Injuries to key players as much a UNC hoop tradition as championships

Heres a list of the maladies have have befallen UNC at the most important time of the basketball season and how they affected their teams championship chances

Bob Donnan—USA Today Sports
Mar 17

Joel Berry’s status for Saturday’s national semifinal matchup with Oregon in Phoenix is still uncertain as North Carolina’s junior point guard deals with a matching set of sprained ankles.Although coach Roy Williams said Monday that he’s “scared to death right now” about Berry’s availability — or more realistically, his effectiveness — in the game, he should be used to such situations by now. After all, postseason injures have become something of a Tar Heel tradition over the years.Here’s a list of the maladies have have befallen UNC at the most important time of the basketball season and how they affected their team’s championship chances:2015: Kennedy Meeks’ kneeMeeks was just starting to show flashes of the dominating inside presence he has become when he suffered a sprained left knee late in the second half of a second round victory against Arkansas in Jacksonville. Like Berry now, Williams expressed doubt about Meeks’ ability to play in the next game and held him out of practice for most of the week leading up to UNC’s Sweet 16 game against Wisconsin in Los Angeles. Meeks did end up playing, but was ineffective while compiling only four points and four rebounds in 14 minutes of a 79-72 loss.2012: Kendall Marshall’s wrist Marshall’s season and UNC’s national championship hopes came screeching to a halt at Greensboro Coliseum late in the Tar Heels’ second round victory against Creighton when the Blue Jays’ Ethan Wragge sent the star point guard crashing to the ground as he attempted to get off a shot. Marshall fractured the scaphoid bone in his right wrist trying to break his fall and didn’t play again in the tournament. Despite the heroic efforts of replacement Stilman White, the top-seeded Tar Heels were beaten by Kansas in the Elite Eight.2012: John Henson’s wristMarshall’s wrist wasn’t the only one hurting during the 2012 postseason. A week earlier, big man John Henson injured his left one in the opening minutes of the ACC tournament when he was fouled hard by Maryland’s Ashton Pankey. The ACC Defensive Player of the Year missed the rest of that tournament and UNC’s NCAA opener against Vermont before returning for the Creighton game. He aggravated the wrist against the Blue Jays and wasn’t nearly as effective the rest of the way.2009: Ty Lawson’s toeLawson’s right big toe nearly became the Tar Heels’ Achilles heel as they began their postseason in 2009. The ACC Player of the Year injured the toe late in the season and aggravated it in the regular season finale against Duke. Williams held his point guard out of the ACC tournament and UNC’s opening round victory against Radford before bringing him back for a second round game against LSU. Although he endured a scare early in that game when he jammed his injured toe, Lawson shook off the pain to score 21 points in the second half and eventually led UNC to the national championship.2005: Rashad McCants’ stomach The Tar Heels entered the postseason with uncertainty thanks to a mysterious intestinal ailment that forced their top perimeter scoring threat to miss the final four games of the regular season. McCants returned for the ACC tournament, but looked thin and tentative, as UNC barely escaped Clemson in the opening round before losing to Georgia Tech in the semifinals. McCants quickly regained both his stamina and his shooting touch, though, and played a major role in the Tar Heels’ run to the national title over the next three weeks.1995: Rasheed Wallace’s ankle The star big man injured an ankle with eight minutes remaining in regulation of UNC’s overtime ACC tournament championship game loss to Wake Forest. He attempted to play on the bad foot in the Tar Heels’ NCAA opener against Murray State, but could only manage six points in just 16 minutes before being taken out of the game. Backup Serge Zwikker came off the bench and helped rally UNC from a six-point second half deficit and a second round victory against Iowa State before Wallace returned the following week to help get the Tar Heels to the Final Four, where they lost in the national semifinals to Arkansas.1994: Derrick Phelps’ concussionThe playmaking point guard was a catalyst for UNC’s national title run in 1993, but both he and the Tar Heels got knocked out early the following year thanks to Boston College and its hulking forward Danya Abrams. UNC trailed 50-40 with 15:53 remaining in the second round game when Phelps was clobbered by Abrams while going up for a fastbreak layup, a play coach Dean Smith decried as dirty in his postgame comments. Phelps was carried off the court and diagnosed with a concussion and didn’t return. While the Tar Heels battled back late in the game with freshman Jeff McInnis at the point, they never completely recovered.1993: Derrick Phelps’ tailboneA year earlier, Phelps provided UNC fans with a scare when he came down hard during his team’s ACC tournament semifinal victory against Virginia. He suffered a bruised coccyx and missed the next day’s championship game against Georgia Tech, which the Tar Heels lost. Despite concerns that he might miss more time once the NCAA tournament began, Phelps returned for UNC’s opening round win against East Carolina, the first of six straight wins on the way to the national crown.1985: Steve Hale’s collarboneHale wasn’t a star, but he was a solid double-figure scorer and tenacious defender on a team that won the regular ACC championship in 1985. He was an important piece to the puzzle the Tar Heels ended up missing in the NCAA tournament when he broke his collarbone during their opening round win against Middle Tennessee State. UNC went on to beat Notre Dame in the second round, but was eliminated in the regional final by the Cinderella Villanova team that went on to upset Georgetown in the national championship game.1977: Phil Ford’s elbowThe 1977 season is best remembered for Al McGuire leading Marquette to the national title in his final season as coach, but history might have been different had star point guard Phil Ford not hyperextended his shooting elbow during a region final victory against Kentucky. Ford tried to play through the injury and got the Tar Heels to the championship game, but he went just 3 of 10 from the floor as UNC became a footnote to McGuire and his Warriors.1976: Phil Ford’s ankleThe star point guard suffered the injury between UNC’s loss to virginia in the ACC tournament and its first round NCAA tournament game against Alabama. The injury didn’t keep Ford out of the lineup, as he started and played 27 minutes, but went just 1 of 5 from the floor and had only three assists in the Tar Heels’ 79-64 loss.