1982 NORTH CAROLINA
TAR HEELS BASKETBALL
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Greatest College Basketball Teams: Spotlight 1982 North Carolina
The 1982 North Carolina Tar Heels basketball team went 32-2. The Tar Heels started and ended the season ranked number one in the country. Hall of Fame coach, Dean Smith, had led North Carolina to the Final Four six times before, but had been unable to win the championship. In 1982, thanks to "The Shot" by Freshman Michael Jordan, North Carolina won the 1982 NCAA Championship over Georgetown by the narrowest of margins. After the game, Smith said "I don't think I'm a better coach now that we've won the national championship. I'm still the same coach." Jordan wasn't the only future NBA great on the 1982 Tar Heels. Sam Perkins and Hall of Famer James Worthy were also on this talented team.
Forward James Worthy was an All-American high school player at Ashbrook High School in Gastonia, North Carolina. He came to North Carolina in 1978. Worthy's senior season was 1981-82 and he was the star of the team. He led the low scoring Tar Heels in scoring with 15.6 points per game and was the second-leading rebounder with 6.3 per game. Worthy had long arms and could score from both inside and outside. "Most people think Coach Smith put a leash on us and wouldn't let us just go out and play, Worthy said. "That's not true. He didn't put any restraints on me." Worthy didn't just dominate on the offensive end of the floor, Dean Smith said that Worthy's defense in 1981-82 "may be as good as any player we've had." After the championship game, in which Worthy scored 28 of North Carolina's 63 points, Georgetown forward Ed Spriggs said "We did all we could on him [defensively]. He is just so good." Worthy was an All-American in 1982. "Big Game James" was the number one pick in the 1982 NBA draft by the L.A. Lakers and went on to be named one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all-time.
Center Sam Perkins came to North Carolina from Loudenville, New York. He was named ACC Rookie of the Year in 1981. In 1982, Perkins was North Carolina's second leading scorer with 14.3 points per game and leading rebounder with 7.8 rebounds per game. Perkins was only 6'9", but was able to defend against giants like Virginia's Ralph Sampson, Houston's Akeem Olajuwan and Georgetown's Patrick Ewing because of his long arms. "On defense, I might be standing 7-foot with my arms," Perkins said. Silent Sam was overshadowed by Jordan and Worthy, but his college career was better than either of theirs. Perkins is North Carolina's all-time leader in rebounds with 1,167. He is second all-time in scoring with 2,145 points. Perkins was not an All-American in 1982, but he was an All-American in 1983 and 1984. Perkins was co-captain of the gold-medal 1984 US Olympic basketball team. He was the number four pick in the 1984 NBA draft and played in the NBA for 15 years.
Guard Michael Jordan grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina. He was cut from his High School basketball team his sophomore year because he was only 5’11”. When asked how he felt about being cut, Jordan later said, “I was very disappointed…. I started working on my game the day after I was cut.” After growing four inches and training around the clock, Jordan made the team his junior year. His senior year, Jordan averaged 29.2 points, 11.6 rebounds and 10.1 assists per game. The 1981-82 season was Jordan’s freshman year at North Carolina. Behind Worthy and Perkins, Jordan was the third leading scorer and third leading rebounder on the team with 13.5 points per game and 4.4 rebounds per game. He was named ACC Freshman of the Year. In 1983, Jordan was an All-American. In 1984, Jordan was an All-American and National Player of the Year. Georgia Tech center Tim Harvey described playing against Jordan: “There’s nothing you can do but stand and look at him.” Jordan was the third pick in the NBA draft in 1984. He went on to set the NBA record for the highest scoring average with 30.12 points per game. Widely thought to be the greatest NBA player of all-time for his spectacular dunks and game-winning shots, “His Airness” won five NBA MVPs and six NBA finals MVPs. Like Worthy, Jordan was named one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all-time.
The remaining two starters on the 1982 Tar Heels were point guard Jimmy Black and small forward Matt Doherty. Black is the unsung hero of the 1982 North Carolina team. Having Jimmy Black is “like having a coach out there on the floor,” Dean Smith said. Black led the team in assists, averaging 6.3 per game. Small forward Matt Doherty averaged 9.3 points per game for the 1982 Tar Heels and was their best outside shooter.
North Carolina lost in the NCAA Championship game in 1981 and started the 1981-82 season ranked number one. The Tar Heels lived up to their ranking by defeating Kansas 74-67 in the opening game of the season on November 28, 1981. After winning their next four games in a row, the 5-0 number one Tar Heels took on number two Kentucky at the Meadowlands in New Jersey on December 26, 1981. Worthy scored 26, Perkins 21 and Jordan 19, as North Carolina defeated Kentucky 82-69. On January 9, 1982, the Tar Heels faced number two Virginia. Virginia center Ralph Sampson scored 30 points and pulled down 19 rebounds, but the Tar Heels won the game 65-60. On January 21, 1982, the Tar Heels suffered their first loss at the hands of unranked Wake Forest, 55-48. North Carolina dropped to number two in the polls despite winning their next three games. On February 3, 1982, the Tar Heels lost to number three Virginia, 74-58. The 1982 Tar Heels did not lose another game.
In the ACC tournament, the Tar Heels beat Georgia Tech and North Carolina State easily to force a rubber match with Virginia to determine the ACC Champion. Leading 44-43 with nearly eight minutes to go, North Carolina went into the four corners stall. The Tar Heels eventually won the game 47-45 thanks to three free throws by Matt Doherty in the final 30 seconds.
The 1982 season almost ended for North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. James Madison held Michael Jordan to six points, one rebound and no assists in 37 minutes of play, but fell short, 52-50. In the second round, the Tar Heels recovered and defeated Alabama 74-69. After the game, Alabama’s coach said “You can’t ignore anyone on North Carolina’s team.” In the regional finals, North Carolina beat Villanova 70-60.
In the first game of the Final Four, the Tar Heels faced the Houston Cougars with stars Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. The high-flying slam-dunking Cougars had just defeated Boston College 99-92 in the regional finals. North Carolina ran the four corners, played tough defense, slowed the pace of the game to a crawl and forced the ball inside for good shots. Perkins and Worthy dominated inside, going 9 of 11 and 7 of 10 respectively. Three of Houston’s stars, Rob Williams, Michael Young and Akeem Olajuwon were held to a combined total of just six points versus their combined season average of 40.3. North Carolina won 68-63.
In the NCAA Championship, North Carolina faced 30-6 Georgetown Hoyas with star center Patrick Ewing. Ewing blocked the five North Carolina shots early in the game, but all five blocks were ruled goaltending, giving North Carolina ten points. James Worthy scored 18 first half points, but the Hoyas led 32-31 at halftime. The lead switched back and forth throughout the second half. North Carolina was winning 59-58 with a little over three minutes to go when Michael Jordan gave the world a glimpse of the spectacular plays to come in his stellar career. Jordan drove the lane, switched the ball from his right hand to his left and made a layup high off the glass over the outstretched arms of Patrick Ewing, extending North Carolina’s lead to 61-58. Georgetown clawed back until, with 32 seconds left, Georgetown led 62-61. North Carolina called a time out. After the time out, Jimmy Black passed the ball to a wide open Michael Jordan on the left wing. Jordan made a 17-foot jump shot, giving North Carolina a 63-62 lead with 16 seconds left. Georgetown Guard Fred Brown dribbled the ball up the court, stopped just over the half-court line, and picked up his dribble, and inexplicably passed the ball to North Carolina’s James Worthy. “When I saw him pick up his dribble,” Worthy later said, “I was like, oh boy, he’s panicking. I just knew he was going to throw it.” The Tar Heels won the National Championship and Michael Jordan’s jumper became known as “The Shot.” Jordan later said “It was destiny. Ever since I made that shot, everything has just fallen into place for me. If that shot hadn’t gone in I don’t think I would be where I am today.” Jordan, Perkins and Worthy were all named to the All-Tournament Team and Worthy (who wound up with 28 points in the NCAA Championship game) was named the most outstanding player of the NCAA Tournament.
Name Pos Class Pts Reb Ast
James Worthy F/C JR 15.6 6.3 2.4
Sam Perkins C SO 14.3 7.8 1.1
Michael Jordan G/F FR 13.5 4.4 1.8
Matt Doherty G/F SO 9.3 3.0 3.1
Jimmy Black G SR 7.6 1.7 6.3
Jim Braddock G JR 1.9 0.5 1.2
Chris Brust F/C SR 1.7 1.7 0.4
Buzz Peterson G FR 1.2 0.5 0.5
Jeb Barlow F SR 1.0 0.8 0.2
Warren Martin F/C FR 0.7 0.8 0.1
How would the 1982 North Carolina Tar Heels do against the teams of today? How would they handle the shot clock and the three pointer?
The 1982 Tar Heels had three great NBA players who had long and successful pro careers. Jordan and Worthy were both named among the 50 greatest players in NBA history. There is no doubt that these players would have the talent to be able to compete with the players of today. However, Dean Smith’s coaching style in 1982 would not work today. The 1982 Tar Heels ran a very slow, methodical offense designed to push the ball inside. They would have violated the shot clock half the times they came down the floor. In addition, although Jordan, Doherty and Perkins all later became excellent three-point shooters, it would have been extremely rare for any of them to shoot from today’s three-point range in 1982.
One might argue that Dean Smith would simply alter his coaching style to adjust to the shot clock and three-point rules. A close look at the 1982 Tar Heels, however, suggests that running at a faster pace would have hurt their performance. Four of the Tar Heels five starters averaged over 34 minutes per game. Michael Jordan, the fifth starter, averaged nearly 32 minutes per game. The Tar Heels did not have a deep bench and a faster pace would have worn out the starters, resulting in lower shooting percentages, more fouls committed, more turnovers, fewer rebounds and fewer steals. Compared to other top teams of the era, the Tar Heels were not particularly good at getting rebounds or steals even at a slower pace.
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