"Family" Offers Heels Inspiration

Matt Doherty has pushed nearly every imaginable button to get his struggling basketball team on track. On Sunday he got some help.

Fifteen former North Carolina basketball players made the trek to Chapel Hill on their own volition to lend support, encouragement and a little inspiration to the younger and needy members of the "Carolina family."

"We had a group of about 15 former players come back that I introduced to the team before the game," Doherty said after UNC's 95-85 win over Florida State that snapped a five-game losing streak. "They wanted to come back to show our players that they are behind them because there was a comment from a player that they felt like they were letting the former players down. It's amazing that the guys stepped forward from Mike Cooke to Al Wood, to Mike Pepper to Jim Hudock."

Obviously touched, Doherty continued to praise and preach what is Carolina basketball.

"I introduced them to Mike Cooke (class of 1964) and Al Wood ('81)," Doherty said. "They gave them some inspirational words before the game. It was a really neat experience, and it really tells you a lot about Carolina basketball."

After UNC's record-setting loss at Virginia on Tuesday night, point guard Adam Boone was asked by IC about the dubious record this team now owned.

"Obviously we play for the tradition and the guys that played here before but we can't really worry about things of that nature," Boone responded. "For us, if we dwell on the record that we have broken in a negative form it's gonna hurt our chances the rest of the year and we still think we have a chance to play some good basketball to close the year."

Perhaps the inspiration was a sort of tonic for the inconsistent Boone.

The Minnesota native scored a career-high 28 points while handing out six assists and committing just one turnover as the Tar Heels won for just the seventh time in 23 outings and third time in 13 Atlantic Coast Conference affairs.

"That meant a lot to have the former players show us support and to show that they still have a passion for our program," Boone said. "That meant a whole lot to us. We tried to have that – at least partially – to be a motivation for us that there are so many people that still care about our program."

Cooke was a member of legendary coach Dean Smith's early teams that also struggled and spoke to the players about persevering and staying together as a unit during such difficult times.

Wood, an ordained minister and All-American small forward at UNC, spoke more from a theological perspective.

"He came at us spiritually," freshman guard Melvin Scott said about Wood. "He gave us a quote and the quote really just meant for us to spread our wings.

"It's like when an eagle goes into a storm," the Baltimore native continued. "The baby eagle is put out there by his mother to fly. He doesn't turn around because the storm is coming. He spreads his wings and goes straight into the heart of the storm. That's what we are trying to do right now."

Carolina may have beaten FSU with or without the encouragement from their older brethren, but the real impact of the gesture has a deeper meaning than winning a particular game in the midst of a mid-February slump. It speaks to what this program is really about.

This is family, and the players know it. In a year where very little has been typically Carolina, this day gave the players the secure feeling of the sanctity of this blue-blood "family."

"It feels great (to have player come back), it feels great," senior Jason Capel said. "We get the letters and stuff like that. But for those guys to be here to tell us they believe in us and to keep our heads up and how much they are always thinking of us and what it is to be a part of Carolina basketball that makes everything worth while."

For a day, Carolina Nation can say, "Amen."

*****

A partial list of the former UNC players that came to show support for the team were Joe Brown ('69), Bill Bunting (69), Dave Colescott ('80), Mike Cooke ('64), Jeff Denny ('90), Eric Harry ('76), Kim Huband ('72), Jim Hudock ('62), Kevin Madden ('90), Mike Pepper ('81), Ray Respess ('65) and Al Wood ('81).


Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He is also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a nightly radio show on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AJWAAV@aol.com.


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