In another blog post on Toughness we talked about the kind of thinking that makes teams difficult to beat. This blog has also mentioned that winning is a state of mind, and that psychological preparation , especially visualization, plays an outlandish role in winning. It is very difficult to win, however that is defined, if the team is not convinced it can be done and the unconscious mind has not been given a chance to dwell on it. The 1993 Tarheel National Championship team developed a lot of toughness over the season. There are two facts here that are germaine to the 2009 Tarheels .
First, the role of positive imagery must be emphasized. In 1993 Dean Smith doctored a 1982 picture that said, 'Congratulations North Carolina, 1982 national champions' showing on the scoreboard at the end of the game. Smith says, "It dawned on me, let's put that in everybody's locker. We won't tell anybody, just our team. We changed the 1982 to 1993 and marked out Georgetown's name so the opponent wasn't visible and the players had that waiting for them when practice started." Those pictures were in each player's locker all season long. While many of the 2009 Tarheels have a very negative loss to Kansas to spur them on this year, I hope they have a very positive image which they have been working with throughout this year. A team's mental prowess does not recover lightly from such a loss.
Second, the 1993 team had to grow into its toughness, especially Donald Williams. The team was not beset by All Stars or future NBA players eptimomized by the Michigan team. The good news was their team play. Scoring was fairly balanced and they benefited from both post and perimeter threats although Donald Williams could not seem to shake his streaky shooting. They did overcome a 19 point deficit to FSU to win in the Dean Dome but immediately came up flat and lost 2 games in a row. And while they won the regular season quite handily, Williams shot 4-of-18 in the ACC championship game that year, and 3-of-12 from beyond the three-point line, enroute to a loss to Georgia Tech that surprised everyone.
But the team soldiered on through the tournament. Each game they stepped up their already steady play. Perhaps it was really Reese and Lynch who best marked a team that did more than just produce more points than normal on any given night. They began rebounding and playing defense at key moments when the team really needed it. And Williams' shot became ever more dependable.
The Tarheels were on fire by the time it met Michigan in the finals. They did all the little things that make a team tough. But they also did the big things. And Williams had become a player oblivious to pressure. Time after time Williams sunk his shot when he was open. And there is no doubt in my mind that given the Webber technical or not the game was going to the Tarheels. They were mentally prepared and would not be denied.
In the Miami vs. UNC game here in 2009 we saw the same kind of toughness developing in this UNC team. While Hansbrough has always had it, Green just showed up as a tough player this year. He owes us an explanation on how that occurred. But on the perimeter it has been Lawson , not Ellington , that is complimenting Green when we most need the 3 pointer. Like Williams in '93, Lawson's perimeter shot has become more consistent as the year progresses. And sooner or later every team needs outside pressure, especially when opponents double and triple team Hansbrough. Last year, shutting down Hansbrough might have beat UNC. This year Lawson and Green make that strategy a weak one. And it is Ellington and Frazor and Thompson who are picking up errant rebounds, getting put-backs, and making the extra pass that are rounding out a team that finally trusts each other to step it up when it counts.
The 2009 Tarheels have come a long way this year. Hopefully their mental progress is positive enough to carry them all the way to the NC. They had the talent to do it last year but were not mentally ready. The Miami game shows that at least three of them are ready now.