Watching last season's games, with no offense to the persons involved, was akin to dressing a child in nice clean Sunday clothes. While you hoped against hope, you simply knew that you would be scrubbing grass stains and food from the delicate fabric later in the day. Basketball games last season, especially after the first of January, were much of the same, night in and night out – players playing hard, but a short supply of wins to show for their efforts.
All too often, whether right or wrong, fans hammered on the fact that last year's team was lacking in talent. Lacking in talent, on Carolina's terms, to be more exact. Matt Doherty answered those critics and regained a large chunk of that missing talent by signing the largest recruiting class in Carolina's recent history and surely one of the most talented ever. Anything I could say here about that class, and especially the top three guys, has certainly been said many times over across the Carolina fan base.
But, rather than savor the fact that Carolina has an amazing group of freshmen hitting the hardwood and an exciting season coming up, many have already contemplated and worried about the future. I'll use Raymond Felton as my example.
In the day following Felton's commitment to Carolina and continuing through his stellar senior season in Latta up until now, many fretted on just how long he'll remain in a Tar Heel uniform. Anyone with a computer could post a ‘rumor' about Felton and the NBA or South Carolina and quite a few posters on InsideCarolina.com's basketball message boards would pull a Fred Sanford. (For those Sanford and Son-less folks, grab chest, stagger and tell the late Elizabeth you are coming to join her, honey!)
So while Felton and classmates haven't officially donned the Carolina jersey, some have already filled out their 2004 Carolina depth charts, wondering just what rising high school junior will be leading the Heels from the Smith Center tunnel.
Don't get me wrong. Thinking about the future is not a bad thing. And the future in basketball means one thing, recruiting.
Following basketball recruiting is fun to do. Ben Sherman and his army of foot soldiers cover Carolina basketball recruiting like no other. I enjoy reading their unbiased and articulate reports on Carolina targets around the country as much as the next guy. But to see the level of scrutiny that some fans pour into the words of these young men is astonishing, and quite frankly, disturbing at times. While it is delightful to see young men elevate themselves, many times against the odds, to a point where a priceless college education comes with no price financially, it is equally disturbing to see the words of said men twisted; the actions of said men corrupted; and the futures of said men debated ad nauseum. And, it's all done because fans want "my team" to be the best. (I still find it unbelievable how a player can be "great" as long as Carolina is in the mix but "terrible" or "a bum" if the Heels aren't an option. But, that occurs everywhere and is a column for another day.)
My point is this. Keep up with recruiting. Keep up with Jumpshot Johnson and Pointguard Willie as they progress from pre-puberty to adolescence to young adulthood. Rest assured that if they've ever uttered "Tar Heel" or "UNC" or "Carolina" in their sleep, you'll hear about it on this website, photos included.
But, in the end, step back and enjoy the rest of the summer. Enjoy Carolina Football as the gridiron Heels return to prominence. And, when the time comes, enjoy the upcoming season's GAMES. That's all they are. They are games played by young men and coached by men that want to win and succeed more than any of us that must buy a ticket or watch on television. To think otherwise belittles those who worked a lifetime for the opportunity to wear the jersey and pace the sidelines.
You can email Tommy Ashley at firstname.lastname@example.org.