It’s an oh-so-familiar sight to Triangle college basketball fans -- confetti streaming from the rafters of a cavernous sports arena, fans storming the court, players embracing.
But familiar though it may be, the shining moment never fades, is always fresh to each year’s tournament champions, as it was Monday night to the Tar Heels of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
This may have been the school’s sixth national championship, but the emotions unleashed with the players and their adoring followers from coast to coast were probably not one whit less soaring than in any of the first five, dating to its first in 1957. This one, as countless writers and commentators have noted, is especially notable because “redemption” figures so heavily in the narrative.
The redemption factor was far from lost on the players.
“It was, in North Carolina's words, a redemption tour - filled with extra time on the practice court and the weight room, all fueled by a devastating loss in last year's title game on Kris Jenkins' 3-point dagger at the buzzer for Villanova,” an Associated Press account of the game read.
The AP account continued:
"I wanted to see this confetti fall on us and we're the winners," said Carolina's Joel Berry II, who led the Heels with 22 points. "We came out here and we competed. It came down to the last second, but we're national champs now."
Or as our colleague, The News and Observer’s Luke DeCock, put it:
“This group, this uncommon group of veteran players in an era of one-and-dones and transfers, took its place in not only North Carolina history but basketball history, losing the title game one year – in the most heartbreaking fashion imaginable – only to come back a year later and finish the job.”
With Monday’s victory, UNC pulled ahead of Duke in national championships -- six to five. Only UCLA and Kentucky have won more than UNC; beyond those, only one -- Indiana -- has won as many as Duke.
Think about that western Triangle total -- 11 championships between the two schools, both of which as they will and should proudly remind you stand out in many other areas -- academics, medicine, research. Of the 18 men’s basketball championships earned this still-young century, the Blue Devils or the Tar Heels have won one-third.
It’s no wonder “Tobacco Road” holds such prominence in the national basketball spotlight.
This week, that big picture takes a back seat to the exuberance of the moment.
Way to go, Heels.