Forever A 'Team'

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Melvin Scott's North Carolina basketball career is finally over, and he's going to be just fine. Still, it was obvious Scott, Jackie Manuel and Jawad Williams didn't want the night to end.

There were tears of joy and tears of sadness, to go with lingering questions as to next year's personnel makeup surrounding UNC's Awards Banquet at the Smith Center on Tuesday. But overall, supporters gathered for a bittersweet farewell to the Tar Heel seniors – and perhaps others – amid the celebratory backdrop of a recent national championship.

SENIOR SPEECHES AUDIO
Jackie Manuel (3:16)
Melvin Scott (9:55)
Jawad Williams (14:03)
Roy Williams Closing (1:04)
After six different votes among team members, Raymond Felton and Sean May were awarded co-MVP honors, but it was the touching speeches from the three scholarship upperclassmen that kept several thousand spectators' eyes moistened.

Sure, there were roars of approval throughout the festivities, and a comprehensive video consisting of season highlights both on the court and behind the scenes extended UNC's 2005 NCAA championship party a little longer. But more revealing was the spiritual awakening many of the team members experienced along the way – primarily spurred on by Scott.

It's doubtful he will be one of as many as five Tar Heels chosen in June's NBA Draft, but no one has come any farther than Scott.

Growing up in one of Baltimore's worst neighborhoods, where drug dealers governed locally, Scott's friends rarely speculated on their future careers. Just staying alive and surviving some of life's most dangerous enticements of escape are jobs that choose their employees.

"I kept telling people UNC was the place for me," Scott said. "People kept saying, ‘Yeah, you'll be in jail in two years, or dead.' But I just kept praying."

It was especially difficult for Scott growing up, because not only did he have to traverse the seemingly lawless landscape outside, he was also exposed to drugs at home by his mother, who had yet recover from addiction.

Scott was headed down the same road, having been kicked out of three elementary schools and two middle schools. But his mother would eventually overcome the grip drugs had on her, and in doing so she inspired her son to reform his life as well.

"The most important person in my life is my Momma, Bridget Scott," Scott said choking back the tears. "I am thankful she supported me and my family all of those years."

Today, Scott is on the verge of becoming the only member of his family, both immediate and extended, to graduate from college.

"I came to this University on a mission to show my ability and become a better basketball player. But in doing so, I became a better person," Scott said.

"I stand here before you proud and strong."

Like Scott and Manuel, Jawad Williams suffered through the 8-20 season.

"That year really broke me down," he said. "There was a time when I didn't even want to play basketball anymore. The second year was ‘ups and downs.' We lost our entire coaching staff. We got a bid to the NIT – nobody wants to play in that, but we did. My third year was a year of pain, loss and change. I suffered numerous injuries – two concussions, a broken nose, three stitches and a hurt heart."

Obviously things were gradually beginning to look up for Williams, culminating in the ultimate dream come true two weeks ago in St. Louis. But as he began his final year at UNC, he still had trouble finding happiness within himself.

While attending a bible study class with Scott earlier this year, Williams experienced an epiphany of sorts. The usually stoic Williams stood naked emotionally at the podium on Tuesday as he testified to being reborn.

"At the beginning of the year, I had the biggest burden in my heart – I had no idea what it was," Williams said. "At the bible meeting, they asked if there was anybody that wanted to change their lives. That night I decided to seek a Higher Power – that was God."

Scott also counseled with Manuel, Felton, David Noel and other teammates, as the group formed a bond based on their collective religious faith.

They will all go their separate ways soon, but thanks to Scott, they will always be brothers of the heart.

Was there ever really any doubt this was a ‘team?'

"This team of 2005 – they are national champions," Roy Williams said in closing. "But one thing I'm just as proud of…these young men stood up here tonight and talked about team and they talked about family. And I've always thought it was immensely strong for a young man to say to his teammates, ‘I love you.'

"This was a team that could say, ‘I love you;' this was a team that could share their faith, and a team that took me and the rest of my coaches on a magnificent ride."


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