The very big stage: UNC trying to get accustomed to Final Four

The Tar Heels have spent the first couple days in New Orleans taking in the spectacle of the event

UNC warms up during practice for the men's Final Four on Friday in New Orleans. (David J. Phillip / AP Photo)

NEW ORLEANS — It’s Duke-Carolina. It’s the Final Four. College basketball has never seen such a spectacle.

Hubert Davis is more concerned that his Tar Heels notice how big everything is, however.

“I am so happy right now because I can’t wait for them to walk into that stadium and see how big that place is,” Davis said immediately after the Heels beat Saint Peter’s last weekend to earn a trip to the Final Four. “I can’t wait for them to see the hotel with their pictures all over the place. I can’t wait to have that practice on Friday and have that feeling, only four teams are practicing that day. And I can’t wait until they run out of that tunnel and it’s 80,000 watching them play.”

The first sign his team had that things were different was shortly after it arrived at New Orleans. Bus and flight delays put the Tar Heels significantly behind schedule, but that didn’t stop a crowd from greeting them at the hotel.

“When we pulled up to the hotel, there was a lot of people out there waiting for us to get off the bus in the hotel lobby. For me that was pretty much it,” said Leaky Black.

“Just a lot of cameras,” Brady Manek added. “A lot of people, a lot of excitement around our team and us arriving. It was really cool to see.”

“The arrival was pretty surprising, having all those people there, because we don’t play until Saturday,” Armando Bacot said. “I think it kind of caught all of us off guard.”

Then the team saw where it would be playing on Saturday.

“One of the biggest things for me was watching them walk out to the floor,” Davis said. “Before we went out to practice, I said, ‘This is the first and only time I want you to bring your phones.’ We walked out there, and they were like, ‘why are you telling us to bring our phones?’ I said, ‘Just do it.’ As they walked out, just to see the floor, just to see how big this place was, the smiles on their faces. It was like when my little kids came down for Christmas, they were just so filled with joy that they were getting a chance to be a part of this. And it was great. It was awesome.”

“Every seat is going to be filled in our game?” Caleb Love asked.

“Yes,” Davis replied.

”All these seats are going to be filled during the game?” Love repeated, and Davis began to worry.

“I said, ‘Yes; is that OK?’” Davis said. “’Because I’m looking to play you a lot of minutes. Are you OK here?’”

Love assured him he would be.

“That kid-like attitude was great,” Davis said. “So for me to be able to experience that, it’s interesting. I wanted them to have stories and testimonies and memories. You know what they’re doing? They’re giving me more, which is really, really cool.”

This isn’t a trip to Virginia Tech, Boston College or Uncasville. Even the spectacle of the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn pales in comparison to the Final Four, Duke and UNC’s first NCAA Tourney meeting and a spot in the national championship game for the winner.

“I don’t really know what to expect,” Bacot said. “I know it’s going to be sold out. I know it’s going to be a high-stakes game with it being Carolina versus Duke game. But I think that’s just the great part. We really don’t know what to expect. But it will definitely be a lot of fun.”