Read Everything That Dunks Must Converge

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by Bryan Harvey

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by Bryan Harvey

Previewing the ACC-Big Ten Challenge

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by Brendan Brody

To their own devices: Pablo Larrain's 'The Club'

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by Bryan Harvey

The Greatest Rivalry (2010) Chapter 1: The Invisible Men

February 9, 2010

Somehow, someway, this North Carolina team found a way to make H. G. Wells grin from inside a tomb of science fiction nonsense.

This time last year Carolina was well on its way to being crowned the ACC regular season champs with even bigger dreams of eventually becoming national champions. They did both, and the Carolina faithful were happy; but happiness soon gave way to madness. The phrase "gave way" even suggests that the madness was always present, perhaps as an intangible part of what makes college basketball such a tragically beautiful sport.

The politics and war of college basketball benefit the impulses of raving lunatics to be celebrated as the courageous acts of heroic warriors and strategists, when the greatest amount of strategy used, at times, is picking the right seat at a Russian roulette table. Depending on which chamber holds the bullet and which seated player starts the game, one either chose wisely or poorly, and to always win the game would require one to be omnipotent, knowing more of the past and future than anyone else at the table. No one is omnipotent, so winning very often comes down to luck.

Carolina won it all last year; we were very lucky. The only problem with the college basketball version of Russian roulette is that it's not like normal Russian roulette. The winner gets shot, making the winner both lucky and unlucky simultaneously.

Recruiting classes sit like a gun's chambers. Some classes are empty, and some are not. JJ Reddick and Sheldon Williams were impotent killers--there was nothing in the chamber. Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Green were hollow-tipped assassins. It took four years, but they exploded through the average basketball fan's skin, muscle, and bone; and then they were gone, leaving behind the unforgettable scent of gunpowder and smoke. The moment of death was both beautiful and haunting, and as the blood poured out their skulls onto the hardwood floor Tywon Lawson and Wayne Ellington pushed their chairs back from the table and walked through the mess, staining their white sneakers red, on their way to the NBA.

Okay, the above is all hyperbole, but think of it this way: how often do national championship teams in college basketball return enough pieces to legitimately compete for the title the following year? I would say seldom, and the reason is because national titles are usually won by teams containing one of the following two elements: several upperclassmen that will make mediocre pros or underclassmen that are the future superstars of the League and will not be staying for four years of Russian roulette. Winning college basketball teams, hell, make that talented college basketball teams, get blown up with frightening consistency, leaving behind fragmented skulls and frightened freshmen who don't know what they're getting into, leaving the young to teach the young.

And some young players learn better than others.

John Henson, Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald, and the Wear twins approached the table with trepidation. The twins might have even held hands under the table in an effort to comfort one another; each one hoping the other would play the role of the older, braver brother.  Neither did.  David pulled his chair back from the table and sat down with his hands tucked under his thighs, to hide his trembling fingers.  Travis pulled his chair back and spoke up, "Is that blood on the floor?"  Warm urine ran down his leg, collecting in his gym sock.

"Yeah, that's Tyler's blood," answered Deon. "He did everything.  Y'all ready to play?"

Dexter stepped up to the table, pulled out his chair, and sat down.  "Yeah, we're ready," he hoped the grimace on his face would mask the fear inside his brain.  Henson and Leslie took their seats in silence, hoping no one would notice them at the table.

Larry, who looked too small to be a leader of any kind, grabbed the gun, "Well, I guess we should get started."  He lifted the firearm to his head.  He looked ready, but as he turned the nozzle to his temple his hand shook.  The gun slipped out, clambered off the table, and popped like a fire cracker. Marcus Ginyard fell out of his chair, grabbing his foot.

"Damn it, Larry, you shot me!" yelled Marcus.  "Damn, Larry, you gotta watch what you're doing."  Marcus could feel the bones of his foot coming apart like flakes of micah underneath his fingertips.  "Damn it. This isn't going to get any better."

William Graves howled and then began to chuckle, "Give me the gun.  I ain't scared to pull the trigger."  Ed Davis reached underneath the table and picked up the gun.  He held it in front of him, contemplating the power of death concealed in cold steel.  He looked down the barrel; its darkness looked infinite, and he thought of pyramids and mighty rivers.  Then he shivered and handed the gun over to William Graves, who laughed like a hyena, as he used the gun's barrel to scratch his back, and everyone else at the table just stared: paralyzed.

The double doors burst open and in came the Duke Blue Devils, looking like pale vampires escaped from a Sex Pistols concert.  Eyeing Marcus Ginyard on the floor, Jon Scheyer speaks up, "Oh, how nice of you, Tar Heels, to do our job for us."

Tyler Zeller closed his Harry Potter book and limped out of the room's dark corner, a cast around his foot, "Quit stealing lines from Draco Malfoy, Scheyer."  As Zeller got closer, the Plumlee brothers began to tremble.  Then their shivering lips fell apart into laughter as Zeller lost his footing, his cast slipping on the blood and sweat that was left by Tyler Hansbrough, leaving Zeller to wallow on the floor with Marcus Ginyard.  And the Blue Devils took their seats at the table.

"I can't do this!" screamed Justin Watts as he ran out the double doors, leaving nine Tar Heels and nine Blue Devils at the table.    

Player after player pulled the trigger to the sound of nothing.  The Blue Devils Singler and Scheyer took special joy in watching their Tar Heel brethren writhe and squirm under the stress brought on by the sacrifice victory requires, but then the gun came to sit before where John Henson should have been seated.

"Did anyone see where John went?" asked Larry Drew, who had placed the gun in front of Henson's chair.

"No," whispered Deon Thompson.  "He was right there.  It's like he disappeared."

The Blue Devils began to laugh and pound their hands on the table.  Singler cried out shrilly, "We win!  We win!  You cowards can't even keep your team at the table!  We win!  HAAAAhaaaaaaaa!!"

Then the gun floated off the table, levitating.  Then it hovered around the table and came to rest right in front of Singler's face.  He went cross-eyed looking at it, and John Henson's voice arose from behind the trigger, "No, Kyle, no matter what you heard, I'm still here."  Singler's jaw dropped to the floor, and Henson added, "Now, let's play."

Inexperience, injuries, lack of leadership, and no chemistry have all had a hand in unraveling the hopes and aspirations that began this basketball season.  Barring a miraculous turnaround, the NCAA tournament is out of the question for a  team that began the season with wins over Michigan State and Ohio State.  The immediate future seems uncertain and unpredictable, and Tar Heel fans long for invisible men to step up and display their talents; otherwise, tomorrow night's game with Duke will be a one-sided blood bath.


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