This is an article from the April 23, 1993 issue
HOW DOES IT FEEL, DERRICK?
Derrick Phelps must have been asked that question, oh, about 1,467
times during the 1992-93 season, which is roughly the same number of
times he was injured during the year. It's not surprising that
everyone from coach Dean Smith to Chapel Hill record-store clerks
inquired about his health. Pick any body part and Phelps, the Tar
Heels' junior point guard, probably wore an ice pack on it at some
point this year.
At the Final Four he was asked to list the injuries he had
suffered this year. ''Let's see, there was the sprained knee,'' he
said. ''Then there was the bruised elbow; that came against Florida
State. What was the next one? Oh, yeah, the back injury. I couldn't
bend down for a while after that. Then the hip injury. I guess that's
Told he had forgotten something, Phelps smiled and said, ''Oh,
yeah, the tailbone. I almost forgot the most important one. I got
that in the ACC tournament when I got fouled on a layup and landed
Phelps may have been knocked down, but he was never knocked out,
even though ''sometimes he looked like an old man with rheumatism or
arthritis, the way he was hobbling down the court,'' said forward
Brian Reese. That's exactly what Phelps looked like for a time during
the 78-68 win over Kansas that put the Tar Heels in the title game.
He had to come out after reinjuring his hip in the second half, and
it appeared he might not be able to play. But with a bit of
motivational speaking from Reese -- ''I told him that if he could
walk, he could play,'' Reese said -- he made it back to keep the
North Carolina ship steady down the stretch.
There was a time when Phelps himself needed a stabilizing
influence. As a freshman he suffered the normal difficulties most
newcomers endure trying to grasp the North Carolina system, but King
Rice, the Tar Heels' senior starter at the point, helped him through
that period. ''He helped me understand that at North Carolina
sometimes it's more important for the point guard to be steady than
flashy,'' Phelps said.
Phelps and Reese, who have been pals since they were ninth-graders
growing up in New York City, were an aching pair of roommates back at
the hotel after the game against Kansas. Reese was stretched out with
a migraine headache, and Phelps was nursing his sore hip. The
liveliest action of the evening involved periodic trips down the hall
to fill their ice packs. But two nights later, North Carolina owned
its second NCAA title. It was then that reporters asked the
inevitable question. But for once the inquiry wasn't about some sore
joint, it was about the experience of winning a championship.
How does it feel, Derrick? -- PHIL TAYLOR
NORTH CAROLINA GUARD DONALD WILLIAMS SEEMS LIKE ONE of the least
likely candidates to break out of the precise patterns and regular
rhythms of Tar Heel basketball. He has a voice as soft as his silken
jump shot, and he sometimes looks away when he answers questions, too
shy to make eye contact. Everything in his manner suggests that he
wants nothing more than to blend in, to avoid attention.
But there's another side to Williams. He was nicknamed the Show at
Garner (N.C.) High because of his spectacular shooting performances.
The North Carolina script has made room for Williams's improvisation,
which has transformed him into the most eye-catching cog in the Tar
Heel machine. ''He's only quiet and unassuming until he gets ready
for that jumper,'' says teammate Brian Reese. ''Then he turns
Williams, who dedicated his Final Four tournament performance to
Jim Valvano, the cancer-stricken former N.C. State coach who was the
first to recruit him, scored 25 points in the semifinal against
Kansas and another 25 against Michigan to win the Most Outstanding
Player award. He drilled five of seven three-pointers in each game,
not to mention four crucial free throws down the stretch in the Tar
Heels' 77-71 victory over the Wolverines. ''One thing I have
confidence in is my shot,'' he said. ''It might leave me from time to
time, but my teammates and our coaches help me keep believing that it
will always come back.''
Williams's confidence is so great that hours before the game
against Kansas, when he was faced with the choice of attending an
optional shooting session or waiting for his room service breakfast,
he chose the breakfast. The jumper, he must have surmised, would be
there when he needed it.
But his quiet self-assurance was shaken last season when, as a
freshman, he struggled to adapt to the North Carolina system.
Recruited to provide outside shooting, he was asked to serve as a
backup point guard as well, a position for which he was ill-suited.
''People saw the frustration in my face,'' he says. ''I'd walk across
campus, and people I didn't even know would tell me not to worry and
to keep my chin up.''
He heard the same message from senior forward and team leader
George Lynch, who made it a personal project to ensure that
Williams's confidence never wavered. ''We want to keep him thinking
positively,'' Lynch said, ''but it's not like we baby him. When he
wasn't shooting quite as well for a while this season we started
calling him SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, because his game only showed up once
Williams delivered far more consistently during the tournament,
which is why the Tar Heels were so heartened when Michigan's Chris
Webber called the fateful timeout with 11 seconds left in the
championship game. ''I was excited because I knew Donald was going
to the foul line,'' Reese said. ''When we knew it would be just
Donald, the ball and the basket, that's when we started to feel like
champions.'' -- P.T.
ERIC MONTROSS HAS DONE BATTLE IN THE LOW POST AGAINST the likes of
Chris * Webber, Christian Laettner and even David Robinson, but he
would also like you to know he has mingled with the Samburu tribesmen
of Kenya, backpacked through Alaska and considers Sesame Street one
of his favorite television shows. In other words, Montross is an
adventurer, a seeker of wisdom and a fun-loving kid as well as a fine
His wide range of interests led some people to believe that
Montross, a 7- foot, 270-pound junior, might not be single-minded
enough about basketball to reach the level of excellence he was
capable of. He once said, for instance, that when he was growing up
he ''wanted to be a fireman or a trashman so I could drive trucks.
Then I got bigger than the trucks, so I started playing basketball.''
But just because Montross has wit, intelligence and curiosity
doesn't mean he isn't completely serious about his basketball. That
should have been obvious this year, when his improvement at center
was as big a reason -- of course, just about everything related to
Montross is big -- as any other that the Tar Heels were able to bring
the NCAA championship trophy back to Chapel Hill. He bumped his 15.6
regular-season scoring average, best on the team, up to 16.8 in the
NCAA tournament, while making 64.9% of his shots from the field. ''I
didn't realize how much better he'd gotten until I looked at the tape
of our 1991 Final Four game against Kansas,'' said coach Dean Smith.
''He'll be playing his best basketball when he's 28.''
Montross has improved his already considerable strength to the
point where he's nearly immovable near the basket, and in order that
he not be quite so immovable away from it, he has spent off-seasons
pulling a weighted blocking sled from a standing start on dirt, an
exercise designed to improve the quickness of his first step. But
quickness or finesse will never be Montross's forte. He is not one of
those guards-trapped-in-a-center's-body; the idea of leading a fast
break or taking a three-pointer holds no allure for him.
He is a man of basic moves, the drop step, the jump hook with
either hand. He knows how to use his bulk, and just as important, he
likes using it. Contact is his game. ''Montross is big,'' says
Portland Trail Blazer player- personnel director Brad Greenberg.
''But the other thing I like about him is that he has a little mean
streak in him.''
Fans of Indiana and Michigan must have felt themselves victims of
that mean streak when Montross spurned the recruiting overtures of
those two schools < -- even though he is an Indianapolis native and
his father and grandfather played for Michigan -- to sign with the
Tar Heels. Despite the statewide disappointment caused by that
decision, Montross has shown he isn't above twisting the knife a bit.
To the chagrin of Hoosier fans, his Indiana license plate reads
TARHEEL. ''I have to bolt it down extra tight when I go home,'' he
In truth, the license plate exists more to proclaim Montross's
pride in the Tar Heels than it does to annoy the Indiana faithful.
Still, he likes a good joke, and the thought of changing that vanity
plate to something like NCCHAMP has possibilities. But Montross's
active mind has probably moved on to other things by now. You get the
sense that the feeling he gets from being a champion is awe
inspiring, but no more so than, say, the feeling he got the first
time he saw a herd of wildebeests thundering across an African plain.
GEORGE LYNCH IS NOT THE KIND OF PLAYER AROUND WHOM A team is
built, he is the kind of player on whom a team is built. Lynch, a 6
ft. 8 in. forward and North Carolina's only senior starter in the
1992-93 season, was the foundation of the Tar Heels' championship
team. The mere mention of him set rival coaches to using their
favorite adjectives. ''Consistent,'' said Wake Forest's Dave Odom.
''Persistent,'' said Cincinnati's Bob Huggins. ''Unselfish,'' said
Duke's Mike Krzyzewski.
All of the above, says North Carolina coach Dean Smith. ''George
really has been the kind of player a coach dreams of,'' Smith says.
''He has a great work ethic on the boards that allows him to rebound
successfully against bigger people. He's shown he can score when we
need that, but he's not the kind of player who worries about his
Point guard Derrick Phelps may have been the Tar Heels' brains,
and center Eric Montross their brawn, but Lynch was their soul. He
was the player who went around the locker room before the
championship game against Michigan, asking every teammate
individually, ''Are you ready?'' and made it sound more like a
challenge than a question.
Lynch is quiet, earnest and square-jawed, almost military at
times, but his teammates see a more passionate side of him. ''You'll
never spot George jumping up and down or pumping his fists,'' says
Phelps. ''His motivation comes more from a look he gives you on the
court or the way he puts his arm around your shoulder like a big
''Sometimes George just motivates you by the way he works,'' says
forward Brian Reese. ''You see him go after an offensive rebound two,
three, four times before he puts the ball back in, then he just turns
and heads down the court, business as usual.''
Lynch's talents were overlooked by many people outside Tar Heel
country largely because he does nearly everything so
matter-of-factly. He even downplays the extraordinary story of his
birth, saying only, ''I was born a little premature. I only weighed
about three pounds at birth.'' The rest of the story is that his
mother, Francine Small, didn't suspect she was pregnant with George
until she was five months along. The doctor who delivered him, two
months early, originally pronounced him dead at birth. He was
eventually placed in an incubator, where he remained for more than a
But Lynch survived that ordeal, and he has shown a steady
determination ever since. Nowhere has that been more evident than in
the rebounding column, where he became the first player since Sam
Perkins in the mid-1980s to lead the Tar Heels for three straight
years. In fact, Lynch's value to North Carolina becomes most apparent
in his career stats: His 241 steals are the most in Tar Heel history
and he is the only ACC player other than Duke's Christian Laettner to
have more than 1,500 points, 1,000 rebounds, 200 assists and 200
None of those numbers, of course, meant as much to him as the net
draped around his neck in New Orleans after the victory over
Michigan. He then celebrated in true Lynchian fashion, spending most
of the night quietly watching highlights of the game on TV. -- P.T.
THE DAY BEFORE THE NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP GAME AGAINST Michigan,
forward Brian Reese was asked whether the trash talk for which the
Wolverines were famous would bother him. Reese put on his best
tough-guy face and, snorting disdainfully, said, ''I'm from New York
City. There's a lot of that going around.''
Reese, who is a junior, then proceeded to give a short primer on
New York trash talk, his wonderfully expressive face contorting into
looks of derision, anger and intimidation. ''If you dunk on a guy,
you might come down, get in his face and say, 'On you, buddy, on
you,' '' he said, spitting the words out of the corner of his mouth.
''That's if you like him. If you don't like him, you might say
something a little stronger.''
That was as close as Reese will ever get to bringing the New York
playground culture to Chapel Hill. It wasn't the talking that Reese
missed when he came to North Carolina, though; it was the
freewheeling style of play he was used to, a style in which instinct
and athleticism were more important than strategy and precise
As a freshman, Reese would commiserate with classmate Clifford
Rozier about the difficulty they were having in adapting their styles
to fit into the North Carolina way of doing things. Rozier decided he
couldn't or didn't want to adjust, and he transferred to Louisville
after one year. Reese decided to stick it out, and the result was an
NCAA championship ring. ''It takes some time before you grasp things,
but you eventually realize that this approach to basketball has been
winning games for a long time,'' Reese says. ''Now I wish that every
player could go through the North Carolina system for at least a
year. It would make a better player of everyone who did it.''
Reese may have adjusted to the Tar Heel way, but he still tries to
refine it when he believes that changes are necessary. He is often
the one to take suggestions or comments from the players to coach
Dean Smith. It was Reese who urged Smith to abandon his practice of
assigning each player a red, green or yellow ''light'' corresponding
to his freedom to take certain outside shots.
''Brian's the type who says what's on his mind,'' teammate Derrick
Phelps says. ''He doesn't pull any punches.''
Certainly Reese doesn't mind telling you how close he twice came
to being the biggest goat of the 1993 NCAA tournament. With the Tar
Heels tied with Cincinnati in the last second of the East Regional
final, he missed a dunk that would have sent the Tar Heels to the
Final Four. Fortunately for Reese, North Carolina went on to win in
overtime. Against Michigan, the Tar Heels led 72-69 with 45 seconds
left when he stepped on the sideline after catching an inbounds pass,
returning the ball to Michigan.
It would have been ironic if Reese had been the goat, because the
night he became a North Carolina fan was the night of a historic
miscue, when Georgetown's Fred Brown inadvertently threw a pass into
the hands of North Carolina's James Worthy to help cement the Heels'
first national title under Smith, in 1982. ''Since then,'' Reese
says, ''North Carolina has been the only team I've followed.'' --
HE WAS OLDER, BETTER TRAVELED -- MARRIED, EVEN -- A 24-year-old
gifted at making the right decisions. So when senior guard Henrik
Rodl suggested to his Carolina teammates that, like the 1982 champion
Tar Heels, they leave the nets hanging after they won their regional,
they heeded him. The cords at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford,
N.J., where the Heels had just beaten Cincinnati, were left
undisturbed. ''I don't think it affected our chances of winning the
Final Four,'' Rodl says. ''It was more a gesture to say that we
hadn't accomplished all that we wanted to yet.''
Having journeyed over land and ocean to Tobacco Road, the 6 ft. 8
in. Rodl would be just the man to measure how far the Heels had to
go. He first came to North Carolina in 1986 from Heusenstamm,
Germany, as a high school exchange student. ''Henrik was highly
self-motivated in the classroom and on the court,'' says Ken Miller,
who was his coach at Chapel Hill High. ''He's the kind of player who
makes the other four better.'' In the spring of '87, Rodl led Chapel
Hill High to the North Carolina Class 4-A title and was named the
state's player of the year -- an honor that eluded a Carolinian
familiar even to Rhinelanders, a guy named Jordan.
Rodl went back to Heusenstamm for two years to finish his
schoolwork, but he had left his heart in Chapel Hill. In 1989 he
returned not only to suit up for coach Dean Smith but also to be near
Susan Andrews, a North Carolina volleyball player whom he had dated
at Chapel Hill High. They were married in 1991. In his four seasons
as a Tar Heel, Rodl's numbers were not overwhelming; his career highs
were 14 points and 11 assists. But he always played with poise. A
three-time member of the All-Academic ACC team, Rodl majored in
biology because he wanted to understand how life works.
He brought that same diligent analysis to the basketball
laboratory at the Smith Center. ''Passing and savvy are the best
parts of Henrik's game,'' Smith says. Rodl started at point guard for
the German national team in the 1992 Summer Olympics and got a chance
to reprise that role for the Heels in the finals of the ACC
tournament against Georgia Tech, after starter Derrick Phelps was
injured in the semis. While Rodl played a solid if unspectacular
floor game (two points, six assists and two turnovers in 33 minutes),
he missed two free throws down the stretch, which contributed to a
77-75 loss. Afterward, in the Tar Heel locker room, Rodl told
reporters, ''This one was special. It's my last tournament here. It's
probably the last time I'll play % over here competitively.'' Perhaps
in that moment of despair, Rodl hadn't realized he had one more
tournament to play. And that at the end of his long road he would
have a worthy piece of twine to take back to Germany. -- HANK HERSCH
CONSIDERING THE SHEER TONNAGE OF FOOD HE HAS CONsumed in the past
four years, Kevin Salvadori stands as a 7-foot testament to the power
of a high metabolic rate. Salvadori came to Chapel Hill from
Pittsburgh in 1989 as a 195-pounder and immediately embarked upon his
own bizarre version of the eat-to-win diet. While redshirting his
first year, he wolfed down chicken breasts, baked potatoes, pasta and
pizzas -- in five or six meals a day, seven days a week -- in order
to gain weight. But by the time his junior season started, in the
fall of 1992, long, tall Salvadori still tipped the scales at only an
underwhelming 220. ''My metabolism is so high that it's hard to add
weight,'' he explains.
But what minimal weight he has, Salvadori throws around
effectively. In the 1991-92 season, a few days after an elbow in
practice from 7-foot, 270-pound Eric Montross had turned his left eye
crimson, Salvadori helped Montross tag- team Christian Laettner in a
75-73 Tar Heel home win over Duke. Salvadori contributed 12 points,
six rebounds and two blocks to that triumph. ''I see myself in two
main roles,'' he says. ''First, I can come off the bench and spell
Eric. I also think I can go out there and be a defensive force.''
Indeed, he led North Carolina in blocked shots last season, swatting
away 63 shots as a sophomore, and was second this season with 45, two
behind Montross. (With a total of 116 rejections, he ranks fifth on
the Tar Heels' career list.)
Salvadori is unable to play long stretches because of an asthmatic
condition, but in spurts he can be a real force. By playing Montross
and Salvadori together, coach Dean Smith can create vital mismatches
inside -- as he did in the Heels' national semifinal victory over
Kansas this year, during which the twin towers very successfully
disrupted the Jayhawks' inside game. ''When Eric and I are both in
the game, the opposition usually concentrates on Eric,'' Salvadori
says. ''That frees me up a lot and gives me an opportunity to make a
Kevin's father, Al, has paid the price for playing against his
son's quick feet and endless arms. A forward at South Carolina under
coach Frank McGuire from 1965 to '67, the 6 ft. 912 in. Al played
briefly for the ABA's Oakland Oaks in the 1967-68 season (appearing
in 17 games and averaging 3.2 points and 2.7 rebounds). He promised
$20 to any of his three sons who could defeat him in a game of
As a junior at Pittsburgh's Seton-La Salle High, Kevin not only
lightened Al's wallet but also shut him out in a game; Al hasn't
picked up a basketball since. ''He refuses to play with me anymore,''
says Kevin, ''but we have a running joke in my family about his
claims that he would beat me if he were 20 years younger. The family
consensus is that I would win, but he thinks otherwise.''
Presumably Al's $20 was quickly spent to indulge Kevin's
metabolism. ''It will probably hit me when I am finished playing
basketball,'' Salvadori says. ''I'll learn then that I don't need the
extra weight. I'll probably get up around 260. I won't want that.''
HIS RIGHT HAND REACHED FOR HIS RIGHT ANKLE TO WIPE away the
perspiration, and the ritual that would launch the most crucial free
throw of the 1993 NCAA title game began. With 20 seconds to play and
North Carolina leading Michigan 72-71, Tar Heel forward Pat Sullivan
approached the line for the front end of a one-and-one, received the
ball from the referee, bent low to begin his customary dribble and
attempted to establish a comforting rhythm. Before he could release
his shot, he got a gratuitous reminder about the significance of the
shot from Wolverine guard Rob Pelinka, who was lined up along the
lane. ''This one is for the national championship, baby,'' Pelinka
While it is sometimes called the charity stripe, the free throw
line does not dole out points just for the asking. Sullivan, a 6 ft.
8 in. junior from Bogota, N.J., had tirelessly worked to perfect his
foul shooting, becoming a 78.9% marksman in the 1992-93 regular
season, second only to Donald Williams among the Tar Heels. Free
throws are a state of mind and a matter of work ethic for Sullivan,
and he has been known to rail loud and long at his younger brother,
Ryan, for converting less than 70% at Bogota High. Sullivan's own
ability to hit his free throws had made him a valuable player to have
on the floor at crunch time. In an 80-78 home win over Wake Forest in
the '91-92 season, he scored only two points on two foul shots, but
they tied the game with 38 seconds left.
Of the Heels in Dean Smith's stellar 1990 recruiting class,
Sullivan was the least heralded and probably the least talented. ''I
definitely pride myself on + the fact that I can do other things
besides score,'' he says. ''Down here we only care who's doing things
right to help us win.''
And so, on April 5 in New Orleans, after all the hours of practice
and all the previous games had helped to steel him for this moment,
Sullivan got set to do the right thing at the free throw line. His
first shot ticked the front of the rim, then hit the back of the rim
and nestled in: 73-71, Heels. His second shot, however, clanged off
the back of the iron and into the hands of Chris Webber, who then
began his calamitous journey upcourt. With 11 seconds to play, Webber
formed a T with his hands to call a timeout Michigan didn't possess.
Disconsolate over his miss, Sullivan didn't immediately understand
the implications of Webber's signal. ''I looked over at our bench,
and everyone was going crazy,'' Sullivan recalls. ''I was like, Why
is everyone so excited because Michigan called a timeout? As I
walked to the bench, I saw the referee give the technical sign to the
scorer's table. That's when I knew Webber had made a mistake.''
Four Williams free throws and a few minutes later, Sullivan was
appearing as a lounge act in the nation's living rooms, bellowing the
song One Shining Moment as CBS commentator Jim Nantz tried to
interview the Tar Heels on the court. ''We've got it for you, Pat,''
said Nantz, promising Sullivan that CBS would soon cue up the theme
music that accompanies its postgame montage. ''It's coming up
later.'' But Sullivan and his teammates had experienced their shining
moment, and there was no reason for them not to burst into song.
''Now we've won the national title,'' Sullivan said later. ''Not bad
for a bunch of guys who weren't quick and couldn't shoot.'' -- H.H.
THEY WERE BEST KNOWN FOR THEIR INDEX FINGERS. WE ARE speaking, of
course, about the six players at the end of the bench during
Carolina's 1992-93 championship season. After every basket that
resulted from a Carolina pass, each bench-dweller rose and pointed
toward whoever dished out the assist. ''It's a way to recognize the
passer,'' said reserve forward Travis Stephenson, ''to thank him for
But it was often the starters who wanted to wag a bony digit of
acknowledgment in the direction of their teammates on the bench. The
selfless attitudes of the subs had much to do with Carolina's
success. ''Everyone on this team has a role,'' said senior George
Lynch. ''And no one person's role is any more important than
The brotherhood of the bench was led by Stephenson, a senior from
Angier, N.C., who liked to reserve a different handshake for each of
his teammates. Knuckle-bumping with reserve guard Scott Cherry was
his favorite. It was Cherry, you may recall, whose appearance in the
NCAA title game against Michigan for a crucial possession with 6:50
remaining caused the Tar Heel faithful to go slack-jawed. He was
yanked just 46 seconds later, but he at least made the final line
score, even if his stat line was loaded with zeros.
Reserve center Matt Wenstrom was the self-appointed video auteur
of Carolina's postseason, tracking his teammates with his handy
camcorder and taping nearly everything that happened during the
NCAAs. Two first-year players with prominent roles on Wenstrom's
video were Dante Calabria and Ed Geth, both of whom received a
healthy dose of good-natured ribbing for their respective excesses:
Calabria's hair mousse and Geth's appetite. Calabria likes to lather
up his 'do before games and has been known to ask his girlfriend how
his coif came across on TV. And the 6 ft. 9 in., 250-pound Geth has a
weakness for cheesecake and fried chicken, a deadly combination if
you hope to lose weight.
The final member of the Tar Heel bench, besides 7 ft. 1 in.
redshirt Serge Zwikker, was freshman guard Larry Davis. Davis could
boast of having thrown such a spectacular no-look pass during an
early-season game that it caused coach Dean Smith to rewind the
postgame videotape 10 times.
''We're definitely a diverse group,'' said Stephenson. ''But we're
all proud to be a part of this program -- no matter what our roles
may be.'' -- MICHAEL JAFFE