Chris Havlicek Reacts To UNC Passing On NIT After Not Qualifying for NCAA Tournament

By Chris Havlicek

We all make mistakes. Some are big, and some are small, but mistakes happen. When UNC declined to play in the NIT after not qualifying for the NCAA tournament, North Carolina and Hubert Davis made a mistake.

There was a lot of heated discussion regarding whether Carolina should even attend the NIT before it was revealed that they would decline the invitation. It was widely discussed and UNC’s absence from March Madness after being the preseason No. 1 team in the country, was discussed ad nauseum, but at the end of the day, I think all parties will look back and admit this was a huge mistake.

That the Tar Heels would even decline to participate in another competition is shocking. If you are ashamed about participating in an event to which you have been invited, you should just sit down and let the players who want to compete do their thing. UNC, you are not above the NIT — far from it. Most importantly, Dean Smith would never have permitted this. Nor would Roy Williams.

The players were split, but ultimately Davis made the decision. The thought process seems to have been that this season ought to be over by now for the Heels. Put it behind the program, block it out, set it ablaze, and then just let it burn. Why put yourself through further humiliation and have your faults pointed out game after game? Also, it was obvious that this squad was done, so they simply quit — on themselves and on the once proud program. I for one am disappointed, not that I root for North Carolina or have a vested interest in seeing them compete. But disappointment seems to be the overwhelming emotion that ACC fans have settled upon. And here’s why… I am an NIT Champion. 

In 1992, the Virginia basketball team just missed making the field of 64. We were massively disappointed, a bit ambivalent about the NIT, and mildly angry at not being included.  There was also some disappointment about not sending off our great seniors, led by Bryant Stith, with an NCAA tournament appearance. But a funny thing happened; we rallied our emotions and decided right then and there that we would compete and try to win the NIT. Yes, there was a bit of a transition, but overwhelmingly the emotion changed from anger to acceptance, and ultimately desire. The plan was quickly hatched — let’s win the whole damn thing and send our seniors off with an NIT Championship. We would prove the committee wrong, and honor our captains by capturing the title.  Not one person had even an inkling of quitting. We were going to win it, plain and simple.

And, we did just that. We started practicing the next day, and there was freedom and energy that had been different from the ACC season. The coaches loosened the reins, played a deeper bench, and let us freelance a bit more. We played with a spirit and energy that was somehow different, and we executed. Guys shaved their heads in solidarity and we ended up winning 5 straight games and spending another 3 weeks together.  It was fun, with road games at Villanova, and beating the likes of Tennessee, New Mexico, Florida, and Notre Dame. We spent a week in NYC, as teammates, friends, and college kids. Then another thing happened — we became better.  It set us up for a terrific run the following season. We competed, we improved, and we became closer as a family, and that’s exactly what UNC needs.

So, Hubert, you made a mistake. You should have accepted the invitation, and you should have tried to win the whole darn thing. That’s what we did and it was a terrific experience.  My guess is Dean and Roy would have played.  And so should you have.

Photo credit: Carolina Basketball’s Instagram

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