March 25, 2007. It’s been ten years. ‘Ole Roy had been back home at UNC for four years. He’d arrived as a conquering hero, and in his second year back, led the school to its forth NCAA national championship, the first since 1993. He followed that season with an unexpected top tier finish in the ACC regular season, riding the broad shoulders of one of the toughest players to ever don Carolina Blue, Tyler “Psycho-T” Hansbrough. ‘Ole Roy could do little wrong. The sheep blindly followed him just as they had the school’s godfather of basketball, Dean Smith. All was right in Tar Heel land. But then it happened, the fateful night of March 25, 2007.
The 2006-07 Tar Heel team was a young one. It was led by the sophomore Hansbrough, a previously seldom used, unproven junior, and first time starter, Reyshawn Terry, three precocious freshmen, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, and Brendan Wright , as well as some hard-nosed supporting cast contributors, namely Marcus Ginyard and Danny Green. The team pulled off the ACC double-double: champions of the regular season (shared with Virginia) and tournament. They garnered a number one seed in the NCAA and managed to get all the way to the regional final and of course that fateful night when the luster first came off ‘Ole Roy’s shine.
For the better part of that night, all was well in Carolina land. The young team was a frolicking bunch, a happy go-lucky, fun team to watch. At the 6:02 mark of the second half, UNC lead 75-65, a 17th Final Four berth was in plain sight, an inevitability. Then, as they say, the roof collapsed or maybe the rug was pulled from under their feet. In any event, the team totally melted. Georgetown kept coming and UNC kept retreating and ‘Ole Roy sat on the sideline, and to too many Carolina fans, looked as if he hadn’t a clue as to what to do. Call timeout, they hollered. Do something, anything, they screamed. But the Hoya onslaught continued right through to the end of regulation where they managed to tie the game and on to OT where they quickly outplayed the suddenly deer-in-headlights Tar Heels, eventually beating the boys in Carolina blue, 96-84 and avenging a 1982 National Title game loss.
‘Ole Roy took the heat for that loss. For some reason, people seemed to forget what ‘Ole Roy had done in the years since he’d come back home. They seemed to forget what a colossal mess the program had been in. They’d forgotten the Doherty years. Why ‘Ole Roy wasn’t afforded the same kind of respect and understanding following a loss that Dean Smith had before him has never been completely explained or understood. The amazing Dean Smith most certainly endured heartbreaking losses. Why was ‘Ole Roy being second-guessed? Why was his very coaching acumen being questioned all of a sudden. Even now ten years, one additional national championship, three more Final Four appearances, a National Runner up, and three regional finals later, ‘Ole Roy is still subjected to be thrown under the bus whenever Carolina loses. According to too many fans, Carolina wins despite ‘Ole Roy and loses because of him. It makes no sense. But that’s the reality of it.
Now here we are, ten years later. The current Carolina team is sporting an eerily similar record, 30-7 to the 07 squad’s 31-7. It’s in the regional final versus another historic opponent, Kentucky this time. There’s no doubt in any reasonable person’s mind that ‘Ole Roy has long put the 07 loss out of his mind, but it would be some type of justice if he can erase it from a few other people’s minds, you know those who erroneously claim him not to be one of the all time great coaches, by winning a Final Four berth on this ten year anniversary weekend of that fateful night. After the 07 regional final game, ‘Ole Roy said, “I think the momentum, it’s sort of fleeting. You don’t know when it’s going, where it’s going, when it’s going to come back.” ‘In describing sporting contests, Ole Roy was right of course. But in an offhand way, the momentum of his career at least in perception, took a wrong turn that night, and in many ways hadn’t come back since. Maybe after Sunday’s contest against Kentucky, the momentum of positive unwavering perception switches back to ‘Ole Roy’s favor. I for one, am hoping it does. But either way, Roy is still one of the best coaches of all time.