Lucas: Tar Heels At The Hall

Lucas: Tar Heels At The Hall

By Adam Lucas

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- On television and under the big lights of the Smith Center court, Carolina basketball players look like adults. Thursday night in Springfield was a nice reminder that many of them are still teenagers.

Tar Heel basketball road trips are usually fairly businesslike affairs, and there's not much time for sightseeing. That changed on this trip, as the Tar Heels flew into Hartford a day earlier than normal (usual procedure is to arrive at a road game the day before the game) for the Hall of Fame Tip Off Classic. The first destination was not the team hotel, but the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, where they received a personal, after-hours tour.

Of course, some members of the party had been there before. The first video playing at the entrance to the Hall was Roy Williams' induction speech in September of 2007, when he was presented by Dean Smith and Larry Brown.

A group of players paused and watched the entire speech. Joel James' eyes got wide: "He doesn't age!" he exclaimed about his head coach.

Williams walks around the building with the excitement you'd expect from someone who keeps a copy of James Naismith's original rules of the game in his office. It wasn't unusual for him to pop out from behind a corner and say, "Let me show you this photo," as if he was a curator showing off his prize artifacts.

There were over 40,000 square feet of basketball history inside the basketball-shaped building, including a display devoted to the newest Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, Dean Smith.

But virtually everyone was captivated by the interactive displays. Side-by-side Pop-a-Shot machines were a source of significant competition, until it was discovered that one of the machines was dramatically underreporting the points scored. Coincidentally, Brice Johnson had commandeered the working machine and was challenging all comers to play him--as long as they used the other machine.

Hall of Fame staffers had placed a rack of basketballs at the "center court" area of the museum, which features a full-size court, along with a display of the rims and backboards--all the way back to the peach basket--that have been used during the game's evolution. James palmed a ball off the rack and stood under the peach basket. "How did they play with this thing?" he said, before moving on to marvel at the fan-shaped backboard that was used in many gyms in the 1950s and 1960s.

Other players used the tour as an opportunity to get some pointers. Stopping at the case devoted to Dennis Rodman, Brice Johnson marveled at a photo of Rodman, as a Bull, diving completely parallel to the floor to corral a loose ball.

Johnson--who hasn't just emerged from his shell over the last 15 months, he's exploded from his shell--set off on a quest to find Williams. "Coach, Coach, you've got to come see this," he said, pulling Williams over to the photo. "This is the best photo ever."

Johnson stood in front of the case and looked from the photo to his coach, a serious expression coming over his face. "Coach," he said, "how many plus points could we get if we did that?"

Around the corner, the Tar Heel big men were posing with an illustration depicting the wingspan of Kevin Durant. Nearby was a basket set to 12 feet, one clearly raised to that height from preventing mortals from grabbing the rim.

"I could dunk on that," said Desmond Hubert, who was wearing a suit, bow tie and glasses. His teammates expressed some doubt.

"Well, not in the suit!" Hubert said, smoothing his threads. "This is the slim fit."

Johnson, evidently, didn't have the slim fit. Within moments, he had shed his suit jacket. Having somehow corralled a mini basketball, he took two steps and elevated. Let the record show that while it may not have been a clean dunk, he definitely got the rim.

After a team photo at center court, the players grabbed sandwiches thoughtfully provided by the Hall (you will never go hungry traveling with Carolina basketball). Marcus Paige looked around, trying to soak it all in.

"You know what?" he said. "I could stay here all night."

Adam Lucas is the editor of CAROLINA.


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