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<i>This feature story is from the April 2003 issue of the Inside Carolina Magazine. To learn more about the publication and how to subscribe, <a href=>CLICK HERE</A>.</i>

It's a Saturday morning in March inside the Dean E. Smith Center. While most students across the Chapel Hill campus are fast asleep at 10 a.m., the North Carolina junior varsity team is playing in its season finale.

Inside Carolina Magazine
April, 2003
WORDS: Ben Sherman
PHOTOS: Jim Hawkins

hey're wearing the trademark Carolina Blue jerseys and playing in the historic building, but the 21,750 seats are empty, save for a few family members and friends sitting courtside. There are no roaring fans, no band blaring out the fight song and no television cameras broadcasting the event, but this Tar Heel team gives their all, regardless.

Four months of commitment and hard work will receive no publicity, but that's not why they're here.

"It's more about tradition and giving kids the opportunity to continue playing especially because the student body is from the state of North Carolina and these kids grew up as Tar Heel fans," said JV head coach, and varsity assistant coach, Doug Wojcik.

Being a member of the JV team at North Carolina does have its perks. There's wearing the official UNC jerseys, playing and practicing in the Smith Center, and receiving access to a storied hoops program and free tickets to games.

But ask C.J. Hooker [pictured] why he's on the team and the sophomore gets right to the point.

"To try and make varsity," he said.

Hooker stands only 6-foot-1, but his enthusiasm for the game and his fight on the court make him indispensable. Combining the aforementioned traits with a strong, athletic frame, he led the team in rebounding and was second in scoring despite lacking the height usually required to battle in the paint.

The junior varsity team is actually not its own entity, officially. The squad falls under the UNC men's basketball program. In other words, it's technically just an extracurricular activity.

On the court, however, Wojcik doesn't treat it as such.

"It's always really intense," Hooker said. "The harder we work, the better off we'll be."

Practices are four times a week, typically for about two hours, and their games (against prep schools and small colleges) precede varsity home game.

"It's always really intense. The harder we work, the better off we'll be."

Few activities on campus require such a time commitment. Just ask Tyler Lester. The 6-7 starting center attends UNC on a Morehead Scholarship.

"It takes a lot more time than club sports or intramurals," Lester said. "It's been hard to be involved with other student organizations because of the amount of time it takes. Coach Wojcik has been very understanding that school does come first for us because we're not on scholarship to play basketball."

Wojcik is following in the footsteps of such well known former UNC assistants as Larry Brown, Roy Williams, Bill Guthridge, Eddie Fogler and Phil Ford.

When the opportunity to coach the JV team presented itself upon his arrival to Chapel Hill in 2000, he didn't hesitate.

"I jumped on it and, honestly, it's been nothing but a blessing for me," said Wojcik, a graduate of the Naval Academy, where he holds the career assists record and then served as an assistant coach for nine years before moving on to Notre Dame and then UNC. "I could have said ‘No,' and I didn't because I looked at it as an opportunity for so many reasons."

Atop that list of reasons is that he is able to develop – and showcase – his head coaching skills. A year ago Wojcik emerged as a legitimate candidate for the opening at West Virginia after the school's athletic director traveled to see him coach the JV team and came away thoroughly impressed.

However, for Wojcik, adding JV duties to an arduous list of responsibilities as a varsity assistant can be taxing.

"It's pretty demanding," he said. "Sometimes you're on the floor with the varsity for three hours and then you've got to turn around and get motivated to coach the JV team at 8:00 p.m. when you haven't had dinner and you have two little boys at home." But he has no regrets and clearly enjoys the experience. When asked about his JV players, Wojcik can't help beaming with pride.

"They play so hard – it's been very fulfilling," he said. "But give them credit for being pretty good, being motivated young men and doing a great job at being a team."

And the players, in turn, speak glowingly about their head coach.

"Coach Wojcik is a great guy – I'm so glad I met him," Hooker said. "He's almost like another father figure for me."

Lester noted his appreciation for Wojcik's dedication despite his full-time responsibilities.

"He's the varsity assistant, so he's coaching us because he loves to coach," Lester said. "It's an extra two hours out of his day and he also has a family, so he takes the time out of his day to work with us because he loves to coach."

Perhaps one of the most valuable aspects of coaching that Wojcik has developed at the JV level is the ability to motivate his players.

Wojcik said, "I've told my guys all the time – ‘Hey, guys, no one cares but us. No one cares about us beating these big prep schools. But if you care and I care, it'll mean something to us.' And I think that's important."

"I've told my guys all the time – ‘Hey, no one cares but us. No one cares about us beating these big prep schools. But if you care and I care, it'll mean something to us.'"

And such devotion by the players and coach clearly pays large dividends on the court.

On this Saturday morning in March, the amount of improvement evident in the team compared to four months prior is remarkable. The season began in early November with a scrimmage against Mt. Zion Academy, a national powerhouse prep school featuring a handful of high Division I prospects and a frontcourt with more height than most elite college teams.

"Our first game was after only about two weeks of practice," Lester said, "so we hadn't had time to put a lot of plays in and we weren't in shape at that point."

And it showed, in an 83-67 defeat. But fast forward to the rematch four months later in the final game of the year and the UNC team, and result, is much different.

"Lots of the teams we play are the better prep schools with the big post-grad kids who are going to Division I schools," Lester said. "So we have to focus more on the fundamentals – setting hard screens, playing good help defense. We played harder and we always played as a team."

This time around Wojcik's team not only plays harder, but simply better, than their highly recruited counterparts. Precision passing, sharp cuts, smart defense and an unmatched desire leave the far more talented, but far less disciplined Mt. Zion team reeling.

The JV Heels prevail, as the game, and season, ends with little fanfare. A smattering of claps echo through the arena as the team heads off the floor. The score and final record (11-2) won't appear in any newspaper and there will be no playoffs – but this was never about such glory.

"We don't really get any praise and there's no tournament or championship to go to," Lester said. "It's a big commitment, but I think it

was worth it to get a chance to play basketball in the Dean Dome with a Carolina jersey on."

Editor Ben Sherman can be reached at

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