Thursday, December 30, 2004

UNC & the Winter Break

Hey, it was just a few weeks ago that I was wondering where the hell Joseph Forte landed, and earlier this week Adam Lucas of found him:
Joseph Forte: The two-year Tar Heel great joined the NBDL's Asheville Altitude on Dec. 14. Since then, he's played in three games and is averaging 2.7 points per game.
Ugh. Forte's precipitous fall from grace makes M.C. Hammer's death-spiral into bankruptcy seem almost glacial in comparison. I mentioned before that Forte is easily the most enigmatic player to come out of UNC in recent memory (not counting Robots McCants, of course). You can only hope that he's on his way back to the NBA after a pretty poor first showing.

Speaking of former UNC guys playing in a professional league not called the NBA, Lucas also catches up with Ed Cota and Shammond Williams -- two of my favorite players from the last decade. The last time I mentioned Cota here, he was playing in Lithuania. Here's what they're both up to now:
Ed Cota and Shammond Williams: Both Tar Heels are playing in Russia. Cota is with Dynamo St. Petersburg and Williams plays for UNICS Kazan. The two teams will play each other on Jan. 22 in St. Petersburg--that's St. Petersburg, Russia, not St. Petersburg, Florida.

If our Russian is anywhere close to right, we'd say Cota is averaging 12.1 points per game and shooting 45% from the field for Dynamo. Williams is averaging 14.7 points per contest.

If our Russian is wrong, well, blame it on Rocky IV.
As long as I'm speaking about the Tarheels, I should probably mention that they won their 10th game in a row Tuesday night when they beat UNC-Wilmington by 85 points (actually, it was only 21 points, but really, who pays attention to this Christmas break creampuff games?).

Anyway, I mention this because I got to thinking about how during the winter break, almost all the big-time college programs schedule opponents that would give the Washington Generals a run for their money -- and for reasons that are certainly understandable -- namely, players have to actually study at the end of the semester and don't have as much time for practice, and these games give players a chance to ease back into the season as they gear up for the brutal ACC schedule in January and February.

A quick glance at UNC's schedule from December 21 to January 2 and you see a virtual who's who of Division I powerhouses: Vermont, UNC-W, Cleveland St. and William and Mary -- and all four games are in Chapel Hill. Combined I think these teams have won six games (not really), so I'm pretty sure they're on the schedule for the same reason the Red Sox play Boston College during spring training -- some good laughs.

And like I said, easing up on the schedule during finals is all well and good -- and at the very least, certainly understandable, but don't the players from Vermont, UNC-W, Cleveland St. and William and Mary have to study for finals too? If this isn't another case of the little guy getting screwed, I don't know what is. I know, you're thinking that the players from the small-time schools will (a) forever remember playing against one of the best teams in the country -- even though they eventually lost by 400 points, and (b) have the opportunity to say, "we upset the eventual national champions!" Well, (b) will never happen, but the good thing about (a) is that you could probably embellish the story through the years and eventually end up with something like:
"Yeah, I played against Rashad McCants. It was a cold night in December, and our Bus had broken down at the Shoney's just outside our hotel. Our team had to walk through the snow -- with only our uniforms (no warm-ups) -- to the game. We got there minutes before tip-off, so we had no time to, er, warm-up. I should also mention that we lost two players on the quarter-mile walk over to the Dean Dome -- and consequently we only suited up four. Anyway, I drew McCants and he pretty much had his way with me in the first half. In the second half however, I had a sense for what he was trying to do, and on two occasions he tried to beat me off the dribble, only to have me pick his pocket and take it to the other end for a dunk."
Is this ludicrous? Without a doubt. Is it believable? Hardly. But the good news (if you're the guy making up the story) is that most of these games aren't televised -- anywhere. And I don't mean on ESPN, or the local Fox Sports Net station, I mean they're not even on closed circuit TV in the Dean Dome. And that bode's well for the person telling the tall tale. I mean honestly, even with everything on the internet, you'd be hard-pressed to find a box score from one of these winter break games from just a few seasons ago -- and more importantly, no one cares enough to look it up.

Of course, making up lies to impress the one or two people who still think you're not a loser hardly seems like much of a trade-off when the alternative is getting your brains beaten in by some of the best basketball players on the planet, so I'm still not convinced these small-time programs aren't getting a raw deal. And I should know, because my freshman year at William & Mary (12 years ago today -- ouch), I had a friend on the basketball team who got me tickets to the William & Mary / Duke game at Cameron Indoor Stadium over the holiday break. Let me set the stage: it was the 1991-1992 season and Duke was on it's way to winning another National Championship (they lost in 1990 to UNLV and they'd won in 1991). Surprisingly, William & Mary's starting five didn't match up particularly well against Duke's. See if any of these names ring a bell: Thomas Roberts, Brendan Conner, David Cox, Kurt Small, Todd Cauthorn. These were the starters for W&M. Now try these names: Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Thomas Hill, Brian Davis. Yikes. I distinctly remember that the first four or five times down the court for Duke ended in alley-oop dunks. And that pretty much set the tone for the rest of the night. The Blue Devils won in a squeaker, 97-61.

So while I have a funny story to tell, I'm sure the W&M players didn't think it was quite so humorous -- at least at the time. But maybe if you heard some of them tell it now, it's evolved into somebody taking a charge from Grant Hill and them coming down the court on the next play and dunking one in his face. So hey, maybe it is worth it. Either way, I've just written a couple hundred words on maybe one of the least-important topics in the history of dopey writing. And what's worse, you read it. I'll just leave you with that.