By R.L. Bynum
On the week of UNC’s final visit to Cameron Indoor Stadium with Mike Krzyzewski as coach, Episode 7 of the ACC Network documentary “The Tournament” spotlights one of most memorable, physical battles in that rivalry during his career.
That’s a highlight of the episode that debuts at 9 p.m. Monday. Episode 8, which debuts at 10 p.m., documents the end to the legendary career of Hall of Fame UNC coach Dean Smith. That second episode Monday includes an interview with 1997 tournament MVP Shammond Williams that John Dahl, the executive producer and a UNC graduate, calls one of the best in the entire documentary and one that will “bring you to tears.”
Carolina hadn’t won an ACC Tournament title since 1982 and there was a lot of grumbling about that entering that 1989 tournament in Atlanta’s Omni, an arena that revives painful memories in Tar Heels fans from the 1977 Final Four.
UNC and Duke had split two regular-season 1989 meetings and finished the regular season in a three-way tie for second place with Virginia at 9–5 behind N.C. State. Both easily made the championship game.
Smith was frustrated during the season with derisive cheers from the Cameron Crazies that targeted J.R. Reid of “J.R. can’t read,” and let it be known that the SAT scores of Reid and Scott Williams were better than those of Duke’s Danny Ferry and Christian Laettner.
Against that backdrop, the game had plenty of drama. Jeff Lebo, a guard on that Carolina team and current UNC assistant coach, documents some of it in Episode 7.
“There’s a lot of things that were said in a game that you can’t say on camera right now,” Lebo said. “And I’ll just never forget Scott Williams saying something to Coach K in the middle the game, Coach K saying something back to Scott and Coach Smith saying don’t talk to our players. And it was on.”
Reid took control with early inside success in a game that was a battle.
“It was a very, very physical game again. And a lot of scratches and bodies all over the place. But, in our mind was, we had to get this,” said Reid in the episode, alluding to the Tar Heels’ ACC title drought.
Duke’s Phil Henderson was an agitator all afternoon, including trying to poke his head into a UNC huddle at one point.
“He walked in a huddle,” Lebo said. “That’s sacred ground. It was already tense as it was, and so it set off even more anger.”
That led to some pushing and shoving between opposing players.
UNC point guard King Rice, now the head coach at Monmouth, said that the Blue Devils players always seemed to be up to something.
“They would jump in your face and act like they wanted to do something just to get you to do something to get kicked out of the game,” Rice said in the episode. “They weren’t tough like that. They did not want that type of action. But they would do it on TV all the time. When that happened, Phil [Henderson] got told I’m going to see you again when the cameras aren’t on.”
Longtime ACC fans will recognize two of the referees in that 77–74 Carolina victory: Lenny Wirtz and Dick Paparo. UNC also beat Duke in the ACC final two seasons later.
In Episode 8, which looks Smith’s final season, the spotlight shines on Williams. The guard led the Tar Heels’ to Smith’s 13th ACC Tournament title with a tournament MVP performance in 1997.
“I think one kind of unsung story is Shammond Williams, quite honestly,” Dahl said. “I really did not appreciate his full story. His recollections, his experience with Dean Smith and with the Carolina program. Wow, it’s just so powerful. He felt like Dean Smith believed in him when nobody else really did.”
Williams sheds tears as he talks about that run in 1997 to the ACC title in Greensboro that culminated with a 64–54 victory over N.C. State in the championship game.
“I knew nothing about ACC MVP,” Williams said. “Those things didn’t exist in my world. Nobody ever appreciated what you brought to the table. They didn’t think we’d be a good team. They didn’t think that I could lead them.
“If you go down the line of the ACC MVPs and you look at the magnitude of all of those players, then you get to ’97 and you see a guy that didn’t belong,” he said. “That was validation that people appreciate what I brought to the table. Nobody can ever take that away from me.”
They should be more can’t-miss episodes, just as the previous six have been.
Episode schedule, summaries
(All episodes air on ACC Network; past episodes available on ESPN3)
Episode 1 (1954–57)
Debuted Feb. 7
When an Indiana native named Everett Case arrives in Raleigh in the mid-1940s to become the basketball coach at N.C. State, his vision spearheads not just the rise of the sport at his school and in the region, but the start of an athletic conference that will change college basketball forever.
Episode 2 (1958–68)
Debuted Feb. 7
While Case is the ACC’s original driving force, he’s not the only icon on Tobacco Road to establish a legacy for all time in the conference’s early years. From North Carolina’s Frank McGuire to Wake Forest’s Bones McKinney and Vic Bubas at Duke, new coaches emerge to challenge the early success of Case. It all precedes a final poignant moment of triumph for him in 1965 at Reynolds Coliseum, the only home the tournament ever knew up to then.
Episode 3 (1966–72)
Debuted Feb. 14
After a rough start, North Carolina’s Dean Smith comes to be known for both dominance and dignity, playing a central role in desegregating the ACC with the recruitment of Charlie Scott. Scott is UNC’s first Black scholarship player and the star on some of Smith’s greatest teams in the late 1960s.
Episode 4 (1973–74)
Debuted Feb. 14
While the conference tournament is captivating many by the early 1970s, it can be just as frustrating and even heartbreaking for great teams that don’t win it, and thus miss out on a chance to play in the NCAA tournament. An intense and high-impact rivalry develops between Maryland and N.C. State, capped by the finale of the 1974 ACC Tournament in arguably the greatest college basketball game ever — and a battle that helps shape the sport’s future.
Episode 5 (1975–80)
Debuted Feb. 21
In the mid-to-late 1970s, the ACC continues to be the greatest showcase of talent and drama in all of college basketball. Smith’s UNC teams may be the class of the conference, but rivals also flourish, including a Virginia team in 1976 led by Wally Walker, and a Duke program that re-emerges with a championship run in 1978 followed by a controversial title two years later.
Episode 6 (1981–83)
Debuted Feb. 21
As the ACC thrives thanks to its groundbreaking tournament and the power of television, 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson enters the conference as one of the most heralded recruits in college basketball history. The Virginia center earns national player-of-the-year honors three times, but never wins the ACC Tournament. Meanwhile, Smith earns two more conference titles, and a national championship in 1982 with freshman guard Michael Jordan. The next year, a colorful, charismatic coach named Jim Valvano rides the momentum of an unlikely ACC title to one of the most memorable NCAA runs ever.
Episode 7 (1984–89)
9 p.m. Monday
As the 1980s continue, familiar and new faces alike define the ACC. After previous ACC Tournament heartbreaks, Maryland’s Lefty Driesell and Georgia Tech’s Bobby Cremins both seek redemption. All the while, Mike Krzyzewski survives early calls for his job, turns up the heat on the Duke-North Carolina rivalry and resurrects Duke into a perennial title contender.
Episode 8 (1990–97)
10 p.m. Monday
At Duke, Coach K puts together one of the most iconic teams in ACC history with Christian Laettner, Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley. Wake Forest seeks a return to glory led by Randolph Childress and Tim Duncan, and Smith’s extraordinary career ends in memorable fashion with a title in 1997.
Episode 9 (1998–2008)
9 p.m. Monday, March 7
As a new century dawns, Duke is more dominant than ever, winning an unprecedented five straight ACC Tournament titles and seven in eight years with a core of stars headlined by Shane Battier, Jay Williams and J.J. Redick. Meanwhile, Roy Williams rejuvenates the Carolina program that his mentor Smith once made standard, and Clemson’s pursuit of an elusive ACC championship continues.
Episode 10 (2009–20)
10 p.m. Monday, March 7
The changing college sports landscape brings the conference to 15 member institutions, with Florida State, Miami and Notre Dame each earning their first ACC championships. Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Duke phenom Zion Williamson each bring new excitement before the unimaginable happens.
Photo via @UNC_Basketball