By Adam Lucas
HONOLULU—Carolina’s players are accustomed to trying to make fast exits after road games.
After Friday night’s 83-68 win at Hawaii, with no shower facilities available, it looked like a quick departure was imminent. A couple of the freshmen—already well aware not to be last—were already on the bus when Roy Williams began asking his players to return to the court.
Joel Berry raised an eyebrow when the request was relayed to him. Back on the court? That was a new one.
It turned out it wasn’t some diabolical scheme to make the Tar Heels do some extra running (don’t worry, that will come Saturday in Maui). Instead, several sailors from the USS North Carolina were waiting for the players, where the entire group—including the freshmen, who were retrieved from the bus—posed for a group photo.
“Shake everyone’s hand and speak to everybody here,” Williams reminded his team.
It was an especially relevant photo op, since everyone in the photograph is learning some of the same lessons. At the bottom of every Plan of the Day aboard the submarine, Capt. Gary Montalvo includes the phrase, “Humble and Hungry.” That’s how he wants his sailors to operate.
Earlier this year, the USS North Carolina won the coveted Battle Efficiency award, honoring overall excellence over the period of a full calendar year. Montalvo remembers getting the call informing him of the award.
“That’s great,” he remembers saying. “But I really don’t think we’re that good. We can definitely get better.”
Who does that sound a little bit like? Roy Williams, of course. His team is 4-0 for the first time since the 2012-13 club (which dropped its fifth game) and has overcome early injuries to play some encouraging minutes in the first four contests of the year.
But they also gave in defensively against Hawaii, allowing the Rainbow Warriors to shoot 55.2 percent from the field in Friday’s second half. After three games of playing with a distinct edge, Friday wasn’t a particularly hungry performance.
“It was one of the ugliest games I’ve ever coached in my entire life,” Williams said.
The specific reason for the ugliness is an ominous one for the Tar Heels.
“We’ve got to get everybody caring about it a little bit more on the defensive end,” the head coach said. “If you can’t guard the basketball, it’s hard to play.”
The Tar Heels returned to their Waikiki hotel on Friday night and will leave for Maui on Saturday morning. That gives Williams all afternoon to practice and to help his team relocate that hunger he demands.
It’s a very similar situation to 2004, when Carolina surrendered 50 percent shooting in a loss at Santa Clara in the season opener, then was stuck on an island with Williams for most of the next week. The first practice in Maui was cited by most players as a key to the eventual national championship that season.
A dozen years later, Sean May still remembers it. “I think we did every defensive drill Coach had ever seen or heard of during his entire career,” May remembered on the team bus late Friday night. “Two hours, and it was nothing but defense.”
The 2017 Tar Heels can probably expect something similar on Saturday afternoon. On Friday, they got a win. Before they play another game, though, they’re going to remember how to be hungry.