If you closely followed North Carolina’s season and read all the media coverage of the Tar Heels’ run to the 2017 NCAA title, you might think you know just about everything there is to know about that team.
But there are plenty of other details and storylines that come through in the fascinating narrative woven together in Redemption: Carolina Basketball’s 2016–2017 Journey from Heartbreak to History, a 224-page University of North Carolina Press book.
I covered 24 Carolina games last season and learned a lot from this book.
Even without photos, authors Adam Lucas (goheels.com columnist, left in top photo), Matt Bowers (associate director of athletic communications, center) and Steve Kirschner (senior associate director of athletics communications, right) give you a fascinating read that would that give the book great value by itself. But there also are terrific pictures throughout the book, which was put together in a couple of months — an amazing turnaround compared to the time needed for most books.
This is the third book the school has produced after a UNC national championship. After the 2005 title, there was Led by Their Dreams, and One Fantastic Ride was written about the 2009 national champions. Redemption goes from the pain of the heartbreak in Houston to the joyful redemption in Glendale, Ariz.
Interspersed in the book are nine interesting sidebars about various subjects. There are also four photos featuring a player or coach accompanied with a first-person vignette about what was behind the photo. In the back are statistical highlights for the players and for Coach Roy Williams.
The authors conducted hours of interviews with players and coaches that give readers insights on how the season played out. You expect that from a book that chronicles a championship season. But it was a rare interview with Wanda Williams, Roy Williams’ wife, that produced stories you might not expect from this sort of book.
Her interview reveals more details of Roy Williams’ humble beginnings and, among other things, how he treasured his relationship with Wanda’s family. The coach never had family dinners until the ones he had with her family.
You’ll read about the random man who gave Roy and Wanda Williams a ride back to their hotel during the 1999 Final Four in the Tampa Bay area. He wasn’t a UNC fan, but they have been friends since that long drive in terrible traffic, and Williams frequently leaves him free tickets.
There are interesting nuggets that aren’t about last season. Who knew that Nate Britt and Kennedy Meeks, who became best friends, had a dorm-room brawl during their freshman year that led Isaiah Hicks to leave the room scared while shaking his head?
Speaking of Hicks, who knew that he took a knee to a thigh and battled a painful leg injury during the Gonzaga game?
Joel Berry II was the Final Four MOP, but the book explains how that possibility was nearly erased because of Berry’s struggles and frustrations as a freshman. He thought he should be getting more playing time and wondered if he should transfer. But a conversation with his parents convinced him that it wasn’t coaches who needed to change their minds. It was Berry who would have to do more to earn that playing time.
The book explains the dynamic when Theo Pinson got hurt the second time, which was surprising in some ways (a tearful Pinson feeling that he had let his dad down) and understandable in other ways (teammates worried about whether he’d be back).
That game-winning shot by Luke Maye against Kentucky in the South Regional final? It probably wouldn’t have happened if not for the encouragement Maye got from Assistant Coach Hubert Davis, as the book explains, before the Tar Heels headed to Memphis. With a different approach, the results are now history.
The book takes you behind the scenes for moments that shaped the season. Here are just four:
- The harsh rebuke by Justin Jackson of his teammates after the 77–62 loss at Miami.
- Seeing the looks on his players’ faces when the team trailed by five with 3:28 left against Arkansas in the second round of the NCAA tournament led Williams to deliver an encouraging message rather than yelling at them.
- A discussion between Williams and Jackson after the ACC tournament encouraged Jackson to just be himself and not play like he had to prove he deserved the ACC player-of-the-year award.
- A message Davis delivered to the whole team, but mainly to Meeks, led the senior center to play the best defense of his career down the stretch.
This book is a must-read for any UNC fan, and has the tabletop quality to be a valued keepsake.