In the days following Brandon Huffman's commitment to UNC, he finally felt free. The hard work and long hours in the gym helped yield an opportunity for which he'd waited nearly 18 years.
A couple days later, his father, Byron Huffman, offered something else for which he'd waited nearly 18 years. An opportunity to attend college basketball's biggest event.
"I had honestly forgotten about the bet we made back after I committed," Huffman told Inside Carolina. "He said that if Carolina went to the Final Four then we were going to go together and watch it in person."
So when Luke Maye hit a long jumper to help the Tar Heels top Kentucky in the South regional final, perhaps no one was as excited as Huffman. Originally from the Goldsboro area, Huffman came back to North Carolina to finish his high school basketball career, while his parent stayed in Alaska.
Nearly seventh months, 6,000 miles, and hours upon hours in the air later, father and son met in Arizona this past Friday.
"They had a lot of fan activities while we down there," said Huffman. "We went to the fan festival and played some games, and also went to a Phoenix Suns home game."
Standing 6-9 and being built like a football player makes it hard to blend into crowds. That's why it wasn't much of a surprise when Carolina fans recognized Huffman during Carolina's national semifinal win over Oregon.
"One lady kind of figured out who I was, came to our seats and asked to take a picture," Huffman explained. "Then after that, I guess others saw me and like 20 more people came and wanted autographs and pictures. It was exciting. It seemed like more people recognized me out there than back at home."
Before UNC's game, the Huffmans watched Gonzaga's victory over South Carolina. Byron Huffman grew up in South Carolina and, prior to Brandon signing with UNC, considered himself a big Gamecocks fan.
"The atmosphere was great," Huffman said. "There were a lot of South Carolina fans. And then there were a lot more of us than Oregon. On Monday night, it felt like maybe 2/3 of the fans were there for Gonzaga. That didn't matter though. Just to see all those people come out was amazing."
On the court, Huffman loved what he saw from Kennedy Meeks, who matched a career high with 25 points while also grabbing a game-high 14 rebounds.
"Oregon is a really good team and we played them as best we could," he said. "It was real exciting in those last few minutes because we didn't know which way things would go. I was telling people that asked me about it that Kennedy saved us. Without him we wouldn't be where we are now. He put us in a position to be successful as far as Monday is concerned."
Prior to Monday's national championship game, the Huffmans attended a tailgate outside University of Phoenix stadium. There, he met up with several former players, including Brendan Haywood, who he's developed a relationship with and calls "his guy," as well as the entire starting unit from UNC's 1993 championship team.
"They expressed to me that they had won a title and how hard it was," said Huffman. "They were telling me how it would be when I get there and that they're excited for me and the opportunity I have at Carolina."
During UNC's dramatic championship win over Gonzaga, Huffman felt momentum changing with seemingly every basket. Even with UNC down seven in the first half and again down two with fewer than three minutes remaining, he knew the Tar Heels would pull it out.
"The energy was wild during the game," Huffman said. "Before we even got to Arizona my dad told me that he wanted me to see another attempt for another ring for UNC. I'm just glad to say I got to witness it."
Now, Huffman will have the task of helping the reigning NCAA champions replace Meeks, who made the game's key defensive plays, and Isaiah Hicks, who put UNC up three late.
"Us winning the title just lets me know that there's a whole lot of eyes on us," he said. "Half are looking for us to succeed and the other half are looking for us to fail. It just lets me know that it's possible (to win titles) and that under Coach Williams's leadership we can get anything done. It just lets me know that the fans expect greatness and everyone else does too."
With expecting greatness as a rallying cry of sorts, Huffman is using his last two months at home as a chance to fully prepare for the rigors of ACC basketball.
"I've been working with Rasheed (Wallace) and getting my feet right," he said. "I'm working to get in the best possible shape I can be. I've talked to a lot of pros from Carolina here and there, and each one I've talked to whether they played for Coach Smith, Coach Guthridge or Coach Roy they've all said you need to be in shape. Strength, part of the conditioning and the college system they'll all give me, everything else I've got to get on my own. I'm trying to get there physically a little bit more, mentally and I'm just trying to do everything I can to be ready."
Nearly seven months after his dad first made the Final Four bet, Huffman was on a flight back to North Carolina wearing a UNC 2017 National Champions T-shirt.
"It's real sweet knowing that I got to see that," he said. "I remember at the Syracuse game earlier this year, a whole bunch of Coach Williams's former players were saying where they were during victories throughout his career. They were all saying to him what it meant to them to be on that team with him. Within my four years I'm sure we'll win another national championship, but if not I'm glad I got to witness one of them. I remember being a kid a long time ago, going to the Smith Center, looking at those banners up there and seeing how rare it is for a team to take it all. To say I witnessed a championship a year after losing the way we did last year, that's incredible to me."