10. North Carolina For the Tar Heels to reach a 25th straight NCAA tournament they'll have to turn to a less traditional source: freshmen

November 23, 1998

On the corner of Tar Heels coach Bill Guthridge's desk sits a
clay jar upon which is painted the word EXCUSES. For the last
two decades, whenever a player came to see Guthridge armed with
some alibi about why he'd been late for practice or missed a
class, Guthridge would offer him a chance to write up his story
and tuck it inside the jar. Shame prevented anybody from doing
so, and the EXCUSES jar remains empty to this day. "With our
team's lack of experience, I might be tempted to fill up the jar
this season," says the 61-year-old Guthridge, warming to the
irony. "I hope our fans are patient, but I don't expect them to
be. Win and they're behind you, so I don't believe I'll be as
good a coach as I was last year."

After tying a school record with 34 victories and reaching the
Final Four in his first season as head coach, Guthridge has seen
73% of the Heels' scoring vanish, thanks to graduations and the
early exits of Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter to the NBA. Only
two starters return, and nobody who's back scored more than 8.1
points a game in '97-98. The Tar Heels do have junior point
guard Ed Cota, who led the ACC in assists for the second
straight year, but he attempted fewer than six shots a game and
describes his shooting as "a lost art." While senior forward
Ademola Okulaja, who shot just 41.4% from the field a year ago,
will have to assume more offensive responsibility, the team will
rely heavily on its freshman class, contrary to what was once
Carolina tradition. Small forward Jason Capel could become the
first freshman to lead the Tar Heels in scoring, and Capel's
summer AAU teammate Ronald Curry should see ample playing time
in early December, after he finishes quarterbacking the football
team. With a squad that is shorter on seasoning but deeper than
a year ago, Guthridge plans to simplify the offense and spring
Carolina's traditional trapping pressure defense, which has been
notably absent in Chapel Hill over the last two seasons.

None of the current Tar Heels were even alive in 1974, the last
time the school failed to reach the NCAA tournament, and
Carolina hasn't finished out of the top three in the ACC
standings since '64. On the first day of October practice
Guthridge urged his young troops not to worry about extending
these sacred streaks. He could also have reminded them of a
similar scenario three autumns ago, when Jerry Stackhouse and
Rasheed Wallace left early for the NBA. That team turned to
unproven freshmen like Carter, Jamison and Okulaja, who grew up
quickly and kept the runs alive. The following year the Tar
Heels started 0-3 in the ACC before rallying to win 16 straight
games and reach the Final Four. "Nobody wants to be on the team
that breaks the streaks," Cota admitted recently while glancing
at the banners in the Smith Center rafters. "But we've proven
that when we're doubted, we can be even more dangerous as
underdogs."

--T.C.

STARTING LINEUP

POS. HT. CLASS KEY STAT

SF Jason Capel 6'8" Fr. 20.1 ppg*
PF [**]Ademola Okulaja 6'9" Sr. 5.6 rpg
C Brendan Haywood 7'0" So. 2.9 ppg
SG Ronald Curry 6'2" Fr. 21.9 ppg*
PG [**]Ed Cota 6'1" Jr. 7.4 apg

'97-98 record: 34-4 Final rank (coaches' poll): No. 3
[**]Returning starter *ppg as high school senior

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)