CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Many fans waited in line for several hours for the Dean E. Smith Center doors to open on Tuesday, but in reality the wait has been one year in the making.
After UNC’s 71-65 win over Gonzaga in Monday night’s national championship game, the Tar Heels made their triumphant journey from Phoenix back to Chapel Hill.
Awaiting them was a myriad of fans, ranging from infants to members of classes decades removed from the university, all collectively decked out in their favorite shade of blue - and many sporting newly purchased championship apparel.
As the newly minted champions entered the building, the sea of onlookers erupted into raucous applause. Each member of the team, from the staff, to players and then to coaches, were introduced and received their individual ovations.
As ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson was announced, the crowd started a “one more year” chant, with the wing’s expected NBA decision looming.
A highlight package of the Tar Heels' run through the tournament was played, and for likely the first time the players were able to sit back and enjoy watching their success without the added pressure of looking forward.
The biggest crowd outburst came when Luke Maye’s game winner against Kentucky was shown, and even the 6-foot-8 Huntersville-native had a grin from ear to ear while watching.
As the package ended, seniors Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Nate Britt all said a few words to the audience in one of their last appearances in the Smith Center. All three thanked the fans for four great years, and for believing in them after last season’s shortcomings.
Jackson and Joel Berry, the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, were also asked to speak, and both repeated the same sentiment. Jackson and Berry each will have their jerseys go up in the rafters for their performances this season.
Theo Pinson surprised no one when he snatched the microphone from Berry to get in on the act.
Head coach Roy Williams finished off the night with a speech, and started by reading a text he got from Michael Jordan late on Monday night.
“I'm so happy for you and the team,” the text read. “You raised the ceiling to the roof tonight. Congrats, didn't want to bring you bad luck tonight, but I'm so happy for you.”
Williams went on to give a special shout out to his three graduating seniors, highlighting the journey they have been on together for their time in Chapel Hill.
“The three seniors who spoke have really been through a lot,” Williams said. “We've had good team, we've had really good teams, now we've got the best.”
And in only the way that Williams can, the now three-time national championship-winning coach ended the night with a bang.
“You know the greatest three feelings in the world,” he said. “One is seeing the look, two is cutting down the nets, and three…. just think of all those other people around here that are so ticked off.”