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March 10, 2010
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Most players will tell you there’s a different atmosphere at the ACC Tournament than there is around a regular season game.
Freshmen who have never been through it usually rely on older players to fill them in and help them prepare for the TV exposure and the media crush, among other things. But for seniors, there’s a different perspective.
“I feel like there’s a sense of urgency because it’s my last year,” said Tyler Roche of Boston College. “I feel like we need to make a run at this because this is the time and I’m not going to be here again. This year is special to me. I want to go out on top my senior year.”
Roche will get an answer early Thursday. The Eagles play in the tournament’s first game, at noon against Virginia in the Greensboro Coliseum.
Georgia Tech also plays Thursday, in the 7 p.m. game against North Carolina. Yellow Jackets’ senior D’Andre Bell, who was injured last season and didn’t play in the tournament, feels similar to Roche.
“It does mean a lot to me that we have some success,” Bell said. “This is my fifth year, my fourth year being active, and we haven’t had much success in the ACC Tournament. So, it’s like your last home game. I’m going to make sure I leave everything out there on the court. That way I can look myself in the mirror every morning.”
From a practical standpoint, the Jackets need a win or two to polish their NCAA resume.
“This is a great opportunity to not have any guesswork on whether we’re in the NCAA Tournament or not,” Bell said. “Our goal is to win it; but I don’t believe we have to win it all to get into the NCAA Tournament, looking at the grand scheme of things.”
Miami guard James Dews finds himself in the role of helping the Hurricanes’ young players grasp the meaning of the tournament. The Hurricanes, the No. 12 seed, open against Wake Forest Thursday at 2 p.m. When Dews was a freshman, they were also the last seed but pulled one upset and almost a second.
“Being a senior I want to lead these guys to victory,” Dews said. “My first year we upset Maryland and then took Boston College into overtime. I want these young guys to experience what I have. It’s a clean slate, everybody is 0-0 and anything can happen in these tournaments.”
L.D. Williams of Wake Forest said it’s incumbent upon the Deacons’ four seniors to tell freshmen Ari Stewart and C.J. Harris what things will be like.
“I can’t try to force things because it’s my last go-around,” Williams said. “I’ve got to do what I’ve been doing all year. You know what to expect now – teams are going to up the ante on how hard they play and how physical the games are. The refs might be a little less lenient in how they call the games. It’s up to us to let C.J. and Ari know how it’s going to be.”
Thoughts from the coaches
This will be the 30th ACC Tournament for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and it’s still a big deal for him.
“It’s a celebration of our conference and basketball in our conference,” Krzyzewski said Monday on the ACC coaches teleconference call. “It’s the best tournament, it’s the first one, it’s the one everybody has copied. And we get the original every time we play in it. It will always be very important to our basketball program.”
Winning the championship 11 times helps that perspective, of course.
Roy Williams of North Carolina has won the ACC Tournament twice in six years, but this time he finds himself in a strange position – playing on the first day. That’s never happened to a team of his anywhere. At Kansas his teams earned a first-round bye every year.
“It is something different, it’s something that’s a huge challenge,” Williams said, “but at the same time the only goal that we have in front of us right now is Georgia Tech, and we’ll see what happens after that. It’s not a comfortable position and it’s one that I’m not enjoying, to say the least. But it’s behind us. What we did in the regular season put us in this position and now we have to play.”
Florida State will be the final team to play in the tournament, in Friday’s 9 o’clock game against Thursday’s Clemson-NC State winner. Coach Leonard Hamilton doesn’t expect that to be a problem.
“Once they throw the ball up I’m not real sure it’s going to be any different because we’re all going to be playing for our ACC Tournament lives,” Hamilton said. “So I expect our players to respond in the appropriate way.”
Virginia coach Tony Bennett will be experiencing this tournament for the first time as a coach, but he has seen one before. In 1995, when he was a member of the Charlotte Hornets, he and his fiancée got tickets to the championship game in Greensboro and watched as Randolph Childress dropped in 37 points to lead Wake Forest past North Carolina 82-80 in overtime.
“I remember how impressive it was,” Bennett said. “It’s a long-standing one with such a great reputation. It’s a special tournament and I think most people understand that in the country.”
Dino Gaudio of Wake Forest grew up in eastern Ohio, Big Ten country, but he used to watch the ACC Tournament on TV.
“Legends are made in this tournament,” Gaudio said. “Legends are made and championships are won and it means a lot. It’s the greatest postseason conference tournament. We’re very excited to be playing and we’re really looking forward to it. We’re going to try and win an ACC championship. It won’t be easy (they would have to win four games in four days). It means a lot to the kids, it means a lot to our coaching staff.”
Notes from Wednesday
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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