Two notable basketball firsts
Basketball fans of pretty much any allegiance among our area schools have reason to celebrate this year’s March Madness, with all four Triangle men’s teams headed to the NCAA tournament.
Amid all the general hoopla, two accomplishments this past weekend stand out for their historic nature – one at the college level, one in high school post-season play.
For N. C. Central University, this is the school’s first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament, its berth clinched with the Eagles’ victory in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship Saturday night.
Earlier Saturday, the girls of Chapel Hill High School, with a convincing 69-56 victory over Hickory, captured the state 3-A championship – and capped the school’s first-ever perfect season.
Coaches at NCCU and Chapel Hill were appropriately effusive about their places in history.
“Every single kid that touches a basketball desires to be in the field of 65,” NCCU coach LeVelle Moton said Saturday after the team defeated Morgan State.
While the win had assured the Eagles of a ticket to the “big dance” there was a bit of suspense during the nationally televised show announcing tournament pairings Sunday when their game was the very last announced.
Moton was as philosophical about that wait as he was excited about making the tournament trip. “We waited this long,” Moton remarked. “We might as well wait three more commercial breaks.”
Winning the MEAC tournament – in just its third season playing in the top tier of college basketball – was in itself a landmark event for NCCU. The last time the basketball team won a conference championship of any kind was in 1950.
At Chapel Hill, statewide success was not new – this is the team’s second state championship under coach Sherry Norris. But the last was a while ago – 1981, when the team, then playing in the 4-A classification, beat Cary.
The perfect season was, as Norris noted, monumental.
“This entire season we’ve talked about making history and to go 32-0 and have an undefeated season is something that every coach that coaches dreams of,” she said. “That’s what you talk about with your players at the beginning of the season. This is my 37th year coaching and I’ve never come close to that.”
Big-time college sports has become a behemoth that troubles many, and the best among the young men and women who compete for state titles are so heavily recruited as to risk distorting their high school experience.
But for all the troubles that can envelope the sport, it’s good to remember that the players and their coaches can -- and should -- revel unabashedly in victory for which they have worked so hard.
So as the final chapter of this basketball season gets underway, we certainly congratulate Duke and UNC for following the path to the tournament so familiar to them and their fans. But we give a special shout-out to the historic accomplishments of NCCU and Chapel Hill High School.