Never mind that the ACC front office encourages its members to provide postgame media access, and that UNC officials were present to confirm that the reporters were, in fact, allowed to enter the Tar Heel locker room. After nearly 10 minutes of heated conversation, Dee finally relented by stepping aside and letting the media pass by him. That could very well be Dee's last confrontation with reporters – the 61-year-old is set to step down on June 1, 2008.
9) Pack Applause – It's never a good sign when your bitter rival's fan base gives you a standing ovation during the middle of a regular season contest. But that's what happened on Jan. 12 when N.C. State endured a 10-minute, 14-second scoring drought and a 25-0 Tar Heel spurt in the first half of its 93-62 loss to North Carolina. Courtney Fells drained an 18-footer from the left corner just before the break to end the period of futility, and the Smith Center crowd slowly began cheering in jest, and before long, the majority of the fans in attendance were clapping in unison as the Tar Heels took a 43-13 halftime lead.
8) The Palestra – At first glance of North Carolina's schedule back in August, the Dec. 4 meeting with Penn failed to seize my attention. After all, the Ivy League school would assuredly provide an easy out-of-conference test for the Tar Heels in Wayne Ellington's homecoming game. But a more in-depth inspection revealed that the game would be held at the historic Palestra, which has hosted more games, more visiting teams and more NCAA tournaments than any other facility in the nation. The 80-year-old venue lived up to its reputation as a looking glass into basketball's past, with the teams sharing bleacher seats with the fans, narrow hallways and only one concession stand. Before the teams made their entrance, I was half-expecting Norman Dale and Jimmy Chitwood to walk out onto the floor.
7) Bobby Frasor – Frasor is one of those kids that as a reporter you make a mental note to get a quote or two from when the opportunity presents itself. The Blue Island, Ill. native has grown comfortable with the media, quick to crack a joke at a bad question and always honest about whether he agrees or disagrees with the point you're trying to make. So when Frasor chose not to talk to reporters for a full two weeks following his ACL injury while he trying to make a steal with less than 10 minutes to play in the 106-70 victory over Nevada on Dec. 27, it spoke to the difficulty of the moment for the junior combo guard. At that press conference, Frasor was calm and collected, and while the emotional hurt of knowing that his third season in Chapel Hill was done resonated through his words, he was still able to sneak in a joke or two to lighten the mood.
6) Victory at Duke – The win at Cameron Indoor on Mar. 8 was important on a variety of levels – North Carolina secured an outright ACC Regular Season Championship, earned the No. 1 seed for the ACC Tournament and moved into the pole position for the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament's East Region. But for a reporter in his initial journey on the Tar Heel beat, the experience of having floor seats for a North Carolina-Duke contest at Cameron is difficult to put into words. The student chants are constant in the tight confines of the old-school building, and the crowd is literally on top of you along the sidelines.
The media cannot reach their seats by walking behind press row; rather, you have to hop the table from the court and work yourself into your chair. ESPN's Erin Andrews commented on-air during the game that she wasn't able to sit down because of the electricity in the air. While the atmosphere did equal the hype surrounding the event, the more likely reason that Andrews had to stand was that she would not have been able to get up from her seat quickly enough for the television breakaways.
5) Office Fall – It's not unusual for a press conferences to be rescheduled a day or two in advance, but when one is canceled less than 10 minutes before its original time with a room full of reporters, there should be a good, if at least interesting, reason behind the decision. On Jan. 11, Roy Williams missed his pre-NCSU game media gathering. He was at the hospital receiving five stitches following a fall in his office that resulted in the fifth-year UNC head coach cracking his head against the wall. The culprit? Dean Smith's ancient VCR, complete with a corded remote control that Williams tripped over.
Williams was quick to make light of the situation upon his return in a laughter-riddled press conferece, saying, "Oh yeah, must have been like 36 stitches and the doctors say Wanda has to make me a home-cooked meal."
4) ACC Tournament Title – North Carolina's league-leading 17th ACC Tournament Championship was as much about what happened during the 86-81 victory over Clemson as it was about what happened during the postgame celebration. Well, in all honesty, celebration may be too strong of a word. There was no dancing around, no crazy antics by the team pranksters, no teary eyes for a great accomplishment.
While there were plenty of hints during the regular season that this team was capable of making a postseason run to San Antonio, the business-like approach while cutting down the nets in Charlotte's Bobcats Arena indicated that this trip was merely an obstacle in reaching their dreams for the season.
Senior Quentin Thomas summed it up best, saying, "It's a good feeling, but we feel that it is not enough. We want to achieve one more goal, and that is a national championship."
3) East Regional Title – When Louisville rallied from a 12-point halftime deficit to knot the score at 59 in the East Regional final, what had been a relaxed atmosphere at Bobcats Arena slowly stiffened, with nearly everyone in attendance stealing a glance at someone sitting beside them with that look on their face. You know the one – the wide-eyed glance that has "Here we go again" written all over it. But the Georgetown collapse that shrouded this program for 12 months would die in Charlotte that Saturday night, as the Tar Heels outran the Cardinals to the Final Four with a strong finish. The postgame celebration was not nearly as subdued as the ACC Tournament, but there was no finality in the players' actions, either. They were anxious to make the trip to San Antonio.
2) Q's Senior Night – Quentin Thomas has seen it all during his time at North Carolina. The Oakland, Calif. product has endured the lows of injuries and lack of playing time, while soaking in the joy of winning a national championship during his first season in Chapel Hill. And in an odd twist of fate, he entered the 2007-08 season as the third option at point guard, and ended up leading the Tar Heels to eight straight wins and the regular season championship after injuries sidelined Ty Lawson and Bobby Frasor.
It was a deserving end for a young man that represents the University in such a positive manner, and the Smith Center patrons paid their respects to Thomas on Senior Night with just one letter – ‘Q.'
The senior admitted to looking around the Smith Center during warm-ups, taking in the sights and sounds of a united Tar Heel voice chanting his name, saying, "I tried to stay focused, but I couldn't help it because I've been through so much -- good and bad -- and when I saw all those people with the 'Q' signs, it made me feel warm inside to know that I have people that have supported me through all of these four years."
1) Final Four locker room – There is no thicker emotion in sport than finality. Knowing that you have played your last game, and that when you wake up tomorrow, there will be no practice, no film session. Just knowing that the season that you gave your life to for nearly seven months is over.
Following the uninspired loss to Kansas in the Final Four on Apr. 5, the Tar Heel locker room was ripe with sadness and regret. Tyler Hansbrough sat at his locker, head down, surrounded by a swarm of reporters. His face was pale, his voice soft, and while he would look at you while answering your questions, it was obvious that his mind was thinking about other things, probably already playing the game over in his head.
Marcus Ginyard is arguably the best quote in the North Carolina locker room, and as he has done on so many occasions this season, the junior captured the team's mood with the following comments: "Those are the worst games to lose, the games where you felt like you just didn't bring it… I never could have imagined this team coming out with this little passion, this little effort. We've played some bad first halves – Nicholls State, Clemson – you could go on and find the games where we just didn't play the way we needed to in the first half and even through the second half. But nothing as bad as this."