By Dan Wiederer with foreword by Bobby Frasor
“Blue Streak” excerpt: Ty goes to the runner
On the play coach Roy Williams drew up, Tyler Hansbrough was to inbound the ball. His first look was to get it to half-court where the Tar Heels would quickly call their final timeout and reset from there.
Otherwise, Hansbrough could pass to Ty Lawson and see what might happen.
Option B certainly seemed a lot simpler. And so Hansbrough never looked to get the ball to half-court even though Danny Green appeared to be wide open on the left side of the floor.
(To be published in early 2010)
When Hansbrough took the ball from the referee, he instantly passed it in to Lawson who turned on the jets, racing up the right side of the floor past Florida State guard Derwin Kitchen and toward the top of the key.
When Lawson saw the clock hit 1 second, he launched a 22-foot runner.
The horn sounded.
Lawson howled in delight.
Hansbrough immediately rushed in, lifting the point guard into the air with an aggressive bear hug. Within an instant, the entire Tar Heel team was on the floor swarming their new hero.
Carolina 80, Florida State 77.
This moment was huge.
"We probably shouldn't have won that game," assistant coach C.B. McGrath said. "But we found a way."
Instead of returning to the visiting locker room at the Tucker Center with confusion after another rough conference loss, the Heels turned the locker room into one big celebratory mosh pit.
Instead of falling to 3-3 in ACC play, the Heels were 4-2, a mammoth difference for a team of their stature.
In that regard, Lawson's buzzer-beater may have been the biggest shot of the season.
For Lawson, the confidence spike of hitting his first college game-winner was enormous. Not just for him, but for the entire team.
Lawson had come up huge for Carolina before. Remember, he was the MVP of the Maui Invitational two months earlier. But the Tar Heels were still waiting for him to take that next step in his growth as a player, the step that took him from standout point guard to fiery leader and reliable go-to guy with big games on the line.
The FSU shot may have allowed that seed to sprout.
For the longest time, Lawson's teammates had loved being around him. He was, quite simply, a goofy and lovable scamp who just always made life a little more entertaining.
But the Heels also had moments where they'd roll their eyes at Lawson. As they were trying to fuel up for a national championship run, so often Lawson was lost just being a 21-year-old college kid in his own little world.
His roommates, Marc Campbell and Deon Thompson, saw that side of things daily.
Campbell, one of the point guard's closest friends, said Lawson was absolutely oblivious to just how huge his profile had become as a college basketball player and a star at the University of North Carolina.
For better or for worse.
"Ty is a kid in the truest sense of the word," Campbell said. "He does not care about fame or publicity or about being the headliner. He doesn't care about anything like that. He just wants his life to be easy."
Thompson and Campbell used to razz Lawson about his living habits, his propensity for being messy, for leaving pots full of macaroni and cheese sitting in the kitchen, for turning the TV on at loud volumes at 3 a.m. without caring whether it would wake his roommates.
"We called it only child syndrome," Campbell said. "Because he was an only child and you know his mom would always clean up after him. Again, he's just in his own little world. He never cared what anyone else was doing. He was going to do whatever he wanted."
From the outside, fans might have seen Lawson as the dynamic floor general capable of being the best playmaker in all of college basketball. They may have seen Lawson as the biggest weapon in Carolina's charge toward the national championship.
Campbell and Thompson? They saw Lawson as the kid who would stash bulk boxes of Fruit by the Foot or Fruit Gushers in his bedroom, the kid who would hit up the Sam's Club to buy giant jars of apple sauce so he'd have something to quench his thirst.
Wait ... quench his thirst?
"He'd carry these giant jars of apple sauce with him to class," Campbell said, "and drink it like it was a bottle of water."
Yep, this was the kid that hundreds of thousands of Carolina fans were pinning their national championship hopes on.
Still, in the 3.2 seconds it took Lawson to bolt down the court at Florida State and throw in that game-winning, season-changing 3, he may well have emerged as the kid the Tar Heels could suddenly feel ultra-comfortable counting on in big spots. That's how big that shot was.
UNC's coaches and players noticed the exhilaration Lawson showed in the locker room that night and sensed it was something more meaningful than just one shot and just one win.