Chapel Hill that is.
Wednesday had finally arrived and with it one of the most iconic rivalries in college basketball: Duke vs. North Carolina. Excited does not even begin to describe how I felt about covering a game like this.
The day started innocently enough. After an exciting game at Davidson the night before, I was able to catch up on some sleep at a friend’s house in Charlotte. Waking up refreshed and with a air tight game plan to get from Charlotte to Chapel Hill, I couldn’t help but feel superior, confident in the fact that I was going to outsmart both the weather and my fellow travelers.
I should not have been so cocky.
Not only was my reserved rental car not at the rental car place at the pointed hour, by the time it was set to arrive three hours later, the employee informed me there was a problem with my method of payment. A fact that could have been brought to my attention before I wasted three hours of my life in a strip mall on Independence boulevard. But I digress.
After it became clear that I would not in fact be driving the two hours to Chapel Hill, I found myself pivoting again.
The time was 3:30 pm, the game was at 9 pm – I had about five hours to make this dream come true.
So I hopped an Uber to the airport, jumped on a 45-minute flight to Raleigh and caught another Uber up to the stadium. The traffic gods were with me as the ride to campus was smooth and congestion free.
Walking up to Dean Smith Center, I felt a steady rush of adrenaline course through me. People outside were begging for tickets as I passed, and I could only politely shake my head.
The media room was smallish and packed to the gills with national and local media folk and to be honest I was a little nervous walking into such a daunting and unfamiliar atmosphere. But I swallowed my apprehension and made my way out onto the court to watch warm-ups.
The North Carolina crowd was like nothing I had ever seen before – loud, passionate, diverse in age and completely entrenched in every aspect of the game. Due to the large media contingency, I was given a ticket to watch the game from the stands, which suited me just fine. I got the best of both worlds – media access and a fan’s perspective.
The game itself was spectacular – indescribable really. My story on how Duke managed to defeat UNC with only five guys is up on TheSportsFanJournal, so be sure to check it out.
I will say this – never sleep on a Mike Krzyzewski coached team. Like ever. The resilience and determination the Blue Devils showed, despite being tired and over-worked is the reason I love college basketball. There is also no match for good defense.
The other thing about this game that stuck with me was the post game press conferences with both North Carolina head coach Roy Williams and Coach K. Obviously they were very different – one dejected, one proud but both were very candid with the media. Williams took full responsibility for failing to call a time out on the Tar Heels last possession, which was refreshing to hear from a head coach.
Coach K, on the other hand, was in such a good mood he cracked several jokes with the media. It was a complete shock for me.
As I sat in the bowls of the stadium, digesting the post game comments and formulating a plan for my story, I watched the Duke players and coaches hurry out to the bus and couldn’t help feel my spirits lifted at their obvious excitement. It made the long night I was about to have completely worth it.
Only after the last equipment manager had departed for the team bus did I pack up my things and head back to the Raleigh airport, grinning the whole way.
As I sat at the airport awaiting my 5 am flight, composing my article, I couldn’t help but grin. What a night, what a game.
I didn’t sleep that night, not a wink. I knew I would pay for it the next morning what with a long day of travel before finally arriving in Minnesota for the Maryland game but it was worth it to continue to savor the memories from Duke’s unbelievable upset.
Hoping to keep this upset thing going in Minneapolis.
See you on the other side.