GLENDALE, Ariz. – The trap came quick, just as they are designed, and Nate Britt reacted on the instinct that comes with 149 career games played. With the blue team collapsing, the senior guard caught a glimpse of white, an ally in times such as these, and made the pass.
There was little debate in the North Carolina locker room on Friday that Britt passed the ball, not to a white team cohort, but to assistant coach Hubert Davis in practice at University of Phoenix Stadium on Thursday afternoon. Where the dissension lies is where the blame falls.
“I’m going to say that was completely Coach Davis’s fault,” Britt said. “He shouldn’t have been on the court. That’s a tech. Instead, he just caught the ball and said, ‘blue ball.’”
There were plenty of teammates in support of Britt’s accusation. Kenny Williams explained with visuals, marking a concrete column as the sideline and then standing where Davis stood on the court, which if the demonstration was accurate, the assistant coach was a solid five feet onto the floor.
“I was right beside Coach Davis, so I’m going to have to agree with Kenny,” Seventh Woods said. “It was definitely Coach Davis’s fault. I mean, he was standing at the 3-point line with white on.”
Davis, however, made his argument not based on basic geometry and corresponding painted lines, but rather on the basis that Britt threw the ball to a man that last suited up for UNC long before any of the current Tar Heels were born.
“Nate Britt threw the ball to me and they said that because I was on the floor, I looked like a player and it was my fault,” Davis said. “My fault? That’s the generation now. It’s my fault. It’s not your fault, it’s my fault.”
Davis, wearing his white windbreaker defiantly for the second day in a row, posed the obvious question to reporters watching Williams’s re-enactment.
“If you wear this in practice, would it be weird for a player to throw you the ball thinking that you were a player?” Davis said. “It would be weird.”
And while the matter seemed initially to be a classic coach-vs.-players disagreement, the oldest Tar Heel in the room disrupted that line of thinking.
“I’m going to actually have to side with Coach Davis for the first time,” senior Stilman White said. “That’s something I don’t like to do because I like to bicker with Coach Davis as well, but he was out of bounds, I believe. Even though he was wearing a white top. I saw where Nate was coming from, but he’s claiming right now that Coach Davis was on the court, and honestly, that’s just not a true statement.”
White was guarding Britt on the play, so his perspective is of eyewitness caliber, although his motives were immediately questioned.
“First of all, Stilman’s going to always take the opposite side of me, so I’m going to put that out there,” Britt said. ”But as a pretty solid point guard in the heat of the moment, if you’re being pressed, especially by a surprise trap, you’re looking for a white jersey that doesn’t have any blue jerseys around it. I had my back to Coach Davis, but out of my peripheral I saw white and I thought it was Theo. There were no blue jerseys around him, so I whipped a pass to him. It was a perfect pass; he caught it right in his stomach.”
Only moments before this scenario played out, the Tar Heels were not so jovial in their actions. They had made it back to the Final Four, but they left the Final Four last April with an empty feeling. After an entire year of Kris Jenkins-supplied motivation, UNC was finally within sight of its goal once again, and the moment was daunting.
Getting here was never the goal, so the pressure to not only to play well against Oregon on Saturday night but to win crept into practice with a serious intensity. UNC’s coaching staff took notice, and offered a reminder for some levity on the grandest of all college basketball stages, according to Britt.
“We’re back in the Final Four. You guys have got to enjoy this. This is very rare. Make sure you’re having fun.”
And so despite the turnover, all Britt could do in that moment was laugh, as did his teammates.
“We had a good time with it, something that funny,” White said. “Nate’s a good point guard and he does a great job taking care of the ball, so it’s funny to see him do something that goofy once in a while. We try to really set a fun tone for the practice out on the court yesterday because it started out really serious and all of the coaches had to remind us to enjoy what we’ve done and that we’re here.”
UNC reached the national championship game nearly a year ago by embracing its long, meandering journey. After a brief reminder on Thursday, these Tar Heels were back to their normal selves on Friday.
The blame game for that pass, however, lingers on.