Really, when was the last time a Carolina coach was going up against such national recruiting powerhouses as Kansas and Arizona? Or against a state university in a kid's home state? And seriously, this isnt' Dean Smith or Bill Guthridge. This is a new head coach, Matt Doherty. Does he have any sort of experience in the recruiting wars to prepare him for a battle like this, right down to the wire?
And really, has there ever--EVER--been a time when Carolina has needed a guy so much? Come on, there just aren't a lot of post players out there, and everybody knows the cupboard in Chapel Hill isn't exactly full to bursting with big men. These two guys, Butch and Padgett, are the only thing separating Carolina from a national championship in a year or two. These are the top of the top--these are the guys who will make the difference. If the Heels don't get one of them, I just don't know where else they will look to fill the gaping void across the front line.
Yes, things are looking pretty rough right now. I mean, think about it. Arizona and Kansas and Wisconsin have such great campuses. Have you been to Madison? Wow. Really, the winters there aren't so bad, and the Badgers get such a great crowd at the Kohl Center. Plus the television exposure for the Big Ten is pretty good, at least on satellite. And Lawrence? Geez. There is nothing that says home like those stone buildings in the middle of the wheat fields, and all that open sky. Rock Chalk Jayhawk in Allen Fieldhouse. Does it get any better? And Tucson--we'll don't get me started. Think about all the time these guys would have after class and practice for a quick round of golf. And what could be better than packing into the steakhouse before a game for a quick early-bird special with the snowbirds down from Wisconsin. Which gets me back to Wisconsin. I mean, Tucson is almost like a home away from home.
Okay people, enough. I've been watching this frenzy over Carolina's recruitment of a big man pretty closely. By my charting of emails and internet chatroom traffic, it has grown by the hour. And I would humbly suggest that it's time for a little perspective.
There is no denying that the decisions of Brian Butch and David Padgett--decisions which, by many accounts, could come in a matter of hours rather than days--are significant for Carolina basketball fans. And there is no denying that the competition is fierce among the remaining schools competing for both players' services. And there is no denying that the campuses and coaching staffs of Carolina's rivals have many positives among them.
But if you've really been paying attention to what these kids are saying--and I don't mean reading between the lines of their perfectly cryptic quotes--the simple fact is that they are presented with an extraordinarily difficult decision between some of the best colleges and basketball programs in the country. In the end, that might mean that Butch and Padgett end up elsewhere, leaving some people to lament what might have been in another lost recruiting war.
If you've been to Chapel Hill lately, however, you know that the Carolina campus remains one of the most beautiful, welcoming places you will ever visit. It's the kind of place that parents and students-to-be love. When games are close and the students are cheering like mad, the Dean Dome remains one of the most difficult arenas in which to play in the country--and one of the best places to stake your home court advantage. The coaching staff, though young, has an energy and passion that is difficult to match anywhere else. And David Padgett, Brian Butch, and their families have had an opportunity to see the best Carolina has to offer.
I'm smart enough not to make a prediction, but at the end of the day, I like the Tar Heels' odds.
Just the same, the Heels have been here before. The bottom line is that you win some and you lose some. When you're dealing with seventeen- and eighteen-year-old kids, that's unavoidable. With Shane Battier and Mike Dunleavy and Eddie Griffin we lost. With Vince Carter and Joe Forte and Sean May--and pretty much of the rest of this year's freshman class--we won.
But through it all, one simple fact remains: practice starts in a mere eleven days, and if you love Carolina basketball, I would propose that it matters a lot more who runs out on the floor of Carmichael Auditorium at midnight on October 12 than who might--or might not--join them in the fall of 2003.
Just my two cents.
You can email Mark at email@example.com.