College sports are confusing if you weren't raised in the USA. Heck, colleges in general are confusing as hell. Some states are only differentiated between north and south, then inside of those you need to deal with each campus, state, tech, A&M and every friggin' clown and barber college in between. This is a story of a 17-year-old Australian boy who thought he was attending North Carolina ... but didn't.
Being raised in Australia I had aspirations of coming to the United States for college. North Carolina was the obvious choice. My dad (a New Yorker by birth) lived in the area for some time. I was raised on UNC sports from the other side of the globe, and Michael Jordan was my favorite athlete growing up.
Sending college applications from Australia is hard enough, but I had it down pat. I heard some campuses were easier to get into than others, but did that really matter? I just wanted to attend "The University of North Carolina," so who cared if I was taking classes in Chapel Hill, Asheville, Greensboro, Charlotte or Wilmington? I'd be a Tar Heel.
UNC-Greensboro was the obvious choice with family in town, and I was accepted. There were other schools I was also accepted to, but it was the closest to my dad and made sense in my 17-year-old head. Maybe I wouldn't be attending lectures in the same hall as Michael Jordan did, but it was good enough.
Picking clothing for orientation is tough. It feels like you're making some grand statement about who you are, even if nobody will remember. My anxiety is accentuated by the fact that, throughout high school I wore a school uniform. In many ways this was my "breaking out" moment, and I felt I needed to dress appropriately to portray my personality to the world, because 17-year-olds think like this.
I contemplated whether it was too corny to wear any of my Tar Heel gear. Would I be the desperate-seeming freshman trying to look in place? Probably. I'd go with a hat. That would be safe.
The freshman are divided into groups alphabetically and we're going on a tour of the campus first. The senior leading the tour is way too excited for 8 a.m. on a Monday, but he points at me and says "Go Heels" while halfheartedly raising a fist. The attention is unwelcome. I immediately regret my decision to wear the hat.
In hindsight you'd think I'd notice the distinct lack of Carolina blue while walking around campus, but for some reason nothing clicked. My head said: "Well these are campus colors, and then the athletics are probably the same as the Heels."
I'm sitting in this huge lecture hall with 1,000 other kids all trying to look cool and absolutely not like freshmen. It feels like I need a Sherpa to guide me to the back-most row. There's this universal thing no matter which country you live in that you never want to sit at the front. Feigning indifference is the way to go, when the reality is that if nobody cared they wouldn't be at an orientation day in the first place.
The Powerpoint slide flips to "Campus Life," and I'm sure it's here where we'll hear about athletics. I'm wondering if there's a shuttle bus to Chapel Hill each weekend. There's probably a bus. That way we can get to and from the games if we're living on campus. Suddenly this pops up on the screen:
My immediate reactions wasn't a "what the hell is this?" feeling, it was a "holy shit, no way" feeling. The presenter's voice stops sounding like words and becomes tinnitus, a high-pitched drone in my ears where I make out only every third word or so. I hear "basketball," "gym" and "2001 NCAA Tournament." My stomach sinks like I'm riding a roller coaster, a lump wells in my throat the same way as when I was 12, when Annie rejected my offer to go on a date to see Men in Black. I'm not going to cry. It's more like I'm going to have a panic attack.
I'm not going to be a Tar Heel. I'll never get to see the next Vince Carter or Rasheed Wallace play for my school. I wouldn't sit in the student section of the Dean Dome, or mock Duke the way a Chapel Hill student should. Suddenly I'm trying to work out ways to get out of this. There's still time to change schools ... right? I know the answer. Financial aid has been filed, I'm locked in ... a transfer is unlikely. This is it.
We're up to the class selection process and I've stopped freaking out. Now entering the "bargaining" portion of my Kubler Ross model, I'm convincing myself UNCG is good at sports too. It has to be, right? This is an American university. They're ALL good at sports.
It's about at this point that I need to pull you out of this story to let you know just how mediocre UNCG is at basketball. This isn't a small school by any stretch, but one that's a victim of circumstance. How the heck are you going to compete for recruits when you're nestled between Wake Forest, Chapel Hill, Duke and NC State? The answer: not very well. We'll let the "notable athletes" section of the school's Wikipedia page explain:
OK, back to 2003. While walking to the admissions office I saw a really tall guy, like 6'8. He's probably a good basketball player I'd get to watch.
It's time for a break, and I'm freaking out again. I take the $10 I brought for lunch and spend $1 of it buying a cigarette off a dude wearing a Led Zeppelin T-Shirt. I hadn't smoked since I was 13 years old, just that once when this kid rolled me one and I lit the wrong end.
My mouth tastes like ash. I'm taking small, shy bites of a piece of terrible cafeteria pizza and walk outside to get some air. I take off my Tar Heel hat and put it into a nearby trash can, quickly, while nobody was watching. I would regret this 12 hours later.
More tours. This time an extensive trip through the library to get our student logins. We're sitting at computers and making sure things work, then we have 10 minutes of free time to test the system. Immediately I'm Googling information "North Carolina and basketball." Yep ... those are the Tar Heels. "Greensboro and basketball," four results down under the ACC Tournament is the information I'm dreading.
The school's win-loss record last year was 7-22 ... SEVEN AND TWENTY-TWO. This is in the SoCon.
I arrive home and my dad is excited to hear about how my orientation went. Showing genuine enthusiasm to find out what I thought of campus and what classes I was taking. I tried to match his energy level, but the strain caused my head to pound. I went to bed early. They assumed it was because I was tired.
I fell asleep with my DVD copy of "Michael Jordan: Come Fly With Me" playing on the small TV in my room. I cried once before bed, then again in the morning.
12 years later
No regrets, that's the important thing.
I came to find out UNC Greensboro is an amazing school with an excellent English program, and I thrived during my time there. It's not a party school, but that didn't matter. I met great people, and most importantly my wife.
College athletics is the only disappointment I have from my time there. UNCG never made the NCAA Tournament while I attended. I saw 10 games in person. UNCG never won.