Story by: Kyle Graham
After Marcus Paige hit a ridiculous shot to tie the game with 4 seconds left in last year’s National Championship game, I turned to my dad and told him, “Oh my god Dad… they’re going to hit a three to win it. I can feel it.” By now you know what happened, Kris Jenkins hits a beautifully executed three to crush the hearts of every North Carolina fan, including myself.
Fast forward one year from then and Gonzaga has the ball with approximately 21 seconds on the clock. Immediately I see flashbacks of last year’s shot and I start to panic. Are they going to tie it up and break our hearts again? Thankfully there was a timeout called and I had time to collect myself. I took a deep breath and turned to my dad and said, “This is our year.”
Now I’m not trying to say I’m a physic or something, but hey, I just happened to be right both times. As Gonzaga inbounded the ball, Kennedy Meeks came up big and blocked Nigel Williams-Goss’ shot which was quickly secured by Theo Pinson who hit Justin Jackson on an outlet pass to seal the win. The only way I can describe how I feel right now is by saying: “The ceiling is the roof”.
“The ceiling is the roof.” That has been a popular phrase adopted by the Tar Heels’ marketing team after the G.O.A.T himself, Michael Jordan, uttered that phrase during a presentation of UNC’s football team switching from Nike to the Jordan brand.
At first, it was a playful joke, but after Monday night’s championship game, that phrase has added a whole new meaning to the 2016-2017 college basketball season. The Tar Heels now have six National Championships (third all-time) which means that there will be another banner placed in the Dean Dome rafters. So maybe MJ was just hinting that there will be another National Championship banner with the addition of Justin Jackson’s (For earning 1st team All-America honors and ACC Player of the year) and Joel Berry’s (MOP of the 2017 NCCA Tournament) names being represented as well. At least we’ll just pretend that was what he meant.
The 2017 NCAA National Championship was not a pretty one. For the most part there was lackluster action, missed shots, and multiple missed calls from the overzealous officials. However, the important thing here is who can overcome all those obstacles and come on top as the champ, and if there is any team in the nation that is built for just that, it’s the North Carolina Tar Heels.
The Heels led the nation in offensive rebounds all year behind the powerful front court of Kennedy Meeks, Issiah Hicks, Luke Maye, and Tony Bradley. Offensive rebounds are preceded by missed shots and that rebounding skill was definitely utilized in this game with the Heels shooting 35% from the field, while also going 4 for 27 from behind the three-point line. In fact, Joel Berry was the only Tar Heel to make a 3-point basket (4 for 13).
However, the biggest achievement for the Heels was that they finally achieved redemption. After watching Kris Jenkins buzzer-beating shot over and over again for an entire year, UNC fans can finally sleep at night without it haunting their dreams. All year, the redemption tour has been on the player’s minds. They used that motivation all year to prove to everyone that one play did not define them.
You can find that evidence in Justin Jackson alone when he set a school record with the most 3-point baskets made in a single season (105) and he raised his 3-point percentage from 29% in 2016 to almost 37% this season.
Another thing that should not be forgotten is that this is Roy Williams’ third National Championship as a coach at UNC. Not only was this his 100th NCAA tournament game that he has coached (with Kansas and North Carolina), but this was his second straight appearance to the National Championship! And he has done this while the NCAA has been screwing them over in terms of recruitment with academic sanctions that occurred in the past (and have yet to be fully proven).
While Kentucky and Duke have been consistently receiving Top-10, one-and-done recruits in the nation, Williams has been building off players who stay with the team for at least two to three years. In fact, the last Top-10 recruit for Williams is Justin Jackson who will leave for the draft this season as a junior and the last one-and-done was Brandon Wright in 2007.
As a Tar Heel fan myself, I am so proud of this team and their accomplishments and I am already looking forward to seeing them compete next year. I also have nothing but respect for Mark Few and his Zags for having an outstanding season and finally breaking the glass of getting into their first Final Four and National Championship.
Featured image for this post courtesy of Michelle Ewing, CMGDigital