires with little regard for their fans. It's a cool sport!

However, I don't think UNC fans in general will ever get much of a charge out of anything other than basketball and football success, even though some may show it with shirts and stickers, as I earlier mentioned. While unfortunate, it's just how I see things.

This week's question to you is would you become a huge UNC baseball fan if the Heels win a title and become a national power? Could the pain of a year like this past one for football (3-9) and basketball (NIT) be soothed by titles in baseball and lacrosse or golf (see Clemson)? What would it take, if anything? Or do you simply not care about anything but men's hoops and football?

Send responses to totlsprts@aol.com. I'll post the top few e-mails in next week's Musings.

READER RESPONSE

Last week I asked you what you thought about how publicized college basketball recruiting has come and the impact message boards might have on it.

From Mitch Truluck, Atlanta

I love it. I can't get enough Andrew. I look online almost every day to see what is the new big news about recruiting. I follow the Tar Heels recruiting all the time, but I also follow the rest of the ACC, even Clemson and FSU. I love that Inside Carolina has people at games and constantly reports on possible future Tar Heels. I say the more the better.

From Wayne Killian, Class of '67, Wilmington

Although I enjoy recruiting reports, I never count on a player going where he says he's going until he's there. And I never count on his performance being what the gurus are forecasting until the player's college performance is a fact, one way or the other.

As one of the 'old' guys, I remember that Tom McMillan was coming to UNC. Coach Smith didn't find out otherwise until after Mr. McMillan had already enrolled at Maryland.

I remember when my brother (a UVA man) and I were both excited that our respective schools were among the finalists for Chris Brust. All of the UVa fans were heartbroken when Chris chose UNC.

And then there's Hubert Davis. Most gurus thought he would never be an ACC caliber player. I think he just completed his 11th season in the NBA and has scored more than 5,500 points in the league.

Then there's Darrell Elston, who scored four points in 13 games in his sophomore season. Then he scored 314 points as a junior and 427 points as a senior.

That being said, I sure hope Coach Williams can get Linus Kleiza to pick Carolina to bang around in the middle for three or four years.

From David Underhill

I used to only know about the current players on the team. Life was good then.

At the beginning of each year, I got to see who the new players were and how they contributed. Then I found a UNC message board. People would talk about future recruits. It really drained the fun out of the basketball season. There are constant fights over who is best. There are constant rumors over who is going where.

By the time the season starts, you don't even want to hear about basketball with half the fans complaining that the new players are not what we wanted and the other half saying they are all the next Michael Jordan. This is why I've quit going to basketball message boards. I want the fall season to be exciting again instead of something to avoid.


Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He also covers the ACC for the Wilmington Star-News/Morning Star and can be reached via e-mail at: totlsprts@aol.com.


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