Last Sunday, former North Carolina basketball center Nemo Nearman spent about a half-hour on a stationary bike, 25 minutes using various resistance machines, five minutes lifting free weights, and then 15 minutes in the steam room and whirlpool. And that was before playing pickup ball with his buddies a couple of days later.
"I'm as ready as I'll ever be for Friday's game," he said, referring to tonight's "Celebration of a Century" alumni game at the Smith Center.
Especially considering he is 83 years old.
Nearman, who played for UNC - then known as the "White Phantoms" - from 1946-50, is one of about 70 former basketball players who will suit up for the 8 p.m. game, which kicks off a two-day event that commemorates the 100th season of Carolina basketball.
In all, almost 200 former lettermen are scheduled to be honored during halftime of Saturday's ACC showdown against N.C. State. But tonight, 14 mini-teams will be split up into different eras and then face off against similar age groups in five-minute increments, with video interviews and montages interspersed during the timeouts.
Four of the five starters from the 1993 national championship team will play.
"Somehow, my kids convinced me to do it," said former center Eric Montross, a commentator for the team radio network who played for UNC from 1991-94 and later retired from the NBA because of a foot injury. "But I only plan to go up and down the court a couple of times."
Bill Guthridge, a former head coach and assistant coach, and Eddie Fogler, a former assistant, will serve as bench coaches, and former Hall of Fame head coach Dean Smith will be honored.
Even Phil Ford, the maestro of the Four Corners offense and 1978 national player of the year, plans to suit up.
"I told them I'd dribble and hold up four fingers," Ford, now an assistant coach for the Charlotte Bobcats said, laughing. "[But] if they expect me to guard, it's 5-on-4."
The oldest of the old timers - some of whom may be in better shape than a few of the 40- and 50-year-olds - will lead things off with four minutes of half-court 3-on-3.
Bobby Gersten, a 5-foot-71/2 point guard who played from 1938-42, will be the oldest to handle the ball; he turns 90 in August. He still swims every day and plays tennis regularly near his home in Grove Isle, Fla. And every summer, the counselors at his Brant Lake Camp for boys in the Adirondack Mountains let him join their Wednesday night pickup game for a three-minute spurt.
"Know who the last person I scored on was? Sam Perkins," he said, referring to the Tar Heels forward who started on the 1982 national championship team but is not scheduled to suit up tonight "He was up there at my camp, and I know he let me score. I enjoyed it, though ... but that was eight years ago."
Gersten said he would love to make a bucket tonight, too, but he'd also get a kick out of throwing an assist to 88-year-old Julian Smith, who teamed with him from 1938-42. The two remain good friends.
"He always liked to shoot from the corner," Gersten remembered, chuckling. "Maybe I'll try to get it to him there."
Only problem, said Smith, a former coach who now lives in a retirement community in Laurinburg: "I really can't jump anymore. ... I did go over to St. Andrews College the other day and shot around a little bit. I think I hit the rim once."
Thus, the ringer for the earliest era - which will also include Marx Nathan (1946-48), Tuffy Henderson (1953-55), and Buddy Clark (1954-55) - could well be Nearman, a four-time basketball medalist in the National Senior Games.
The Charleston, W.Va., resident has had two knee replacements in the past year and says he needs a hip replacement. But his friends, who also play in the Senior Games, have been going hard at him during their twice-a-week pickup scrimmages to prepare him for tonight.
Nearman said he's a bit nervous about playing in front of a sellout crowd, but he's ready to play - although he's glad he's not scheduled to face any 40-, 50-, or 60-year olds.
"No, no, no, no, no," he said, laughing. "I'm not in THAT good of shape. I'll be happy to play my few minutes and watch all those great players go at it."
Staff writer Rick Bonnell contributed to this report.