5. “The ceiling is the roof"
Aside from this phrase being uttered by Michael Jordan, this has little to do with basketball. During halftime of the game against Duke at the Smith Center in March 2017, Jordan took the microphone and ended his speech with these five words.
Confusion and a social media explosion followed. Did he just say that? What does it mean? Is there something we’re not getting? None of that mattered. T-shirts were available at area stores, a Jordan Brand tunnel cover over the tunnel at Kenan Stadium was put in place and a basketball championship came later.
4. Stilman White winning a Sweet 16 game
This was touched on in another list, but let’s look a little bit more at it. The Heels had rolled through their first- and second-round games of the NCAA Tournament, beating Vermont by 19 points and Creighton by 14 points.
Point guard Kendall Marshall had a 21 total assists in those two victories. But against Creighton, he also fractured the scaphoid bone in his right wrist toward the end of the game. His season was done.
Enter Stilman White. The freshman started the third-round game against Ohio. He scored two points and had six assists in UNC’s 73-65 overtime win. Two days later, he scored four points and had seven assists in an Elite Eight loss against Kansas.
The most remarkable part of those two performances by White: he didn’t commit a turnover in either game.
3. Theo Pinson’s senior night speech
Senior night speeches are a highlight of each season. The players, coaches and families are emotional, and there are occasional rounds of applause from the fans who decide to stay in the arena.
One speech stands above the rest. It was delivered by Theo Pinson on Feb. 27, 2018, after a three-point loss against Miami. Pinson was emotional, endearing and humorous — often switching from one to the other without missing a beat.
It started with him saying, “I bet y’all thought there wouldn’t be a time I didn’t want to talk.”
Here are a few of the highlights:
- To his father, Theo: “Daddy, we had a conversation last year before we played Miami; I told you I just want to make you proud, and I hope I’ve done it.”
- To Kenny Williams: “Kenny, y’all already know Kenny — Crackhead Kenny. He always running around.”
- To Cam Johnson: “Cam, I see why you left Pitt.”
- To Joel Berry II: “JB, we started at the bottom now we here. We done came from the bottom, and I love you to death, bro.”
- To assistant coach Steve Robinson: “Coach Rob, you’re like my second dad because you’re bald, too.”
- To coach Roy Williams: “Coach, I’ve been saving this since sophomore year, and I’ve been scared ever since. … I don’t know if there is another coach in the country that would let me be Theo other than you. I really can’t thank you enough for that.”
2. The end of the NCAA investigation
The academic scandal that was linked to football and women’s basketball affected men’s basketball where it hurts the most — recruiting. Opposing coaches, when talking to the best high school basketball players in the country, were able to use speculation about NCAA sanctions against the Tar Heels.
That changed on Oct. 13, 2017, when the NCAA announced it “could not conclude that the University of North Carolina violated N.C.A.A. academic rules."
Translation: UNC was back in business.
There’s more, though. The icing on the cake to this day was that the annual Late Night With Roy was held at the Smith Center only hours after this announcement was made. That night, the team that won the 2017 national championship was recognized and the banner was raised to the rafters.
1. Roy ties Dean
On a court named for him in an arena named for his mentor, Roy Williams earned career victory No. 879 — tying him with the late Dean Smith for fourth all-time for most wins by a head coach in men’s college basketball.
It was an inevitability that Williams would tie Smith. Just as it is an inevitability Williams will one day pass Smith.
It will be hard to name two coaches in the history of college basketball more linked than Smith and Williams. Williams was an assistant on Smith’s coaching staff; he left in 1988 to take over Kansas and eventually returned in 2003 to take over North Carolina.
Smith and Williams rank Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in games coached at Carolina (Smith 1,198, Williams 599), games won as coach at Carolina (Smith 879, Williams 461), and winning percentage as coach at Carolina (Smith .776, Williams .770).
The only category in which Williams ranks ahead of Smith is national championships (Williams 3, Smith 2).