Balance is scary

Maintaining a good work-life balance can also be scary! But the only way to do this correctly for someone who enjoys commenting on sports is to completely get away and make no comments.

Scary times! Leslie Person, October 25, 2023.

Taking a month away after the first weekend in April is a usual break that helps ensure that I stay balanced. I never planned to stay away for almost 8 months, but during my time away, I attended two rounds of the NCAA Tournament in Greensboro and did not comment. The games were good, but there were no teams from North Carolina or surrounding states, and only Pittsburgh from the ACC played at “home.” Other teams in the region included Xavier, Kennesaw State, Iowa State, Providence, Kentucky, Kansas State, and Montana State. The NCAA Tournament delivered as usual with a surprising Final Four and the University of Connecticut taking the championship. No comments were posted.

Spring closed with a great Women’s NCAA Tournament with LSU as Champions and the continued dominance of the SEC in Men’s and Women’s Track and Field and Baseball. Oklahoma was impressive in winning the Softball Championship. North Carolina won the Women’s Tennis Championship over NC State. Northwestern took the Women’s Lacrosse Championship. No comments were posted.

#1 draft picks in the professional leagues included Brice Young, Alabama in the NFL draft, Victor Wembanyama, France, NBA, Paul Skenes, LSU, MLB, and Aliyah Boston, South Carolina, WNBA. The Diamond League provided a record-breaking year of professional track and field events that concluded with the US dominating the World Championships in Eugene, OR. Summer was not without disappointment as the US Women’s National Team flamed out in a 5-4 loss to Sweden on penalty kicks after making the round of 16 on just one win and two draws.

Tennis grand slams at the French Open in May and Wimbledon in July couldn’t top the season-ending US Open Championship singles wins by Novak Djokovic and Coco Gauf. Meanwhile, the top five regular season MLB teams all lost in the first round of the playoffs with a combined 1-13 record. The Atalanta Braves with 104 regular season wins was the only team that did not get swept. Baltimore Orioles (101), Los Angeles Dodgers (100), Tampa Bay Rays (99), and Milwaukee Brewers (92) had no answers in the postseason. No comments were posted.

North Carolina, Duke, and NC Central (minus a loss to UCLA) had a successful start to their football seasons with top 20 rankings and undefeated seasons until October, while NC State, Appalachian State, Wake Forest, Charlotte, and East Carolina mostly struggled. Some more than others. No comments were posted.

I often say the best thing about football season is basketball is not far away! Finally…basketball is here again! It’s scary getting back in. Independent reporters and commentators cannot compete with the networks, AI bots, and bloggers with inside sources. That was never part of my plan. Writing from the point of view of a fan in the stands provides a more unique angle. There is no pressure to meet a midnight deadline, just to be fair, honest, and accurate. Now, the work starts again! I love all sports, and enjoy covering UNC, but appreciate the opportunity to occasionally evaluate other local teams. As I update the website over the next few months, be on the lookout for an occasional column in a new blog section tentatively titled “The Ridiculous” and a “Kids on Sports” section where the young ones get to talk about sports. Plus, I take a lot of pictures and will continue to occasionally include a completely unrelated photo with some posts. It adds a little fun, and helps me stay balanced!


Not good enough

Duke 62 North Carolina 57

Average. Simply average. There’s no need to do a full analysis of the game and box score. It’s all been said multiple times this season. Average. This is not a highly negative comment on the current North Carolina basketball team. Just the truth.

The only fact that you need to know in understanding why UNC lost to Duke on Saturday is that Duke has improved as a team from November to March. UNC has not. The inconsistency in knowing which players will be “on” and make in-game adjustments has been too much for this group to figure out.

How they did

While Armando Bacot has played most of the season like someone in line for post-season recognition, he has been less consistent in the last quarter of the season. That struggle was evident Saturday as he failed to rebound or score with ease and had trouble when double-teamed. Still, he gave a spirited performance while facing two defenders most of the game when the ball was in his hands.

– RJ Davis was mostly RJ Davis. His box score was stacked all the way across, and his defense and court presence were what they needed to be.

– Leaky Black’s defense was as advertised. His offensive stat line was not pretty but give credit to Duke’s interior defense. Black was also forced into multiple desperation shots as the play clock expired when the offense stalled. Again, credit Duke’s defense, but recognize that this resulted from poor ball movement and too much dribbling.

– Special recognition to Dontrez Styles. He provided valuable minutes defensively as the team struggled with foul trouble in the first half but did not have an opportunity to play later in the game.

– Caleb Love and Pete Nance mostly faded in this contest. If not for the fluorescent green shoes that Love wore, and an occasional rushed shot, we might have forgotten that he was in the game. Just not good enough. And after three games of talking about Lemon Oreos linked to better offensive performance, Nance mostly disappeared when UNC had the ball. Nance’s defense was mostly good enough, but he should be past expectations of getting assistance from officials (in his favor). I understand the frustration, but it’s not going to happen.


A few years ago, Michael Jordan confused many when he said “The ceiling is the roof!” Has this team already reached its ceiling? North Carolina’s overall record is not substantially different to many of the teams that are projected to be comfortably in the NCAA tournament field. Yes, the NET is a metric that gets a lot of attention, but it too has flaws. As it stands, UNC is the team with the highest NET (47) that is trending towards not receiving a bid to this year’s NCAA tournament. Way too much emphasis has been put on the lofty ranking that the Tar Heels started the season with. Far less is said about UNC’s actual schedule, parity throughout the country, and the better than given credit ACC league season. North Carolina’s goal for the season was to “Run it Back.” Return to the Final Four and finish the season with a championship. No one imagined it would play out this way. The resume is what it is. The opportunity to audition in up to four games to get a chance at running it back is on the table. This team has been very good one game and hardly recognizable the next game. When this team plays good defense, goes in out and moves the ball on offense to take smart shots, and limits turnovers, no one is better. There is no extra credit for last year and sometimes being as good as you can be. Now is the time to show what you are capable of.


Atmosphere tops frazzled play

Turnovers and aggressive play ruled in Cameron Indoor Stadium as #22 UNC swept the season series to end #11 Duke’s undefeated home season and chance for the Blue Devils to take first place and top seed in the ACC Tournament.

UNC 45 Duke 41


UNC makes statement 91-71 over Clemson

Let’s not overstate it, but the North Carolina team that we expected to see all year finally arrived! Steady defense and attention to detail carried the day. Good shot selection off of extra passes and focused guard play helped to show just how good this team can be if they play smartly with a sense of urgency on offense and defense as they did on Saturday.

UNC-Clemson at the Smith Center. February 11, 2023

Little things matter. Who handles the ball and who moves to get open to receive a pass when a teammate is double-teamed. Who plays within the flow of the game, and who dictates the tempo. Leaky Black handling the ball more and initiating the offense was one of many changes that helped UNC’s outlook. Basketball ball is simple. UNC made it hard before this game. It was also a positive sign to see substitutions early in the first half of the game and to see all five starters taken out of the game with 4:22 on the clock. The backups also maintained the lead to close the game. Can the fun continue? We will find out on Monday when Miami comes to town.

Black history moment for ACC officials

James Burch became the first African-American to officiate an ACC basketball game in 1969. Fifty-three years later three African-American officials, Ted Valentine, Jemel Spearman, and Clarence Armstrong called the game between UNC and Clemson in Chapel Hill.

Ted Valentine, Jemel Spearman, and Clarence Armstrong confer during a timeout. February 11, 2023



Big Four balance

Chasing St. Mary’s

St. Mary’s is the lone undefeated team within a major conference at 20-4 and 10-0 in the West Coast Conference. The ACC, Big 12, Big 10, SEC, American, Big East, and other conferences are all beating up on each other and usual conference leaders including North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan St, and others are looking to have six or more conference losses before the end of the season. Relaxed transfer rules and the extra year of eligibility granted to all players on teams during the first season affected by the Covid-19 pandemic have changed the way rosters are shaped. Some players that had been granted a fifth year of eligibility also got a sixth year to complete their playing time. This has helped to narrow the talent gap as teams that traditionally attract the best high school players are also having to adapt to recruiting experienced transfer players to compete with teams that are having success recruiting more mature players through the transfer portal.

ACC Big Four

The Big Four ACC college basketball teams (North Carolina, Duke, NC State, and Wake Forest) provide a good example of how different teams are put together and how balanced the conference is. North Carolina has one transfer and relies heavily on multi-year players. Wake Forest and NC State reshaped their rosters with as many as 8 transfer players, and Duke has seven freshmen plus transfers on its roster. The results have been somewhat surprising. North Carolina easily beat Wake Forest and NC State at home but struggled with Duke in a loss on the road. NC State beat Duke soundly at home, won a tight matchup against Wake Forest on the road, and had the previously mentioned loss to North Carolina on the road. Duke suffered double-digit losses to Wake Forest and NC State on the road but held off North Carolina at home. Like the rest of the major conferences the ACC is balanced. Results from Big Four play provide a good example of what we should expect from other conferences this college basketball season.


Heels lose to Pitt again 65-64

Pitt wins again in Chapel Hill

Again? Yes, again! North Carolina left many leaving the Smith Center concerned after witnessing another mostly undisciplined game after a long break and time to PRACTICE! The Tar Heels almost overcame a poor performance. After shooting just 34.8% from the floor, going just 23-66, including 18.5% on 5-27 three-pointers, and missing 9 of 22 free throws UNC was still in the game against a Pittsburgh team that managed to win on 25-55 attempts from the floor, including 7-19 on three-point attempts. North Carolina fans may want to say they did it to themselves again. That would be true. But playing Pitt’s game without playing with the same grittiness proved disastrous again.

Box score


Parental influence

Setting the tone

Fans question official’s call during Durham Parks and Recreation youth league game.

All of the players are special in this league. All give five-star performances every time they’re on the court. The Durham, NC Parks and Recreation Department’s winter youth basketball league is played in multiple gymnasiums throughout the city, giving participants a feel of travel to different arenas. It is encouraging to see 9-year-olds and 10-year-olds actually getting instruction. Parents and family members, however, often distract from the purpose of the league. Verbal attacks on officials combined with frequent instructions shouted to players from the stands disrupt the games and confuse the young players.

Attendees fail to understand the “rules” of the game as they should be applied in an instructional league. This is not the NBA or ACC. Officials are also tasked with teaching in these games. They are not necessarily missing calls. Walking with the basketball should be expected. More in some games than in others. Officials have to make adjustments based on the developing skills of the players in the game at that time. The same could be said for expectations on calling fouls, and when a player crosses the line on a free throw attempt. Catcalls aimed at the game officials do not help the players in learning the rules and accepting the referee’s call.

Addressing the next point is harder. How could one ask a parent or family member to stop offering encouragement to a child? I am not doing that. I am just asking attendees to not scream out instructions from the stands. Especially since most instructions are usually wrong. Rarely will you hear “Move the ball, get back on defense, or rebound!” but you will often hear “Shoot!” every time a player touches the ball. Even when the player is just crossing halfcourt. When the aim is instruction, we have to restrain and let young players develop, not let emotions and our desires for each child to be a superstar of the game take over. Most players in instructional leagues won’t play on the next level or become pros. Many will not get much better at the game than they are now, but all will be special!

Instructional play


Silly season – great game

UNC 80-69 over NC State

Silly season is always open on social media. Sports rivalries only add content. That’s what you would expect if you picked up a Twitter feed or fan sites sharing thoughts about Saturday’s game between North Carolina and NC State. Leaky Black committed a foul on Terquavion Smith in the second half of the game that officials thought necessitated him being disqualified. Video shows Smith jumping and extending above Black’s attempted block and (natural) downward movement causes Black’s hand to hit Smith in the face. I do not believe there was any intent to harm Smith. Black has never been that type of player. This is a long-standing rivalry between local schools that has almost always been a tough, physical game, even when the scores were not close. But the games between these two teams are not usually dirty, and that was not the case this time. Hubert Davis and Kevin Keats are both passionate about their teams and seem to care about their players. I have never witnessed either employing dirty play or allowing players on the court that intentionally harm an opponent. Both teams play tough, but they play the right way.

UNC won this one their way. Coming into the game, the Tar Heels lead the conference in getting to the free throw line and the Wolfpack put the opposing team on the line a lot. This did not change on Saturday. NC State made more field goals than UNC, but fouls put UNC in the bonus early in each half and the Tar Heels took advantage, making 36 of 39 from the line.

Overall, North Carolina finally played defense for a full game. RJ Davis and Black lead the way, but this was a very good team effort. NC State constantly hounded the UNC on defense, but simply committed too many fouls. Armando Bacot and Davis lead the offense for UNC. Bacot also passed Tyler Hansborough to become the all-time leading rebounder at for the Tar Heels. D.J. Burns was impressive for NC State with 18 points on 8-14 shooting. Jarkel Joiner also added 18 points for the Wolfpack.

Overall, this game was not pretty, but the intensity and crowd participation exceeded expectations for meetings between these local rivals.


Leaning on bench strength

UNC improving rotation

A few weeks back I said D’Marco Dunn was North Carolina’s 2nd best defensive player and messaged that I liked the way he was playing. Response: “Hmm…”

Bubble talk.

Since that time, Dunn has missed six games due to injury and returned to contribute over 17 minutes a game, shoot 61 percent from the field, 45 percent from three-point range and is perfect from the free throw line! He has also grabbed 8 rebounds and four steals since returning, while only committing three turnovers and showing his strength on defense. Dunn has clearly taken advantage of his time on the floor and is proving to be a valuable contributor for the Tar Heels.

Injuries force changes

Injuries to starters Pete Nance and Armando Bacot have forced Hubert Davis out of his seemingly too short substitution pattern and opened the floor to more playing time for players like Dontrez Styles. Up to the Louisville game, Styles had gotten less playing time than expected this year. Styles waited patiently for an opportunity to contribute. He did not disappoint on Saturday. Puff Johnson has also seen increased playing time and produced. Jalen Washington has been on the floor more recently and shown promise. While Seth Trimble, Justin McKoy, and Tyler Nickel have seen fairly regular playing time, each has limitations that have been a concern. Trimble and McKoy contribute nicely on defense but have shown limited abilities in providing consistent offense. Nickel has a reputation of being able to score, but struggles on defense, and has not scored enough consistently to offset his lack of defensive presence. Dunn, Styles, Johnson, and Washington have more range in their games to be able to hold up on both ends of the floor.

Every game offers different obstacles. The bottom line, as with any team, is UNC needs players with different strengths to win consistently against the multiple styles of play that they face each game. Players have to adjust within games, make plays and pay attention to how the game is being called. Coaches, including Davis and his assistants, have to do more than speak of the talents and abilities of players that are receiving limited playing time. They have to actually give those players real opportunities to deliver on the floor! Simply trust their own words. Substitution patterns and rotations naturally evolve throughout the season and more often, necessarily, within games. Confidently leaning more on the strengths of the bench will help this team perform more consistently like the team most expected when the season started.