It was incredibly difficult to write that story, as I had come to know many of the players personally over the course of the season. I had a Journalism class with Marcus Paige. The head manager for the team was one of my close friends.
You walk into the locker room after a loss that big, and you see players broken down and in tears, knowing just how close they were to winning it all. The last thing you want to do is pester them with questions and make them tell you about how much it sucks.
But at the same time, you have to understand you’re writing to tell their story.
And in my case, I was trying to show all of the fans back in Chapel Hill the emotion that comes with the heartbreak. The fans and students were feeling it in their own way, but they also cared about these players, and this team, and they deserved to know the players’ sorrow as well — even if it would be easier to try and ignore everything the next day.
As he so often did, Paige made things easier by offering up the postgame quote that eloquently tied everything together for:
“It’s hard,” Paige said, “because at some point tonight I have to take this jersey off, and I never get to put it back on.”
I often think that applies to all of us. At some point we all had to leave Chapel Hill, knowing that we would never come back as students. For me personally, this was the last story I ever wrote about UNC basketball game, or any other UNC sporting event.
It was hard. I hope I managed to do it justice. It’s certainly a game and a night that I’ll never forget.
I haven’t rewatched Villanova’s National Championship victory since I saw it in real time, on the evening of April 4, 2016. Sure, GIFs of Kris Jenkins’ buzzer beater pop up everywhere. Yes, I saw the ESPN segment where Ryan Arcidiacono, Daniel Ochefu, and Jenkins recreate “the shot.” But these reruns always miss the mark.
There’s something about the feeling of that moment – impossibly perfect – which cannot be duplicated. It was too good to be true; is it crazy to think, if I watch it again, that maybe the stars won’t align again?
The arena is painted by the mosaic of Carolina blue, scattered with Sooner red and Syracuse orange on the opposite side of the court below the jumbotron and the red, white, and blue of the largest American flag I’ve ever seen. I stood next to my father in a sea of navy with my hands folded, looking up at the ceiling and requesting divine intervention. Our hands were numb from high fives, probably hundreds of times over the past 39 minutes and 55.3 seconds. We were just hoping for one more – one more celebratory high-five.
You’ve seen the play. You’ve heard the stories. But neither video nor words can capture the emotion of the gasp I took when the ball rolled off Jenkins’ finger-tips, spiraling toward its destiny.