Tar Heels ready for Craziness that awaits them at Cameron

The atmosphere surrounding a UNC-Duke rivalry game at Cameron Indoor Stadium can be intimidating, but having been through it several times before, the veteran Tar Heels at least know what to expect

Mark Dolejs—X02835
Jan 23

Kenny Williams didn’t play a single minute in North Carolina’s 76-72 win at Duke last March. His front row seat from the bench, however, gave him a good idea what to expect tonight when he steps onto the court as a starter for his first experience at playing in Cameron Indoor Stadium. “It’s a lot different seeing it on TV and actually being there in person,” said Williams, a sophomore guard averaging 6.5 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. The experience starts the minute the visiting team steps out onto the court for its pregame warmups more than an hour before gametime. In most arenas, the stands are mostly empty at that point. But not Cameron, especially when the Tar Heels are the opponent. There, the lower bowl of the arena is already filled to the brim with students — the infamous Cameron Crazies. After spending weeks living in tents outside the building in anticipation of just this moment, they aren’t in the mood to hold anything back. “It’s all noise,” Williams said. “They say whatever they can to get you riled up, whatever they can to get a reaction out of you. At this point in our lives, we’ve heard enough of it to be able to tune it out.” Most of Williams’ teammates, along with coach Roy Williams, said that they become too focused once the game begins to notice anything that’s being said from the crowd. That doesn’t mean they don’t hear it before the game as they’re going through their layup line. “Every once in awhile you’ll hear that one person that says something funny,” senior forward Isaiah Hicks said. “That’s when someone on the team will say, ‘hey, did you hear that?’ And we’ll start laughing. I know as soon as we get there someone is going to say something funny and we’ll all start laughing.” The players aren’t the only one to have a little fun with the creative fans trying to get under their skin. “I look at the signs early, because I like to see if any of them make me laugh,” Williams said. “I can remember days when they were really vicious. Now they’re very loud and very enthusiastic and sort of cute. I remember when they were throwing crap on the floor, and I mean almost crap.” Cute might not be the most accurate description for some of the comments that will be aimed at Williams and his players tonight, but then, most of the Tar Heels know what to expect and have learned how to embrace the atmosphere. The fact that they came away with a victory that clinched the ACC regular season championship at Cameron the last time they were there — on Senior Day, no less — gives them a positive memory to help steady them as they prepare to enter the maelstrom again. “Everytime I think about Duke, I think about how we were in the locker room after we won the regular season last year and how much joy we had together,’ junior guard Joel Berry said. “I just want to be able to go back over there again and have that same feeling.” Berry said that he’s talked to freshmen Tony Bradley, Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson — the three players that weren’t there for last year’s victory — about what to expect when they walk into Cameron for the first time. But as junior wing Justin Jackson explained, it’s not something that can be accurately described by words. It’s a reality he learned the hard way as a freshman two seasons ago. “The first four minutes, I felt like I was just running around,” he said. “(I) didn’t know what I was doing. (I) just heard the crowd, was just trying to do whatever I could to try and get into the game. That’s definitely an eye-opener when you play there for the first time. I was just running around like a chicken with my head cut off.” The key to avoiding such a fate, Roy Williams said, is to try and keep things as normal as possible. “We’ve won over there and nobody’s given us a trophy and we’ve gotten our tails kicked over there and nobody’s stolen my grandchildren,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “I’ve said this before, it’s a fantastic rivalry and I’m flattered to be a part of it, but it’s not the (whole) year.” Williams said that he never wants to get to the point that one game is the biggest one on his team’s schedule. And yet, because of the hype that surrounds the nation’s most intense college basketball rivalry, it’s obvious to the players that tonight’s game is different from all the others they’ve played thus far. “You can tell,” Kenny Williams said. “Just the aura of practice is a little bit different because we know how big this game is. Going into it we don’t try to put any more magnitude to