As North Carolina made the trek to Greenville on Wednesday for the start of the NCAA tournament, the Tar Heels did so in style.
In a photo posted by the team’s Twitter account, each player wore a custom hat, varying in size, color and design. Each cap was the creation of freshman forward Shea Rush.
According to junior forward Theo Pinson, Rush has worn the handcrafted hats all season. Then, a couple of weeks ago, a few players approached Rush about creating one for each member of the team.
Rush went to work, hoping to have the hats ready for the postseason.
“I'm not a very artsy person,” said junior forward Justin Jackson. “So I just told him to do whatever style he felt fit me best. But, yeah, he put in so much time. I mean, he stayed up late doing it. Anytime he had free time, he was at the gym working on them.”
The hats range from fedoras to cowboy hats. However, coach Roy Williams questioned the latter Thursday afternoon ahead of the team’s open practice.
“They could be Mafia hats, who knows?” Williams said. “I like ’em. I've got one. We're going to have a team picture made today with everybody. ...I don't look good in a hat at all, may not look good anyway, but I know I don’t look good in a hat. But I'm going to try to put mine on.
“He asked me what color, what band. All that stuff. Hats by Shea. It's a pretty neat deal.”
Besides being fashionable, Rush’s hats have also paid other dividends — ones the Tar Heels, the No. 1 seed in the East Region, hope can carry over into their first-round game against No. 16 seed Texas Southern.
“Yeah, it gives you a different type of confidence, I guess, to be able to pull it off,” said Jackson when asked if the hats have helped. “We're blessed to have (Rush).”
“I look great in it,” added Pinson.
Williams, Krzyzewski remain opposed to HB2
The NCAA announced in September that it was relocating this weekend’s first- and second-round games — as well as six other championship events scheduled in North Carolina for this academic year — as a result of the state’s House Bill 2, which limits legal protections for the LGBT community.
Williams and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski have expressed their opposition toward the law in the past, and they continued to do so Thursday.
“I'm very sad, very disappointed about the whole thing, which apparently is something that's really, really hard to change,” Williams said. “But people in Greenville have been great.”
Krzyzewski also heaped praise on Greenville for how its handled its role as host. He then followed in Williams’ footsteps and expressed his displeasure with the law.
“I don't want to take away from the great people of South Carolina and the people of Greenville,” Krzyzewski said. “They have the right to host it whether our state is smart enough to have it. It shouldn't be a contest of one another. South Carolina is known for great basketball, and this is a great town. So we feel really good about being here.
“It would be nice if our state got as smart and also would host not just basketball tournaments but concerts and other NCAA events. But maybe we'll get there in the next century, I don't know. We'll see.”
Friday’s game will mark North Carolina’s first in a South Carolina city other than Clemson since an 82-79 overtime loss at the College of Charleston on Jan. 4, 2010.
Duke will be playing its second game at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in as many years. The Blue Devils visited the facility on Jan. 13, 2016, when they lost 68-63 to Clemson.
Texas Southern also faced Clemson in Greenville last season, falling 76-56. However, after the Tigers lost five lettermen, including four starters, off last year’s roster, Texas Southern coach Mike Davis doesn’t believe his team will benefit from playing in a familiar environment.
“Not one guy on that team now played here last year,” Davis said. “So I'm the only one, and I don't think I'll be making any jump shots tomorrow.”
5 to watch, excluding players from Duke, UNC
Angel Delgado, junior center, Seton Hall: Delgado, 6-foot-10, averages 13.1 rebounds, which leads the nation. A member of the All-Big East first team, he also ranks third on the team with 15.3 points per game.
Markus Howard, freshman guard, Marquette: Howard, a member of the All-Big East freshman team, leads the country with a 54.9 3-point field goal percentage. He’s the Golden Eagles’ top scorer, averaging 13.2 points.
Moses Kingsley, senior forward, Arkansas: Kingsley, 6-foot-10, made the SEC all-defensive team after leading the conference with 2.6 blocks per game and averaging 7.8 rebounds. He also averages 11.8 points.
Sindarius Thornwell, senior guard, South Carolina: A two-way threat, Thornwell was named the SEC Player of the Year after leading the conference in scoring (21.0 points per game) and steals (2.2 per game).
Jordon Varnado, sophomore forward, Troy: Varnado, a first-team All-Sun Belt selection, paces the Trojans in scoring (16.5), rebounds (7.1) and blocks (1.4). He’ll likely be assigned to guard Jayson Tatum in their first-round game against Duke.