Those words kept going through my head as I waited for and watched "Midnight with the Heels" in Carmichael Auditorium Friday Night.
Around this time of year, college basketball fans start getting excited about their teams' chances in the new season. Heels fans are no different, except for the expectations. Each year begins with expectations of winning a national championship -- but this year, things are a little different.
Following the worst season in Tar Heel basketball history, fans suffered what seemed like an excruciatingly long off-season, at the end of which fans were ready to see an ascent back to the teams' rightful place among college basketball's elite.
Against this backdrop, the near-capacity crowd of diehard Heel fans listened eagerly as Stuart Scott introduced the 2002-2003 Tar Heel basketball team. This is Scott's second year hosting the event. Fans waited for three or more hours in a hot auditorium to watch the brief "practice." The evening's festivities included a 3-on-3-basketball game featuring Scott, head coach Matt Doherty, and two other members of the coaching staff followed by a bizarre Sumo wrestling contest.
Once Scott took the floor, the crowds' anticipation grew as did my own when I finally saw Raymond Felton wearing a Carolina jersey, albeit a practice one. Felton, a top ranked point guard from South Carolina's Latta High School and the AAU circuit, had long been committed to UNC. He entered the court to a thunderous ovation. The moment reminded me of the three other point guards who had just been introduced. Dick Grubar, Phil Ford and Jimmy Black, who played during crucial times under coach Dean Smith, were important members of teams that started or maintained some of the amazing streaks that were broken during last year's 8-20 campaign.
It's about time.
As Scott brought out the other players, the introduction of six freshmen, three sophomores, and only two seniors reminded me of how young this team really is. The opening warm-ups also showed something else: That this is going to be a fun team to watch. Tar Heel fans can expect to see the type of athleticism and raw talent that they haven't seen since the days of Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter.
The scrimmage that followed the warm-ups showed how far the Heels have come athletically in one short year. But it showed something else, too. This team seems to have a swagger or confidence that wasn't present last year. This show of confidence was not just evident with the freshmen. I saw it in Jawad Williams, Jackie Manuel, Melvin Scott, the three sophomores, too.
Highlights included nasty put-back dunks from freshman David Noel and Manuel; some nice inside-outside play from Sean May, also a highly regarded freshman; several nice shots from Melvin (not Stuart) Scott; and a dribble-drive dunk attempt by Felton that was blocked (or was he fouled?) by Rashad McCants, another highly-touted freshman. It's clear that with such a young team, no matter how gifted, it will take time for them to gel and for the freshmen to adjust to college play.
Doherty has done a good to great job of rebuilding this team talent-wise in a short time, but how long it will take for UNC to begin looking like the Final Four caliber teams that UNC fans are used to is another question entirely. As excited as Friday night's audience seemed to be, how long UNC fans can be patient with a young, inexperienced team challenged with a difficult schedule is another question that was not answered.
Driving home, still a little sweaty and tired from Carmichael's heat, the same words came back.
It's about time.