When a reporter recited all of North Carolina's accomplishments -- 31 wins, a first-place tie in regular season, an ACC Tournament title, an Elite Eight appearance, etc. -- to star sophomore Tyler Hansbrough after the Tar Heels' season-ending loss to Georgetown, his response was to the point:
"It's not enough."
That was the theme for the entire ACC in the 2007 postseason, when six league teams lost on the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and sole survivor UNC fell short of its ultimate goal -- the national championship.
By Eddy Landreth
Chapel Hill (N.C.) News
April 3, 2007
CHAPEL HILL Roy Williams learned many lessons from Dean Smith, but minimizing expectations was not one of them.
So before this season began, Williams let everyone know how he felt.
"I'm not afraid of all the expectations and predictions," Williams said. "Last year (2005-06) everyone said we were going to be sixth. I didn't go back and tell the team we were going to play to be sixth. We were going to try to be the best we could be. We're going to do the same thing this season."
Nevertheless, a team based on freshmen and sophomores backed itself squarely into a corner before practice started. On the annual media day, the Tar Heels created a path so perilously difficult that nothing short of a national championship would satisfy their own expectations, much less those of the rabid followers who watch the Heels' every movement.
"This team could be the best," sophomore guard Marcus Ginyard said. "This team could be national champions. For us to get to that goal, we need to understand that is a realistic goal. We need to hold each other accountable for that goal. We need to play at our highest level at all times, practice, conditioning and in the games."
HIGHEST STANDARDS SET EARLY
Those kinds of statements set a unique tone. The Tar Heels used words such as greatness. They predicted scoring records. They unabashedly marveled at the talent on hand and the possible achievements they believed lay within their reach. They said all of this knowing full well that their team, not yet constructed, would be built on a foundation of sophomores and freshmen, including six rookies who had never been through a collegiate practice.
"It's exciting," senior guard Wes Miller said. "You look around in pickup games, sometimes when you're sitting out a game and you're watching, you just see how talented this team is, how deep it is.
"You can't help but think about the things that could be. I think we have really high goals with all this talent. It's dreaming right now, but hopefully it will become reality over the next couple of months."
For anyone who has been around Carolina basketball through the years, particularly the Smith era, this all felt odd. No matter how many All-Americans had taken the floor in the past, to suggest dominance was taboo.
Smith simply would proclaim that a bid in the NCAA Tournament was his chief goal, and he did not care what the fans or media thought about it. As for freshmen, they always were referred to simply as prospects.
So on this particular media day, the Smith Center had the feeling of the Twilight Zone, with the talk of titles and greatness and what the freshmen might accomplish.
Miller already owned a national championship ring from 2005. He knew great players when he saw them, and when the freshmen arrived on campus and began playing pickup ball, he spotted a unique collection of talent. In particular, this meant point guard Tywon Lawson, power forward Brandan Wright and shooting guard Wayne Ellington.
"The most impressive thing about the freshmen is how talented they are," Miller said, "and how well-rounded they are as players. You don't see a lot of guys come in who can do so many things on the basketball court with so little weakness. All these guys, they are just really impressive. They are not your typical freshmen. They are so skilled."
The returning players had proven their worth in the season before, so there was reason for the bold talk. If the small collection of veterans could do what the Tar Heels had accomplished in 2006 a 23-8 record, second place in the ACC standings at 12-4, beating Duke with J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams in Durham on senior night, etc. then why shouldn't this Carolina team make a national championship run, with all of the additional talent?
SCORING MARKS WITHIN REACH
They expected to produce in an exciting way, too. Winning in and of itself would not be enough. This team had to run and score. People needed to be playing above the rim, flying through the air on fastbreaks.
"Coach wants us to be his highest-scoring team ever," sophomore point guard Bobby Frasor said. "His 97 team at Kansas averaged 90-something points a game. He wants us to blow them out of the water. He wants us to average about 100 possessions per game, force teams into more turnovers, which is more possessions for us."
The additional possessions had a secondary purpose. Williams had so many players, he knew that the only way to get them all in the game was to increase the number of possessions.
"I am hopeful," Williams said, "that we will play an even faster pace than we've played the last two years."
In 2005, the Tar Heels scored more than 50 points in a half 17 times on their way to the title. That required a rather quick pace, but fast is never fast enough for Williams. Suddenly, he had a bench full of talented players, and he could see no reason why Carolina should not push the ball as hard as possible every trip down the court.
"With depth," the coach said, "you need to play faster. If you play a 60-possession game and a guy plays half the game, he plays 30 possessions. But if you play 100 possessions and a guy plays half the game, then he plays 50 possessions."
Players often talk about how they want to run, but they usually mean getting down court occasionally to dunk the ball. When Williams talks about running, he means sprinting to the offensive end and then sprinting to the defensive end as hard as one's feet will go.
Yet it seems that no matter how quick or able his point guard is, he still doesn't get there as rapidly as Williams would like. This leaves the coach along the sideline waving his right arm for the point guard to push the ball harder.
HANSBROUGH ALL ABOUT EFFORT
Whether it was running the court or in a half-court game, the Heels knew they had a unique wea-pon in Tyler Hansbrough. A consensus first-team All-ACC selection, an All-American and the ACC rookie of the year in 2005-06, Hansbrough brought a unique style and determination to the game.
"He's a driven youngster," Williams said. "He's made me a lot better coach. There are some guys like that, I guess, but I don't know that I've seen one that gets that glazed look as much as he does, which is fine.
"He's not coming after me."
Miller said that in practice, no matter how the UNC players were paired against each other, Hansbrough would come after the rebound or loose ball as if he were a great white shark chasing a seal.
"I've been on his team plenty of times in practice where he has run through me to get a ball," Miller said. "I just shake my head. If he comes up with it, I'm happy. If I have the same color jersey as him and he has the ball, fine."
Relentless describes Hansbrough's style, although not completely. There are plenty of guys who play hard, trade elbows, push, shove, pull, all the things that make modern basketball an oxymoronic phrase when placed in the same sentence with the words "non-contact sport."
No one wants it more than Hansbrough.
"He's a competitive rascal," Williams said. "There's no question. He's very focused. He's very driven. We've seen guys who think every shot was a pass to them. Tyler thinks every shot up on that board, he has a chance to go get it and it should be his.
"He's more explosive this year. He's stronger. He's faster. He has more stamina. He looks better, and all those things are going to translate into being a better basketball player. I think the experience he had last year will give him confidence to be a big-time player for us this year, and probably expand some of the things he is able to do."
Hansbrough smiles at all of this.
"I've built that for so long," Hansbrough said of his style. "That is something I really pride myself on; it's my game. I work hard to try to get things that other people may not think they can get. I've played like that for a long time."
STYLES, INJURIES TROUBLESOME
But it did not take long for the Tar Heels to realize that Hansbrough had a toughness unique to this club. Outside of him, the Heels were clearly a finesse team. They wanted to run as fast as possible, score as much as possible and avoid the rough-and-tumble nature of the game as much as possible.
So in just the second game of the year, they had a dickens of a time surviving a hard-fought, physical battle against Winthrop. UNC won 73-66, but the game drew a blueprint for how teams would attempt to beat the Tar Heels for the remainder of the season. Running with Carolina was just not going to get it.
In three of the first five games, UNC scored more than 100 points. One of those games came against Tennessee, which eventually made it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels would top 100 points twice in ACC competition, and they ran over Arizona 92-64 on the road.
What made the game at Arizona even more amazing was that Wright, the eventual ACC rookie of the year, and Ginyard were sick and did not play.
That display proved the depth of Carolina's talent, and it also showed the awesome speed and talent of Lawson. The rookie really put on a show. Since early in the year, he had assumed the starting point guard duties after Frasor began to feel consistent pain in a foot. The team physicians feared he might break it if he continued to play.
The third point guard, junior Quentin Thomas, already had broken a foot and undergone surgery. Now Frasor had to take a seat on the bench to rest. Soon after his return, he began to feel the pain once again and had to sit again.
At one point, Lawson had an injured wrist, Frasor a bad foot and Thomas a bad foot.
"I expected some soreness, but there wasn't any," Frasor said when he returned the first time. "I did a full practice. Ty was out, so I had to do more. It feels good again today. Hopefully, if I keep being careful with it, it will continue to heal."
Although he eventually would get off the bench and play the rest of the year after returning the second time, Frasor was never the same player. He will have to work his way back to being the point guard who led Carolina to 23 victories during his freshman season and started off strong in the fall of 2006 before succumbing to the foot injury.
LAWSON AN EVOLVING TALENT
Through it all, the playing time helped Lawson begin to develop into the player Williams knew he could be when he recruited him. But that does not mean it was easy.
Lawson penetrated too deeply at times, tried to play more like he did in high school than how he had to play to be a successful player in college. And all along, he did not understand exactly what Williams wanted, other than to "become a little Roy Williams."
By late January, Williams, at least to Lawson, had reversed field. If it all seemed like madness, one can be sure there was a method to it. He wanted Lawson to push the ball hard every time down the court, but at the same time, he wanted him to play under control.
"It's been kind of hard," Lawson said. "I came here as a scoring point guard. When he told me he wanted me to run the team, it was kind of hard. It was a whole different role. As he has loosened the reins, things got better because I was allowed to score. I was running the team and learning a lot of things, like how to be a point guard."
When Wake Forest tried to focus its defense heavily on Carolina's interior game, Williams told Lawson to look for his shot more. He did, scoring all of his 15 points in the second half. The Tar Heels ran away with the game.
"It's great for all of us once he gets going, we get going," Ellington said. "It starts with the point guard. Once he gets going up and down the court and starts getting everybody involved, we all feed off of that and start playing a lot harder."
To make room for Lawson, Williams went so far as to tell his rotation of four big men to clear out whenever they saw Lawson coming.
"Me driving too deep was also because we had the big men so packed in the lane," Lawson said. "Two steps for me driving was too deep. Coach opened that up. I can get all the way to the basket without Tyler or Brandan standing right there a lot more.
"He told them when I'm driving to move out and not just stand there and post up. When everybody collapsed, it made it easier for me to turn the ball over."
Williams said the tempo of the game dictates much of this, but the fact is that he slowed Lawson down to speed him up. All along, Williams emphasized that he wanted Lawson to push the ball, but the veteran coach wanted his new guard to do so with a purpose.
"I don't have a point guard who can't score or at least try to score," Williams said. "We've been trying to get him to focus on that a little more. Both the Wake Forest game and the Arizona game were up-and-down games, and in the open floor he is awfully tough to handle."
That was especially true late in the season. After the second-round NCAA Tournament victory against Michigan State, Williams discussed Lawson's talent.
"I said it when I recruited him," Williams said, "that for the way I want to play, Tywon Lawson has all the abilities I've ever wanted in a point guard. He's a tough little nut. He's stepped up and made big plays. He's defending better than he was three weeks ago. His game has really developed in a lot of different areas."
TOUGHNESS, CHEMISTRY ISSUES
The end of the regular season just did not go as planned, however. UNC lost four of its final nine games. Just before that last game, which happened to be against Duke in the Dean Dome, the losing stirred what had been a seemingly happy team.
"The chemistry on the court right now is hurting us," sophomore forward Danny Green said. "Mental toughness, a lot of guys are getting mentally tired. It's a long season. Everybody is not on the same page right now.
"That's why we're having these lapses."
Earlier in the week, Ginyard said that he believed last year's team could beat this year's version at the same point in the season, despite any differences in talent.
"Last year's team at this point was mentally tougher," Green said. "The chemistry was better at this point of the season. We just wanted it. We had the desire; we had the fire. We didn't have the talent this year's team does, but we won a lot of games just because we were focused and were ready. We brought it to every game. This year's team lacks the hunger a little bit."
Williams countered with a calming presence.
"We're not going to panic," Williams said. "We lost either three in a row or three out of four last year (three of four), and two of those were at home. I think my team is hurt. I think they are a little shook.
"I think they are a little alarmed, but make sure you put the word little' in front of both of those. It is college basketball. That is what I have got to get my kids to understand: It's college basketball. It's the things that happen, but don't be willing to say that is the only reason. Our poor play contributes to (the losses).
"But," Williams continued, "it's not just our poor play. Maryland and Georgia Tech played pretty well. We played two of the hottest teams in the league on their home courts. We contributed to it."
Nonetheless, the players held a meeting without the coaches and addressed one another bluntly. The result was a new team. UNC started with a victory against Duke in Chapel Hill and did not stop until some of its bad habits resurfaced in the final seven minutes against Georgetown in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
BLOODY MESS, SHAKY ENDING
But first, the Tar Heels ran into a major controversy, when Gerald Henderson of Duke slammed into Hansbrough with his forearm with just seconds remaining in UNC's victory in Chapel Hill. Hansbrough suffered a fracture in his nose, had blood all over his jersey and had to wear a mask until part of the way through the NCAA game against Michigan State.
Henderson eventually called Hansbrough, but by then Hansbrough was in no mood to chat.
"I accepted his apology," Hansbrough said, "but I'm still the one with a broken nose, and I'm the one who has to wear a mask."
His broken nose would not be the Tar Heels' downfall, though.
UNC took quick, poor shots and lost a 10-point lead and its trip to the Final Four in the final seven minutes against Georgetown. The Tar Heels gave up an uncharacteristic number of easy baskets, and key wing scorers Ellington, Green and senior Reyshawn Terry combined for an icy 6-for-30 shooting performance. Carolina lost in overtime, falling well short of its national championship dream.
But this team, erected mainly on freshmen and sophomores, shared first place in the ACC standings, won the ACC Tournament and got to the Elite Eight.
Remember, though, that UNC ended up still standing in the corner from which it began. The NCAA title was the goal.
So when a reporter recited all of the team's accomplishments to Hansbrough in the locker room after the loss to Georgetown, his response was to the point:
"It's not enough."
NBA COMPLICATES NEXT YEAR
Now all the fans, media, even teammates who know they will be back next season, can do is wait to see if Hansbrough, Wright and Lawson will come back or enter the pro draft. The early entry deadline is April 29.
Wright, a projected top-five pick because of his athleticism, amazing wingspan and soft shooting touch, is likely to go. Given the depth of the draft and the view of their talents by NBA officials, Hansbrough and Lawson appear likely to return.
If those two do come back, Carolina just might realize that dream of a national championship. If all three leave or Lawson goes with Wright, though, the talk on media day come October will be vastly different.