They came by the hundreds, wearing blue and feeling blue, determined to prop up “the boys” after the devastating blow 15 hours earlier in Houston. There, the confetti had rained down on Villanova, and tears had rained down on the Tar Heels after the national championship game.
But there was something about Tuesday’s afternoon sunshine that burst forth from a cloudy morning in Chapel Hill. Something about the bus easing into the Dean Dome parking lot, the “We’re so proud” sign bobbing above the crowd, the spontaneous singing of “Hark the Sound.” The Tar Heels faithful who came to support their vanquished team got a little support from each other.
The welcome home for the men’s basketball team after Monday night’s heartbreaker was part bittersweet pep rally, part group hug. Therapy.
As the players made their way through the throngs, barely able to crack a smile, the crowd did its best to heal the wounds. Three of the seniors on the team thanked their fans, hoping they had made them proud. Brice Johnson said he wanted to give everybody a high five.
Coach Roy Williams, his voice almost gone, spoke to the crowd over the din of a helicopter overhead and random shouts of “We love you!” A few phrases were audible from the coach.
“Huge disappointment for us.”
“It hurt all of us.”
There was never a more true statement to the fans not wearing championship T-shirts. They had their ways of coping, though.
We need to tell these boys we still love ’em.
Nick Durst, a UNC senior from Westchester, N.Y.
Some students lucked out with benevolent professors who canceled classes. Others skipped class anyway. Some drowned their sorrows, judging from the occasional whiff of alcohol among the unshaven, backward-hat wearing students.
“We need to tell these boys we still love ’em,” said Nick Durst, a senior from Westchester, N.Y.
Durst was tempted to turn on ESPN on Tuesday to see news of his beloved Yankees. But he didn’t dare. “I’m scared I’ll see the highlight,” he said of Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beater for Villanova. “It’s going to live in ‘Sports Center’ infamy.”
Ashok Veeragandham, a freshman from Lumberton, leaned over a railing outside the Smith Center hoping to catch a glimpse of the players after they went inside. The night before, Veeragandham admits he kind of lost it, slamming his phone to the ground after the buzzer. His dorm mates fell to the floor in disbelief.
“To lose in such a fashion – a buzzer-beater – it kills you,” he said.
Candace Morgan, a 2004 UNC graduate, channeled her grief into an art project for her pre-kindergarten students at Triangle Day School in Durham. Each child made a personalized card for a UNC player on Tuesday morning.
On Tuesday, he had a better outlook. After all, he has three more years to hope for Tar Heels basketball glory. Being with everyone, he said, was like a tonic. “It helped our recovery process,” he said. “It will take a while, but … ”
Candace Morgan, a 2004 UNC graduate, channeled her grief into an art project for her pre-kindergarten students at Triangle Day School in Durham. Each child made a personalized card for a UNC player Tuesday morning. The drawings were delivered to the Smith Center by an emissary – Ed Lee, a graduate student and Morgan’s husband.
“She’s been crying for the last 12 hours,” he said, clutching the folder containing the young artists’ well wishes.
The crayon drawings featured hearts, NC logos, backward letters and phonetic spellings that required a little translation from Ms. Morgan.
To Nate: “Great playing.”
To Justin: “Sorry you lost. I hope you win next time. I love you.”
To Joel: “Good job.”
To Marcus: “You won our hearts.”