Lucas: Blue-White Is Back
Friday night's Late Night with Roy Williams festivities will include dancing. There will be funny skits--some, filmed this week, even took certain members of the basketball staff by surprise.
But for the first time in what seems like a generation, there will also be something else: the return of the Blue-White scrimmage, a legitimate chance to see the 2013-14 Tar Heels in a game situation.
The Blue-White game is a Carolina basketball relic, one that's been absent from the UNC schedule for most of the Roy Williams era. The game was held in his first season back in Chapel Hill, but subsequently disappeared for a variety of scheduling reasons; being allowed two exhibition games made it fairly inconsequential.
That means it's been nearly ten years since Tar Heel fans have had the privilege of drawing irrational, season-long conclusions based on one intrasquad scrimmage. Trust me: it's glorious.
One of the best days of the year in Chapel Hill used to be the fall Saturday when the Blue-White game would be stacked on top of a home football game. You'd go watch the Tar Heels at Kenan Stadium (this was before every game started at 12:30), and then you'd walk up the hill--in those days, we had to walk uphill both ways--to the Smith Center for the Blue-White hoops game.
There was a full band. The cheerleaders were there. The team ran out of the tunnel and you quickly tried to assess whether the Blue or White squad was stronger, and you were almost always wrong. Sure, it was nothing but a scrimmage, but we didn't care, because it was all the Carolina basketball we had, and it had been seven months since the last time we had seen a Tar Heel game. It didn't matter that we were in a world with only one ESPN network, no email and no cell phones. We had the Blue-White game.
Here's what was crazy: when you settled into your Smith Center seat, you had very little idea about the team preparing to take the floor. The usher handed you a roster, and you actually examined it closely, because you hadn't followed the players on Twitter all summer, you hadn't seen them at the Pro-Am, and you hadn't seen any preseason practice videos.
This is going to sound like it's singing the virtues of AM radio, but it's actually true: on most occasions, the Blue-White game was the first time you had ever seen the Carolina basketball freshmen play. Wait until Bill Guthridge starts working with this guy Zwikker. Rasheed is bigger than I expected. Is this Fox kid from the Bahamas or Canada or what?
Most of us knew who Vince Carter was prior to the 1995-96 season. But it was at the Blue-White game where it started to look like his freshman teammate, this kid from Charlotte who spelled his name funny--Antawn or Antwan or something like that--might have a little bit of talent.
And then there were the unforgettable moments like the 1998-99 Blue-White game, when reserve guard Terrence Newby dropped 30 points. You have to understand that this was coming off a heartbreaking 1998 loss to Utah (must be said while shaking fist and shouting at heavens) in the Final Four, plus the loss of Shammond Williams, Vince Carter and Ademola Okulaja from that '98 team.
In other words, Tar Heel fans needed a little good news. And here was Newby, a junior, scoring 30 and earning a permanent place on the all-Blue-White team (co-captain: Orlando Melendez).
You might remember walking out of the Smith Center that day feeling certain that Carolina had found some unexpected firepower. You might also remember that Newby scored a grand total of 33 points during the entire 1998-99 season.
So don't be overly quick to draw any conclusions from Friday night's action. But this year's Tar Heels are excited about the opportunity to break out of the practice routine and have an extended scrimmage in front of a Late Night audience.
"It's going to be more fun to play in front of a crowd," says J.P. Tokoto. "It will give the freshman an idea of what it's going to be like with people in the stands. Late Night was helpful to me last year, because the first game wasn't as much of a surprise."
Doors open at 4 p.m. for Late Night. The volleyball game against Maryland begins at 5 p.m., with Late Night scheduled for 7 p.m.
Adam Lucas is a GoHeels columnist and the editor of CAROLINA.