TES T OF TRA D I T I ON
Then came perhaps the strangest Carolina basketball season ever as the Tar
Heels nearly lost to Winthrop in their
home opener, went on a surreal winning
streak to the t~p of the national polls and
broke down in a 5-5 finish. At season's
end, reports of player dissension were rife,
and one-time fan darling Joseph Forte
made obvious his plans to leave.
Not long after, former Carolina assis-
tant coach and longtime assistant athletic
director John Lotz died much too early,
costing the University's
athletes a valued
anchor and counselor.
More recently, amid
media questions about
how Carolina had handled the situation, con-
troversy swirled around
the employment of
Forte's mother, Wanda
Hightower, by a sports
signed her son as a
The chain of events might have been
enough to make Doherty wonder ifhe
should have stayed in South Bend. Fortu-
nately, he did not and the University has
one of the finest young college basketball
coaches in the country. Doherty, who will
be 40 in February, now has his dream job.
That said, he also will spend his head
coaching career dealing with a college
game that has undergone a total change
in the past decade.
The new roundball world is difficult
for many Carolina fans to accept, especially those who were watching UNC
basketball when a dance would force the
White Phantoms to practice in the Tin
Can. The changes, of course, have been
kicking in for years.
Among all the differences from a
decade ago, the most telling shift is the
perspective of the blue-chip high school
basketball player, the "elite" talent typically
recruited by North Carolina since the
Dean Smith era shifted into high gear in
the late 1960s.
Now, whether we like it or not, the
typical high-powered recruit's first concern is how much money he can make in
professional basketball and how quickly
he can make it.
As a practical matter, any strong emo-
tional allegiance a highly touted basketball
recruit develops for Carolina and Chapel
Hill will be strictly coincidental. Conversely, at least son1.e UNC followers are
beginning to care proportionately less
about the program.
On the other hand, many fans would
have delighted in seeing McAdoo, James
Worthy ' 85, Michael Jordan ' 86,]. R .
Reid ' 90,Jerry Stackhouse ' 97, Rasheed
Wallace ' 97, Jeff McInnis ' 97, Antawn
Jamison ' 99, Vince Carter ' 99 and Joseph
Forte complete their eligibilities at
Once again, it seems, Smith saw into
the future and acted on the vision. Like
his masterful use of the game clock, his
hoarding of tin'leouts, his adjustment to
the 3-point shot,
Smith sensed the
changing reality and
then became part of
the shifting landscape.
No one ever has bet-
ter understood the
rules of the game -
any part of the game
- than Smith.
In the euphoria of
the 1982 NCAA
could have argued
with Worthy's opportunity
to become the top pick in
the draft, going to the fabled Los Angeles
Lakers? Then, in 1984, Smith nudged the
reportedly reluctant Jordan out of the
nest, turning him into a very wealthy No.
3 pick behind two centers.
Combined with the extraordinary
skills preparation given Tar Heel players
by Smith and his staff, Carolina's "partner-ship" approach to a player's future has
made it easy for Carolina players to come
into the program and then comfortably
plan to leave.
Now, of course, the phenomenon is
approaching full circle. Some potentially
great college players aren't even thinking
ofcoming to UNC or anyplace else. And
other "elite" players - Forte being a
painful example - figure to stay in
school for one or two seasons, tops.
As was the case in North Carolina
with Forte, the national outburst of early
entries into the oft-maligned NBA finally
has become a public relations nightmare
for college basketball. It became particu-
The new roundball world is difficult for many Carolina
fans to accept) especially those who were watching UNC
basketball when a dance wouldforce the White Phantoms
to practice in the Tin Can. The
changes) ofcourse) have been kicking
in for years.
Furthermore, it creates a
fundamental dilemma if Carolina is to continue recruiting great pure
talents, the kind ofbasketball player that
most likely will allow UNC to compete
for the national title. The better pro
potential the player has, the less tin1.e he
will stay in Chapel Hill. There seems to
no way out of this trap, short of urging
players to err on the side ofskipping the
draft. And that's not the Carolina way.
Ironically, UNC's basketball progran1.
long has been known for helping
professional prospects move into the pro game
at the most opportune tin'le and with the
best counseling available. Carolina's
coaches, beginning with advice given to
Robert McAdoo ' 75, have recruited 10
players who left early. It's apparently been
the right thing to do for the players and
their families, resulting in big contracts
signed at the right times.
While Smith almost certainly disliked
the idea of big business engulfing his
sport, he believed his first obligation was
to the best interests ofhis players.
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