When Dewey Burke fed Serge Zwikker for the game-winning layup Friday night at the Smith Center, it seemed a fitting way to conclude North Carolina’s Celebration of a Century Alumni Game.
A former walk-on and former starter. A decade in age apart. Teaming for the same goal: victory.
“That was a great, great ending,’’ current coach Roy Williams said after the Blue team beat White, 71-70. “Guys, that’s what North Carolina basketball is all about.”
The current UNC team, which plays N.C. State today, is embroiled in a disappointing 13-11 season. But Friday night’s game, which featured roughly 70 former alumni age 89 to 21, multiple video montages and interviews, and a halftime tribute to former coach Dean Smith, served as a reminder of past and recent successes.
“Even though we didn’t play here at the same time, we all feel like we’re brothers, and we share so many of the same memories,’’ said Phil Ford, the 1978 National Player of the Year and current Charlotte Bobcats assistant. “And to see everyone, and see Coach Smith, the fans are great it was an unbelievable evening, and one I’ll remember the rest of my life.”
You knew it was going to be a different kind of game when 89-year-old Bobby Gersten, a senior at Carolina in 1942, did jumping jacks as “Jump Around” blasted through the Smith Center -- then beat out 83-year-old Nemo Nearman (a senior in 1950) on the jump ball.
Teams were matched up roughly by eras, and played in several-minute spurts at a time.
Ford – who said he hadn’t played in a game in two decades -- brought the Four Corners offense back, flashing his quartet of fingers as he spread the floor for the ‘White’ team. He scored a layup before going to the bench.
Meanwhile, 7-footers Zwikker and Eric Montross matched up in the post. Proving they still had the hustle – but maybe not the speed – of their college years, Matt Wenstrom and Scott Williams dove on to the floor for a loose ball. Al Wood, Bill Chamberlain, Bobby Jones, Walter Davis, J.R. Reid, Brian Reese, Dante Calabria and Shammond Williams were among other alums that also took turns passing, shooting, running and dunking.
And a chant of “We want biscuits!” began when Burke -- known for helping the Tar Heels eclipse the 100-point mark on multiple occasions during his senior season in 2008, and therefore earn free Bojangles biscuits for thousands of fans – buried a 3-pointer.
But one of the most poignant moments of the night came at halftime. After a video montage thanking Smith, a Hall-of-Famer, for all he had done for the program and college basketball, the former Tar Heel coach walked to mid-court, flanked by Williams, Bill Guthridge and Eddie Fogler, three of his former assistants. Then all of the players surrounded Smith, taking turns to embrace him.
It was so moving that current assistant coach Joe Holladay sat on the bench, tears welling.
“There’s no question, everybody getting together in the middle of the court with Coach Smith, that was the best for me,’’ coach Roy Williams said. “Watching the videos, 100 years, that was a very special time for me. I’m very emotional, as you guys know.”
And the emotion didn’t end there. The evening concluded with the “Centennial Fast Break” which featured 21 players – 20 of whom have their jerseys hanging in the rafters – passing the ball around the court. Jim McCachren, who played in the 1930s, inbounded the ball. At the end, Tyler Hansbrough, the school’s all-time leading scorer, laid it in – and then told a team official is was the most nervous he’s ever been on the court.
Dozens of other alumni, including Charles Scott, Wayne Ellington, Jawad Williams and Lennie Rosenbluth, were in attendance; roughly 200 former players will be recognized during halftime of today’s game against the Wolfpack.
Carolina’s current team also watched from the stands.
“Today, and tomorrow night, it wasn’t a reason to have [the celebration] to see what my team could get out of it,’’ Roy Williams said. “But they’re dumb if you don’t sit there and pay attention. I gave them one instruction today: don’t give me any of this ‘cool’ stuff. When the video’s on, pay attention. When people are talking, pay attention. This is a celebration of what has happened, and I hope my players can gain something from it. It’s a celebration of what’s already been done.”
And a reminder, perhaps, of what eventually can be, again.
“The highlight is being out there on the court, and being able to do that one more time,’’ Zwikker said. “To wear the jersey again, to run up and down the court, to play with players that came before me and after me not everyone gets to do that.”
BRIEFLY: The crowd gave a nice round of applause during a video featuring former coach Matt Doherty, who was fired in 2003. Ellington and point guard Ty Lawson, who helped lead Carolina to last year’s national title, will have their jerseys honored before the today’s game.