Lucas: Loosen Up

Adam Lucas on the win over Duke.

Feb. 12, 2009

By Adam Lucas

DURHAM--In late August, most of the Tar Heel senior class was sitting around the Smith Center locker room. Talk turned to their favorite win of their career.

"Favorite?" Danny Green asked. "Or biggest?"

"It doesn't matter," Bobby Frasor said. "It's the same game."

Right on cue, as though they had planned it, Marcus Ginyard and Tyler Hansbrough said the same exact words: "At Duke, freshman year."

Next time they sit around and have that conversation, they'll definitely need to specify the year. Was it freshman year, with Hansbrough's buzzer-beating three-pointer? Maybe sophomore year, with Brandan Wright's big game? Or was it junior year, when Danny Green launched a thousand posters and t-shirts with a one-handed dunk?

Or now, perhaps, maybe senior year, the Ty Lawson game?

It might be worthwhile to print out a handy reference guide. By the time they get back together at the 25-year reunion, in 2034, all those wins at Duke will start to run together and they'll need someone to keep them straight.

Part of the thrill in winning at Cameron Indoor Stadium comes from the knowledge that you just defeated a very good team. But Carolina plays other very good teams. A large part of the satisfaction that comes from a win at Cameron is the environment.

The biggest fallacy about this whole Carolina-Duke rivalry is the 8-mile thing, as if proximity somehow indicates similarity. It's like assuming East and West Germany must be comparable since they were close to each other.

Duke fans believe spending 196 hours in a tent indicates passion and devotion. Carolina fans believe 196 hours in a tent indicates a telling lack of other social engagements. The undergrads inhabiting Tent 1 in Krzyzewskiville staked their claim on Dec. 26, 47 days ago. Added over four years of college life, that's 188 days--over half a year--in a tent to watch four losses.

The good news is that all that time in a tent did enable them to have a great view of history: Carolina's 101-87 victory was the first time an opponent surpassed 100 points in a regulation game at Cameron since the Tar Heels did it in 1983.

Duke has 6,340 undergrads. Assuming a fourth of them are seniors, that makes a class of 1,585 that will graduate in May without ever seeing a home victory over Carolina. Perhaps that's why they're a little angry. On a pregame visit to the tent city on Wednesday night, around 7:15 p.m., some of the tent-dwellers were busy throwing blue, white and black paint on a group of ten Carolina fans. Granted, these Carolina fans were not exactly wallflowers. But then, as they tried to leave the parking lot, they were chased by Duke students awaiting entry to the game who tossed drinks, trash, and even one glass bottle.

Luckily, the one group that is respected above all others in Krzyzewskiville--the head line monitors--soon arrived and herded everyone back into line. Order was restored.

After joining forces with photographer extraordinaire John Lyon to snap the photo you see here, I walked back into Cameron. On the way--and I promise this is true--I actually walked by a guy in a Christian Laettner jersey who was practicing his floor slap. I am not making this up. I could not have made something like this up even if I wanted to. His line-mates were egging him on, advising him on how he could improve.

Are you starting to understand why, after claiming their fourth straight win in Durham, the Tar Heel locker room was as raucous as it's been all season?

"It's surreal," said Frasor. "If someone would've told me my freshman year that we could do this, I would've thought they were crazy. It's something I'll be able to tell other people. Any Carolina player who loses at Duke, I'll say, `I never did that.'"

This group of Tar Heels plays at Cameron with something that very few opponents have in Durham--an expectation of victory. Duke is tough here because they are very good. But they are also tough because at some point in every home game, there comes a time when the other team realizes they are playing the Duke at the Cameron Indoor Stadium. That time still comes for this group of Tar Heels. It's just that they seem to enjoy it rather than shrink from it.

I'm still not sure we know everything we need to know about this year's Tar Heels before March arrives--and we might actually learn more on Sunday at Miami than we learned tonight. But we absolutely, positively know this: when they go to Durham, this group is one of the best Carolina's ever had at handling the entire circus.

With 80 seconds remaining, the Blue Devils cut the deficit to eight points. Despite the fact that many of the Duke alums had already headed for the parking lot (after the students had to start a, "Stand up" cheer with three minutes left), this was Carolina-Duke. Stranger things have happened. Much stranger.

That's when Hansbrough barreled into the foul line huddle with his teammates and issued an order: "Loosen up." Considering the source, this was like Roy Williams ordering everyone to put on a headband and affix a few stickers to the court, or Dean Smith saying the player who made the assist wasn't very important. Hansbrough? Loosen up?

"It seemed like everyone was uptight right then," he said. "We still wanted to attack. I didn't want to slow down."

He didn't, and a series of clutch free throws eventually iced the victory. However, the victories apparently haven't made much of an impression. To the great hilarity of those on the UNC bench, the public address announcer said "Taylor" Hansbrough was starting for the Tar Heels.

What's great about the rivalry, and what makes the two camps so distinct, is that Duke people have the same lack of understanding about the Carolina way that we have about their philosophies. In the same way that no Tar Heel has ever left Cameron muttering, "If we had cheer sheets, Chapel Hill would be a better place," no Blue Devil fan has ever come back from the Smith Center and said, "Hey, we need to honor a few more jerseys."

They do it their way. We do it our way. Both of them work, but don't expect me to understand all that talk about "the fist"--just like I won't expect you to get why every senior gets a "home" game.

Sometimes, though, an especially astute Tar Heel can adopt a few tricks he learns from the Devils.

At Cameron, one of the students' favorite tricks is holding their right arms out and wagging all five fingers at an opposing player while chanting, "Ohhhhhhh." Somehow this does not sound as intimidating on paper as it seems in reality...well, OK, maybe it does.

"They talk trash," Lawson said of the students. "It's our rival. On the way out, I did the spirit fingers back to them. They were looking back at me like I was crazy.

"I was like, `We won. We're out of here.'"

Adam Lucas is the publisher of Tar Heel Monthly. He is also the author or co-author of four books on Carolina basketball.


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