Midnight X-citement

CHAPEL HILL -- Friday's "Midnight with the Heels" marked a fresh start for the North Carolina basketball program, as the team opened the 2002-2003 season with plenty of highlights for the fans that nearly filled Carmichael Auditorium.

Photos: Pre-Practice - The Intros - The Scrimmage

"It was a fun night, to have that kind of crowd and that kind of enthusiasm after a tough season shows you a lot about the kind of support we have here at Carolina," Doherty said.

Stuart Scott hosted the event for the second year in a row, gearing up the crowd with pro-Carolina rhetoric. After a collection of contests and the 3-on-3 game, the players were introduced at midnight to the raucous crowd, as they came out one-by-one flashing the trademark "X" sign that Rashad McCants (which he said in April stood for "Domination") brought to Chapel Hill.

"Tonight's the night they can do that," Doherty said of the gesture. "I don't think we'll see a whole of that during introductions during the season. Tonight was their night and I wanted to see them have fun."

While the freshmen had the flashiest entrances, it was two sophomores who were the most impressive in the scrimmage on Friday night.

No longer forced to play out of position at the point guard spot, Melvin Scott thrived - scoring a game-high 16 points, including four three-pointers. And, Jackie Manuel displayed the aggression and confidence that he so sorely lacked last season, hitting jumpshots and attacking the rim.

"I was real happy that Jackie shot the ball well and looked very comfortable out there," Doherty said. "He's put in a lot of work in the offseason. I think I've seen that through the workouts. Jackie's really worked hard, put a lot of weight on, and this is a big jump for guys from freshmen to sophomore year. Freshmen year you don't know and sophomore year you suddenly have a better handle on things. I've been as happy with Jackie as anybody."

Other than the solid showings from the two sophomores, the scrimmage was mostly dunks – not to take anything away from the freakish exhibit of athleticism provided by the freshman David Noel (whose soaring one-handed put-back dunk floored the student section) and Jawad Williams (whose finishes from Raymond Felton sent Carmichael into a frenzy). Meanwhile, Felton made some great passes though settled each time for the long range jumper, McCants played the physical, swagger-filled game that fans will adore, and Sean May showed off his inside-outside game, hitting perimeter shots, scoring around the hoop, and patrolling the paint with authority on defense.

And then there was seven-foot freshman Damion Grant. His two biggest highlights? First was the impressive flex during introductions and second was a dunk in the scrimmage that nearly toppled the basketball support.

"Watching the guys play – that's a glorified pickup game right there – but you obviously saw some guys who could do some things and hopefully we can come together as a team and mature quickly and win some basketball games," Doherty said.

"They did seem comfortable, but I don't want to get ahead of ourselves," the head coach added. "This was an intersquad scrimmage. Didn't see a whole lot of boxing out, didn't see a lot of defense, saw some bad shots, but certainly saw some athletic plays, good basketball skills and that's exciting. There's some youth out there, but saw some guys that were unselfish too -- pass, cut, shot it well, showed strength and athleticism.

The highlights were entertaining, but that doesn't change the fact that the 2002-2003 Tar Heels are the youngest team in program history and have quite a bit to learn.

"We have something like 38 days and a lot of work to do," Doherty said. "These guys don't know anything about – well not much, we've done some defensive stuff in the preseason – but the philosophies, plays, situations. I was glad to see them be comfortable in front of a crowd, but this was fun. And we'll see how they'll react in a big game. I think they'll react favorably."

While the fun and excitement could last well into Friday night, the players had little time to dwell on the thrilling evening. The first practice begins at 11 a.m. Saturday morning.

Unofficial Scrimmage Stats

BLUE (41) – Melvin Scott 16, Rashad McCants 12, David Noel 9, Damion Grant 2, Byron Sanders 2, Jon Holmes 0.

WHITE (41) – Jackie Manuel 11, Jawad Williams 10, Sean May 8, Will Johnson 7, Raymond Felton 5


* In the 3-on-3 coaches vs. students game, UNC assistants Doug Wojcik and Fred Quartlebaum were replaced this year by assistant David Cason and strength and conditioning coordinator Thomas McKinney. The coaches fell behind 10-2 early, but Doherty caught fire from long range to lead a 22-0 run and a final score of 26-15, the coaches third-straight win in the event. "I was pretty hot," Doherty said afterwards, "though I couldn't find the basket for a while." One of the referees for the coaches game was Dean Smith's son, Scott. Doherty approached him beforehand with a comical ‘I'm not worthy' gesture and pretended to pay him off.

* The contests leading up to midnight included – Doherty scorching a student in a three-point shooting contest, a painfully drawn out sumo wrestling match and another shootout after which the winner got a chest bump from Stuart Scott that sent him tumbling to the ground.

* The honorary coaches for the scrimmage were Jimmy Black and Dick Grubar, who both received a hearty welcome, though the biggest ovation went to Phil Ford sitting in the stands.

* Brian Johnson, the junior power forward from Bishop O'Connell (Va.) who is atop UNC's target list was on-hand for the evening's events. As he was ushered to his courtside seat, students held up a sign for him and would later chant his name. Sitting beside Johnson were a collection of young in-state stars.

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