A guy named Hunter Renfrow helped make the Clemson Tigers football champions. A guy from Huntersville just pushed the North Carolina Tar Heels closer to the summit of major men’s college basketball. Other lesser-known student-athletes and big-name coaches have joined them to help the Carolinas dominate major college sports recently in a way no other region in the country can claim.
Depending on the outcomes of games Saturday and Monday, the reigning champions of each of the highest-profile college sports could be from the Carolinas.
The run of excellence began last summer when the Coastal Carolina University baseball team made its way to the College World Series for the first time and decided to win the whole darn thing while they were there. The program was an overnight sensation 20 years in the making under the tutelage of Gary Gilmore, who decided to stay in Conway, S.C., despite offers over the years from larger schools.
Maybe inspired by CCU, Clemson’s football team thought it would be cool to be champions, too. Led by a quarterback, Deshaun Watson, who should have won the Heisman Trophy (and will be a high draft choice in the upcoming NFL draft), and with a major assist from that Renfrow guy – a former high school quarterback who had offers from smaller schools but bet on himself and earned a scholarship at Clemson – the Tigers took down the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The area has three upcoming chances to add to that haul. One came courtesy of Luke Maye, that guy from Huntersville. He slayed a Kentucky Wildcats team full of future NBA players with a last-second shot Sunday to put the Tar Heels back in the Final Four to try to finish what the team began last year. Like Renfrow, Maye is a former walk-on who had to earn a scholarship to play alongside stars, such as the ACC’s player of the year, Justin Jackson. Standing in the Tar Heels’ way could be the University of South Carolina Gamecocks, making its first appearance on college basketball’s biggest stage. It’s led by a homegrown star who decided to stay home, as well as a stifling defense.
Not to be outdone, USC’s women earned their second women’s Final Four appearance in recent years, overcoming a season-ending injury to one of its top players. They are led by a coach, Dawn Staley, recently chosen to lead the women’s Olympics basketball team, meaning the Carolinas are home to both Olympic basketball generals. Duke University’s Coach Mike Krzyzewski has led the men’s team to three gold medals.
There’s been much to complain about, argue and debate the past several months, from bathrooms to funding for Meals on Wheels. For one weekend, we can unite around the success of a gaggle of student-athletes who keep reminding us about one of the ways this region is already great.