— Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the Tar Heel basketball team headed west to participate in the Las Vegas Invitational. I had the opportunity to attend the games and was lucky enough to sit just a few rows behind the Carolina bench. The world has changed a lot over the past 10-20 years, to the point that virtually every game is televised these days (even if you sometimes have to stream it through an app). The ability to watch a game from the comfort of your own home with multiple camera angles and instant replay has reduced attendance numbers across the country over the past couple of decades.
Despite that, there is still a strong case to be made for attending games in person. Being at a game live gives you the ability to control what you see. You don’t have to complain about the television feed showing a replay and causing you to miss the actual next play. You don’t have to watch a split screen. You aren’t subjected to the top of the backboard camera angle that drives everyone nuts. You’re in the driver’s seat to be able to experience the game however you’d like, and this allows you to see things you just wouldn’t usually see at home. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of my “Golden Nuggets” (it’s a casino, but it doubles as another way to say “takeaways,” get it?) from Sin City.
1. That top of the backboard camera is actually pretty amazing.
I hate watching a game from that angle, but sitting in the arena and watching the robotic arm follow the ball around the court gave me the opportunity to marvel at the amazing technology that’s been created just to give us different views of a sporting event.
2. I wonder if the players ever feel like hostages in the halftime locker room.
Carolina didn’t come out of the locker room at the half until there was only around 2:00 left in halftime of the Texas game. After 14 first half turnovers, most people probably expected Roy Williams to peel some paint at the break. As a result, I didn’t note the exact time the Heels came back to the court. When it happened for a second consecutive game, I decided to make a note of the exact time. The team had 1:37 with which to warm up for the second half against UCLA, after what I’m sure was another rousing halftime speech from coach Williams.
3. Other teams often appear less organized than Carolina.
I don’t mean on the court. I mean the little things. Everything just seems so buttoned up on the Tar Heel bench. The half ends, and players sprint off the court, knowing they have to beat Williams to the locker room (which wasn’t hard against Texas, as Roy stared down the officials all the way until they reached the tunnel on the opposite side of the arena before striding off the court).
The Texas bench, in particular, had a ton going on. Three different people were holding signs during every TV timeout, which I’m sure is a system coach Shaka Smart has set up for his program, but it just looks chaotic from the outside. One of the signs showed the numbers and initials of the five players who would be going back onto the court after the break. In a sport where only five people are on the floor at any given time, that seems unnecessary. Assistant coaches were constantly hopping off the bench to run deliver a message to a player or to Smart. Towels were thrown across multiple chairs from managers to players. It was just a stark contrast to the orderly looking Carolina bench.
4. Carolina can score points in a hurry.
With 11:58 remaining in the UCLA game, I snapped a quick picture of the scoreboard because it showed the Heels leading 63-62 and looked strikingly similar to the scoreboard of the 1982 National Championship game with the same final score. Carolina exploded for 31 points between then and the end of the game (while only allowing 16). I could have noted this while watching on TV, as well, but having the picture to reference made it jump out at me just how close the game was, and then how quickly the Heels put their foot on the gas.
5. Ol’ Roy can get heated.
In addition to becoming quite angry with the officials in the first half of the Texas game, Williams also went off on his team during the first half of the UCLA game. He appeared angry over poor shot selection, and when Nassir Little took a seat after being subbed out, Roy looked at him and screamed (I’m paraphrasing here, and possibly leaving out a few words), “If you’re not going to look for the best available shot, you can just sit there!” He had stalked down the bench and then yelled at Nassir for so long that he missed an entire possession and had to turn to Brad Frederick to ask what happened.
It will never cease to amaze me how Roy can remember things from every single play of a game, but it’s even more impressive when you realize that some of those possessions he was so busy coaching players on the bench that he wasn’t really even watching what was happening.
There is a lot of basketball left in the season, and I’m sure I’ll watch the majority of it through the lens of a TV camera, but I’m thankful that this Thanksgiving I had the opportunity to soak in a couple of games from the vantage point of my choosing.