|Roy Williams and Tom Izzo said the game played before 8,111 people worked out well. (US Presswire)|
CORONADO, Calif. -- Tom Izzo had spent the past few days touring a Navy base, walking through ships, shaking the hands of military personnel and just generally taking in all the sights and sounds of what he later acknowledged created a "helluva memory." And now here he was, only a few minutes away from the first high-profile college basketball game of the season, anxious and ready and making small talk with the President of the United States.
On the USS Carl Vinson.
Just before the national anthem.
"I told the president we're awfully young and we're gonna go through some growing pains," Izzo said. "He said he's done that, too."
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That's good for Roy Williams.
That's bad for Tom Izzo.
But it's not what either future Hall of Fame coach will remember about this night or this experience. Yes, they played a basketball game, but this wasn't really about basketball. This was about our military and Veteran's Day and sacrifices made. This was about President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama sitting at midcourt. This was about former Tar Heels (James Worthy, Tyler Hansbrough, Vince Carter) and former Spartans (Magic Johnson, Jason Richardson, Shannon Brown) gathering to support their schools on the ship used to bury Osama bin Laden's body at sea earlier this year. This was about various celebrities (Brooklyn Decker, Pam Anderson) and otherwise unaffiliated NBA veterans (O.J. Mayo) standing around a court and posing for pictures with servicemen and servicewomen.
CBSSports.com All-American Harrison Barnes finished with 17 points.
He showed why he'll be a lottery pick someday.
But this wasn't about that.
This was about two fighter jets flying overhead. This was about pausing the game in the first half to retire the colors. This was about playing high-major basketball outside -- first with the luxury of sunlight, then under dark skies with San Diego and all its beautiful buildings serving as the backdrop. This was about adjusting to a steady breeze and temperatures that dropped into the 50s as the second half unfolded and the top-ranked Tar Heels pulled away.
"I never got cold," said UNC senior Tyler Zeller, who finished with nine points and six rebounds. "But I'm from Indiana."
Was the night perfect?
The logo at center court nearly cost Michigan State's Branden Dawson a torn ACL.
Those things are slippery and dangerous.
They need to go away.
Beyond that, again, it got kinda chilly.
And the unusual elements seemed to affect shooting.
"I knew [coming in that] I wasn't going to take any pull-up jumpers," said Barnes, whose team shot just 4 of 12 from beyond the arc. "I missed like 50 shots in a row during warmups."
Michigan State nearly missed that many during the actual game.
"We have to shoot better," said Draymond Green, the best player on a Michigan State team that shot 30.6 percent from the field, 10.0 percent from 3-point range. "We can't shoot 10 percent on threes."
Oh, yes you can, Draymond -- especially when you're outside.
And when it's cold.
I mean, I've seen you do it.
But that's not what this was about, and that's not what anybody will remember about this event. North Carolina will win more games, and Michigan State will indeed shoot better. The on-the-court product will improve for both squads, the on-the-court memories will stack. But in terms of spectacles, this was the pinnacle, perhaps even more of an experience than a trip to the Final Four. This was unique -- from meeting the President to dunking under the moon, from walking around a Navy base to having to wonder whether a basketball game might get rained out.
The whole event was first-class and special.
It culminated with players removing their jerseys and handing them to wounded soldiers.
It was just a small token of appreciation.
But it was a token.
And it was sweet to watch.
"It's the neatest thing that I've ever been a part of," said UNC coach Roy Williams. "I absolutely loved it."