The past two weeks, I have been lucky enough to work as a camp counselor at the Roy Williams Basketball camp at UNC. In doing so, I had the opportunity to be around the Carolina Basketball program far more than I ever have before.
I worked alongside assistant coach Brad Frederick and Director of Basketball Operations Eric Hoots, had conversations with Dudley Bradley and Roy Williams, and ate lunch with Brandon Huffman and Sterling Manley.
In working at this camp, I witnessed firsthand just how real the Carolina Basketball family is. It’s not just some hashtag or slogan. It is a true brotherhood, one that brings together different people from different generations and backgrounds, and creates a bond that lasts a lifetime.
It’s the little things.
The familial atmosphere is created by the small gestures and antics. It’s players bantering back and forth about who the best Fortnite player on the team is. It’s assistant coaches and managers going out of their way to start conversations with you. It’s Joel Berry giving a nod of respect to the camper who won the daily free throw contest for his respective age group, named after Berry himself.
It’s also the bigger things.
Berry and Theo Pinson, who graduated from UNC last month, were able to find time to come back to Chapel Hill less than a week before the NBA draft, which they have been intensely preparing for since late March.
Over the past few weeks, Roy Williams has been reaching out to NBA executives, trying to convince them to use a draft pick on his two former players. Williams said on Monday, “Pinson is going to be a professional basketball player. He’s one of the best playmakers I’ve ever coached.”
Late Thursday night, Pinson signed with the Brooklyn Nets and Berry signed with the Los Angeles Lakers.
While back in Chapel Hill, Berry and Pinson took time to speak to campers and answer their questions, and they were also able to catch up with friends like Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson.
Jackson also spoke to the campers, describing how he once was in their shoes, when he attended the same camp from sixth to eighth grade. He added that he wanted to be a Tar Heel since his experience at the camp.
When asked who his closest friend on the Sacramento Kings was, Jackson quickly responded that it was Vince Carter, a fellow Tar Heel who played his last game for UNC over 20 years ago. Despite an age difference of 18 years, Jackson and Carter were brought together by the Carolina family.
Paige, Johnson and Harrison Barnes also spoke to the campers. The recurring theme in each speech was how much influence Roy Williams and the Carolina family have had on their lives, and how coming to UNC was one of the best decisions they ever made.
Last week, over a dozen coaches and players attended former big man Joel James’ wedding. Among them were Johnson, Williams, Paige, Luke Maye and Nate Britt. Paige, Berry and Jackson also married within the past year, and the wedding parties for all three of them were full of Tar Heels.
Then there are the pickup games.
For both sessions of camp, there was a scrimmage between current and former players in the Smith Center at the end of the week. The games are always competitive, and were especially so the past two weeks.
This year the former players took both matchups. Some of the highlights of the games included John Henson posterizing Brandon Huffman, Garrison Brooks doing the same to Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes hitting a step-back, game-winning three pointer in the face of Luke Maye, and Kendall Marshall throwing lobs to Henson just as if it were 2012.
In attendance for Tuesday’s game were Coby White, Nassir Little and Rechon Black, UNC’s highly-touted trio of incoming freshmen. All three could sense the kindred spirit right away, and Little even posted about it on his Instagram page. Little wasn’t the only Tar Heel to do so. Kenny Williams, Barnes, Henson and Johnson did the same.
Dean Smith laid the foundation of the Carolina family decades ago. Roy Williams continues it today, and it’s not going away anytime soon. I was lucky enough to witness it firsthand, and to feel a small part of it for two special weeks. The Carolina family is real.