Sunday, November 27, 2011

I've converted to a new religion....

November 2011

I've decided to follow a new religion. Basketball. This is a religion in North Carolina. In fact, it may be bigger than religion itself (at that’s saying something about the South!). I attended the “Late Night with Roy” event a few weeks ago, and have been watching the games over the last few weeks. It's really sunk in how phenomenal basketball is at UNC in particular and in general in the state.

The retired jersey numbers in the Dean Dome

Late Night with Roy
UNC was asked to play against Michigan State, at the first Carrier Classic game held on the deck of an aircraft carrier on Veterans Day, with the President himself being there at the game. I believe there was a little media coverage of the game back in the UK, but here it was a big deal with a lot of coverage. Obviously it was held to commemorate veterans of the US armed forces, with only serving and retired personnel able to attend the game (plus people who knew people in the right places!). It was certainly amusing to see guys in uniform going mental and flying UNC/MSU flags in the stands! It was even cooler to see the court on the deck of this aircraft carrier (apparently the ships captain was Tar Heel too), and the players jerseys were camo print in the teams colours. What was even nicer (as it was for veterans day) was that the players names were replaced by "USA" on the back of the jerseys, in order to commemorate the US veterans. I think that's a cool thing to do and seriously wish something like that would occur at home.

I watched the game myself with some of the American guys and girls I have got to know through Pat at Willey’s house (which is VERY nice, but that’s another story). Being hardcore basketball fans, they had set up the room well with tiered sofas and a good supply of food and booze knocking around. Coupled with Carolina blue and excited college students the game was great fun! It was amazing to see how into the game everyone got – basketball really has a massive following here. And I guess with UNC tipped to win the NCAA (the college basketball league here) there is a lot more excitement among the fans. I have to admit I am hooked now, and completely taken in with the Tar Heel sporting life. Probably reflected in the fact that I own more UNC things now than Manchester… oops! We won the game 67-55, which prompted various people to sing (scream) the Tar Heel Chant, and Willey proclaimed to anyone and everyone “THAT'S Carolina Basketball!” Tar Heels eh?

Scene from the Carrier Classic

I also went and watched an exhibition match between UNC and Pembroke (no, id never heard of them either) before the Carrier Classic, in the Dean Dome. This was the first proper game I had seen in the Dean Dome, and even though the stadium was far from being packed, it was a great buzz to be there. Again, the number 1 ranked UNC beat Pembroke 100-58 slow game, but which turned into a really entertaining game. Well, once I had an idea about the rules and knew what was going on…. The highlight however which had me and Julie in stitches was a little girl over the other side of the stadium from us. She spent the whole game standing in the aisles of the seats dancing away to the music whenever it came on. I’m gonna be very un-macho here and proclaim it was one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen! Even funnier was a small boy sitting in front of us, who turned around and took a liking to Pat, pointing at him and repeatedly saying “Bas-ket-ball” to him. Everyone was in hysterics, not less Pat who simply repeated it back to him every time. That’s classic dad skills there right?!

Scenes from the Dean Dome
The hype surrounding this year’s basketball is amazing. Whole channels on the TV are devoted to it, and people will spend an evening staying in watching college basketball games on the sports channels. This is a world away from UK University sports, which has a very low key following just within the university, and possibly a brief mention within local papers if they have done particularly well in a competition. Contrast that with the generations of family’s which follow a certain college team, regardless of whether they attend there or not, and the following in parents footsteps of attending a certain college. Even attending a UNC basketball is almost a privilege. In order to go watch at game at the Dean Dome (the UNC basketball stadium), you have to apply online, and then it’s a lottery as to whether you get a ticket or not. And you only receive 2 tickets. One ticket for the Duke game. Mental! The dean dome is a crazy place – just over 20,000 seat stadium, reaching high above the court with the usual big screens, marching band, cheerleaders and loud music. I think it seems louder in the Dean Dome due to the roof and slightly smaller stadium compared to other stadiums I’ve been in. However, the Duke stadium has only 8,000 seats so apparently that gets completely mental in there! To me it seems phenomenal that these college students playing for UNC/whoever (and they are only students at the end of the day – no different to the Manchester Men’s 1st football team in reality) are put on TV every week, are known on sight by people all over America and can have stats recited about their previous games. Its crazy the amount of coverage these guys get – none of them older than myself – pushed to a fame like status. 

Anyways, I am SO excited for the basketball season; getting to watch a few games in the Dean Dome and hopefully experience the pure mental-ness that will grip the UNC campus over the next few months as the Tar Heels progress in the AAC.

On a related note, did you know that the iPhone is a UNC fan? If you have the Iphone4S with the Siri voice recognition say “Tar” into it. Siri will reply with “Heel!” which is one of the UNC chants at sport events. Therefore the iPhone is a Tar Heel! Needless to say Duke fans were not amused one bit….

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