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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Taylor Branch: UNC coaches won't let their players talk to me

Posted by on Wed, Feb 29, 2012 at 10:43 AM

UNCs horned Dorset sheep mascot
SONJA HAYNES STONE CENTER/ CHAPEL HILL—A packed house crammed the Sonja Haynes Stone Center Theater at UNC last night for a panel discussion titled “Big-Time Sports: What Needs to Change?”

Moderated by Will Blythe, author of the irreverent chronicle of the Duke-UNC basketball rivalry To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever, the panelists included former UNC president William Friday, Duke professor and author (most recently of Big-Time Sports in American Universities) Charles Clotfelter and UNC alum and Pulitzer Prize winner Taylor Branch.

Branch fundamentally changed the national dialogue about college sports in October with a devastating essay, “The Shame of College Sports,” published in the Atlantic Monthly.

That essay has been expanded into an e-book, whose title, The Cartel: Inside the Rise and Imminent Fall of the NCAA, points up his main contention: that the NCAA, far from being a noble guarantor of fair play, is actually a bloated, corrupt body that deprives young athletes of basic rights.

Last night's event started in a light-hearted fashion, with Blythe’s cheeky introductions of the other panelists, but the tone grew more serious as Branch expertly summed up his case against the status quo.

“If the university wants to enshrine amateurism, then it shouldn’t go into commercial sports for itself either. You can’t have it both ways,” he said.

As the discussion proceeded, the other panelists, who harbored more conventional complaints about the system, largely ceded the stage to Branch and his farther-reaching and passionate arguments.

A Q-and-A followed the discussion; the questioners, among them students and teachers at UNC who seemed largely sympathetic with Branch’s views, as well as football offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach John Shoop, who forcefully complained that the UNC players involved in recent NCAA “scandals” “had no advocates.”

“The university comes first, I’ve heard that a million times,” he said. “From where I sit, the young men and women that make up this university, is the university. And if we’re not going to advocate for them… I’m confused.”

Branch’s larger points required a 15,000-word essay to spell out, and a full discussion of it is beyond the scope of this blog post. But one particular occurrence is worth mentioning: At one point Branch claimed that he’d heard that “… athletes who want to come talk to me… cannot come see me, even privately, because their coaches won’t let them.” This drew murmurs from the crowd.

Listen to Branch's statement here:

Later, after the moderator announced the end of the Q&A, one last attendee approached the questioner’s microphone: Bubba Cunningham, UNC’s new athletic director, newly hired from the University of Tulsa as of October.

He took a moment to praise the event, saying “I can’t think of a better place than the University of North Carolina to have this national discussion."

He went on to say, "I commend you for being here, I thank you for being here, and know that you have our full cooperation in continuing the discussion." At this point, a member of the crowd spoke up from the middle rows, asking, “Does that mean the students can speak to Mr. Branch?”

Cunningham wheeled to face him, surprised. “You’re ordering the coaches to allow them to do that?” continued the questioner, a gray-haired UNC alum and self-described writer of “crank letters” from Carrboro named J. Al Baldwin.

“Absolutely,” Cunningham reassured the gentleman and the assembled crowd.

Listen to the exchange here.

The practical implications of Cunningham's promise are uncertain: If students were indeed warned away from Branch, it’s unlikely they would jeopardize their scholarships by going against their coach’s wishes, regardless of the director’s assurances.

This eyebrow-raising morsel of college sports realpolitik (“This is not a place of free inquiry, which is what it should be, if you have that kind of control vested in people who are not even on the faculty,” Branch said) should make sports fans think long and hard about what other rights revenue-sports athletes have been denied.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Martin Rennie returns to Carolina for friendly between RailHawks and Whitecaps

Posted by on Tue, Feb 28, 2012 at 12:36 AM

Vancouver Whitecaps manager Martin Rennie
WAKEMED SOCCER PARK/CARY—At first glance, it was like nothing had changed.

On Monday, the Carolina RailHawks held a press conference in advance of the team’s opening preseason friendly. Joining master of ceremonies Dean Linke on the dais were the familiar faces of team president Curt Johnson, assistant coach Dewan Bader and, of course, head coach Martin Rennie.

The big difference, however, was the Vancouver Whitecaps FC logo now emblazoned on Rennie’s tracksuit. After three years spent helming the RailHawks, Rennie is embarking on his debut season in Major League Soccer as Vancouver’s new gaffer. This Sunday, the RailHawks and Whitecaps meet at WakeMed Soccer Stadium for a preseason friendly being touted as the “4th Annual Hilton Garden Inn Durham Southpoint Community Shield Match.”

Mere hours after watching his Whitecaps defeat the Houston Dynamo in the Disney Pro Soccer Classic in Orlando, Fla., Rennie flew to North Carolina for the press conference promoting the match against his former club. He will return to Orlando for another match this Wednesday, and the Whitecaps will compete in the tournament’s championship session Saturday evening.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

ACC releases football slate with biggest local games in October

Posted by on Mon, Feb 27, 2012 at 3:56 PM

UNC and Duke each has seven home games while N.C. State hosts six in the ACC football schedule released Monday by the conference.

The Wolfpack will play the first game involving a Triangle ACC school on Aug. 31, when it takes on Tennessee at the Georgia Dome as part of the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff.

The next day both the Tar Heels and Blue Devils open at home, with UNC facing Elon and Duke taking on Florida International.

In a new quirk in the slate no Triangle matchup will end the season, as UNC will be at Duke on Oct. 20 and host N.C. State on Oct. 27.

Other non-conference games of particular interest will have N.C. Central traveling to Duke on Sept. 15 for another Bull City Gridiron Classic and UNC hosting East Carolina on Sept. 22.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Duke holds off late rally, wins at UNC for first time in four seasons

Posted by on Sun, Feb 26, 2012 at 6:37 PM

CARMICHAEL ARENA/CHAPEL HILL It’s yet another “Battle of the Blues,” and once again both teams have plenty on the line.

Duke guard Chelsea Gray
No. 7 Duke (23-4, 14-1) has already clinched the top seed for the ACC Tournament beginning on Thursday, while UNC (19-9, 9-6) is still trying to hold its probable spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Duke will be favored, having won the previous meeting in a 96-56 rout on Feb. 6 at Cameron Indoor Stadium, but in her four seasons as the Blue Devils’ head coach Joanne P. McCallie has never won in Chapel Hill.

Of course it’s Senior Day for the Tar Heels, with Chay Shegog, Laura Broomfield and She’la White all playing in their final regular-season home game.

Duke takes a solid lead and then absorbs a strong rally, holding on for a 69-63 victory.

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Duke men's basketball survives Virginia Tech in overtime: The will to win

Posted by on Sun, Feb 26, 2012 at 2:27 PM

Duke guard Tyler Thornton in action at Cameron Indoor Stadium earlier this season.
  • Photo by Al Drago
  • Duke guard Tyler Thornton in action at Cameron Indoor Stadium earlier this season.

CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/ DURHAM—On ESPN at approximately 10:53 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, last night—about 8 1/2 hours after Duke sealed its 70-65, overtime win against Virginia Tech—Syracuse finished fending off a second-half comeback by the hungry but overmatched Connecticut Huskies and prevailed. Analyst/screamer Dick Vitale started talking about "the will to win"—Syracuse's, that is. That's what the best teams have: the will to win.

For all we know, Vitale was at Cameron Indoor Stadium earlier that day, and slipped into the press room in disguise (and why not? Rob Lowe was sitting in the second row behind the scorers' table). Or maybe he watched Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski's postgame commentary on television from his hotel room in Storrs, Conn. It wouldn't be a surprise, really: Vitale loves Mike Krzyzewski. Maybe he was looking for something to poach for later use.

If so, he found it. You might have expected Krzyzewski to be disappointed with his team's poor shooting yesterday (38.5 percent, which included an unsightly 6-24 three-pointers and some shaky free throw shooting that could have cost Duke the game). You might have supposed he would say something about the frustration of having to survive an overtime dogfight, at home, against an NIT-bound team that was just 15-13, 4-9 in conference play coming into the game. You might even have imagined that Krzyzewski would perhaps say something about some good luck that went his team's way, such as the Hokies missing a pair of makeable, game-winning shots in the waning seconds of regulation.

Instead, he talked about Duke's fatigue. His team had just outlasted Florida State in what he called a "hellacious game" down in Tallahassee late Thursday night; they got home at 2:00 a.m. Friday and barely had time (or energy) to practice before Saturday's noon tipoff. "Whatever reservoir we had there at the end, we were able to get through."

Instead, he called Virginia Tech an "outstanding team," using as evidence for the Hokies' competitiveness their habit of constantly losing games on the final possession, which they have done repeatedly this season. Win some of those, and Virginia Tech would be a first-division ACC team, Krzyzewski said. "I think they're really good."

Instead, he said "this team has a really good will to win."

He continued: "They have some shortcomings, as all teams do, but at the end of the day they have a will to win."

You got that, Dickie V?

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Tar Heel crockpot burns just hot enough to escape UVa

Posted by on Sat, Feb 25, 2012 at 7:40 PM

Zellers steady interior scoring bailed out the Heels
ESPN — Virginia features one of the ACC’s more formidable teams, but fans understandably struggle to muster excitement when the Cavaliers line up opposite their beloved squad.

UVa used its stifling tempo and tough defense to limit possessions against North Carolina on Saturday afternoon — Virginia ranks No. 337 out of 345 Division I teams in terms of pace — but the Tar Heels managed to eke out a 54-51 slog in Charlottesville. Any conference road victory must be considered significant, and UNC prevailed despite playing far more slowly than its ordinary tempo and shooting a horrible 33 percent from the field.

If you’re inclined to believe that the Duke game was a fluke loss, UVa probably should be considered a fluke win. The Cavaliers ran their offense successfully late and simply missed wide open jump shots, and Carolina missed free throws and committed potentially game-changing turnovers yet survived the experience.

Many fans will fall prey to the notion that the Heels summoned the heart and toughness to climb the mountain, but frankly Carolina mostly got lucky. UNC played winning basketball at Kentucky and lost to a slightly superior team, mostly played winning hoops against Duke yet lost, and today they played losing basketball but managed to notch a victory.

Tyler Zeller did compile efficient numbers. He shot 7-for-11 to finish with 20 points and six rebounds. John Henson contributed 15 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks.

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Hoop Cheese weekend special: The not-in-Hollywood edition

Posted by on Sat, Feb 25, 2012 at 12:45 PM

You know how people say, "It's five o'clock somewhere"? Well, it's in that sense that we say it's a big weekend somewhere. Maybe in Los Angeles, for example?

But there are a lot of bouncing balls to chase before we bunk down in front of our teevees Sunday night. Mike Potter tells us that the women's teams have had their post-season fates signed, sealed and delivered, but for one small matter.

And Adam Sobsey is, at this very moment (12:19 p.m.) gawking at the stars and tweeting like mad from courtside at Cameron. Wave to him if you turn on your television. He tells us about some troubling trends that might, just might, disturb Mike Krzyzewski's dreams in advance of next Saturday's battle royale with the Tar Heels.


Duke women can't afford to cruise
A couple of things were made clearer over the past week for the Triangle’s three ACC women’s basketball teams, but one more big question is still up in the air.

Barring some sort of catastrophe, UNC is going to be in those NCAA Tournament games at March 17 and 19 Carmichael Arena. Barring the winning of four of its next five games, N.C. State is going to the WNIT.
But whether or not No. 7 Duke is going to be assigned to the Raleigh Regional—as the No. 1 or No. 2 seed—is still very much up in the air.

With one exception all season—that being the still inexplicable home loss to Clemson—the Tar Heels (19-8, 9-5) have won every game they needed to win to stay a default NCAA team. They’ll be solid underdogs Friday night on the road against No. 6 Maryland (23-4, 10-4), and will also be underdogs when they host Duke on Sunday. And of course the number of Senior Day upsets in the Battles of the Blues in just about every sport has been too numerous to count.

Failing an upset of the Terps, the Tar Heels will be locked into that 11 a.m. Thursday game at the ACC Tournament where they’ll probably face off with—of course, Clemson (6-20, 2-13) in front of 10,000 screaming Triad-area schoolchildren. Guess who they’ll be rooting for?

State (16-13, 5-10) guaranteed itself a winning season with its victory at Boston College Thursday night. Now, if the Wolfpack shocks visiting Maryland on Sunday and adds a couple more quality wins, or if Kellie Harper’s club simply wins the ACC Tournament it’s going to the big NCAA show.

Failing that, it’s the WNIT, where conventional wisdom would guess the Wolfpack would get several home games in Reynolds Coliseum.

Now as for Duke, the Blue Devils go for the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament tonight at 7 against No. 5 Miami (13-1, 24-3). The Blue Devils have NEVER lost to the Hurricanes in eight tries.

They need to win their final two regular-season games plus complete the three-peat as ACC Tournament Champions to get that Raleigh spot. By doing that the Blue Devils would have leapfrogged the Terps and the Hurricanes, and just need for Notre Dame to fail to win the Big East Tournament to set up the following national No. 1 seeds: Baylor to Des Moines, Stanford to Fresno, Connecticut to Kingston and Duke to Raleigh. —Mike Potter

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Duke holds off Miami rally to grab top seed in ACC Tourney

Posted by on Fri, Feb 24, 2012 at 10:30 PM

CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Duke plays its toughest conference opponent at home all season tonight, and there is plenty on the line this time.

Duke center Eilzabeth Williams
The No. 7 Blue Devils (22-4, 13-1) will take on No. 5 Miami (24-3, 13-1) and even though both teams will have a regular-season game remaining, because of the tie-breaker the winner will have the top seed in next week’s ACC Tournament in Greensboro.

Miami is coached by Duke alumna Katie Meier, who has built the Hurricanes into a national power in her seven seasons at the helm.

The one thing she hasn’t done is beat her alma mater. And Duke has won 29 straight ACC contests at home.

The winner will also have an inside track for the fourth No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, as it would seem to belong to the best ACC team — No. 6 Maryland is also in the mix - as long as Notre Dame doesn’t win the Big East Tournament.

It is of course Senior Night for Duke, and so point guard Shay Selby and forward Kathleen Scheer will get the start in their final home game.

Duke holds off a late Miami rally, winning 74-64 in front of a noisy 6,584.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Kendall Marshall Unlimited: Tar Heels repel rival Wolfpack, 86-74

Posted by on Wed, Feb 22, 2012 at 9:42 AM

RBC CENTER/RALEIGH—The controversies entering the North Carolina-N.C. State rematch were already the stuff of catchphrases: “Hess-gate”; “Rivals”; “Duke debacle.” During pregame festivities, State AD Debbie Yow scored a public relations coup by escorting Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani—two days removed from being ejected as spectators from the arena that’s decorated with their retired jersey numbers—and the rest of the 1988-89 N.C. State basketball team to midcourt to accept the “inaugural Wolfpack Unlimited Award,” a prize literally, well, two days in the making. The Pack partisans roared their support for “Googs and Corch,” and they chanted Yow’s name as seeming salutation for thumbing the university’s nose at an ACC hierarchy that not only doddered for days before compelling referee Karl Hess to offer some tepid explanation for the ejections, but also relegated N.C. State to the status of red-coated stepchildren no longer worthy of the birthright of battling the Tar Heels twice every season.

Still, there was theater of the absurd in not only the shamelessness of the spectacle, but also seeing Yow, Corchiani and Rodney Monroe hoist some oversized silver chalice over their heads as commendation for a team that 23 years ago finished 22-9 and was eliminated in the Regional Semifinals of the NCAA Tournament.

Nevertheless, the Pack and a capacity crowd of ravenous supporters were ready to ride a wave of angst and revenge for a 29-point drubbing a month ago in Chapel Hill to an improbable and important victory over their hated—yes—rivals.

However, the Tar Heels didn’t get the memo. Or rather, somebody forgot that these Tar Heels don’t particularly like the Wolfpack, either.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Heels remain perfect against Tigers at home, eye rematch with Wolfpack

Posted by on Sun, Feb 19, 2012 at 8:49 PM

Bullock is Carolinas most complete wing performer
DEAN SMITH CENTER/CHAPEL HILL — Give credit to the Tar Heels: After suffering that devastating setback against Duke — and people around here can't stop talking about it — Carolina has won three consecutive games and remains tied atop ACC standings.

Clemson tried to win in Chapel Hill for the 56th time, and for the 56th time it failed. Apart from a sluggish stretch during the second half, the Heels handled the Tigers fairly easily yesterday afternoon and pulled away for the final 74-52 margin.

Carolina finally has begun to establish its identity. For much of the season the Heels appeared determined to establish offensive credentials along the lines of the triumphant 2005 and 2009 squads, but this team simply doesn’t possess the perimeter firepower to win big playing that style.

So now the Heels have dug in their … uh, yeah, they’ve clamped down defensively and are dominating the backboards each contest. Carolina destroyed Clemson on the glass 39-26, gaining 11 offensive rebounds and converting many of those opportunities into points.

Tyler Zeller receives accolades primarily for his refined post scoring, but his defense has been just as impressive this season. John Henson is the shot-blocking machine and Reggie Bullock has filled in admirably for the team’s ace defender, Dexter Strickland, who recently underwent surgery for a torn ACL and is out of the season.

Can these guys capture Roy Williams’ third national championship with defense and rebounding alone? Probably not.

Carolina has shot the ball poorly during ACC play. Roy Williams said earlier in the season that his team stroked the ball commendably during practice, and that translating those makes into actual games would be the next step. Well, he now says they’re also missing shots in practice, and recently the offense has become entirely unbalanced in favor of the Zeller/Henson/Harrison Barnes trio.

For that reason the club’s three-point percentage against Clemson offers hope. Barnes hasn’t shot as many threes this season as he did last year, but he hunted the arc more assertively yesterday and knocked in 3-for-6 on threes. Reggie Bullock rediscovered his stroke and made 3-for-5 himself to spearhead the 6-for-14 overall effort from deep.

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