A recharged UNC helps all of ACC

April 17, 2003|by DAN KAUFFMAN

About 9:30 last Monday night, new life was breathed into the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Thank you, Roy Williams.

The ACC has long been known as a hotbed for men's basketball, and before the past couple seasons, had been considered one of the top conferences - and often THE top conference - in the nation.

But with North Carolina's slide into mediocrity the past two years, the ACC had become top-heavy, with Maryland and Duke the only two programs truly among the elite in the nation. Not that the rest of the league was weak, but name another ACC team that recently put fear into the hearts of other top schools come NCAA Tournament time. Clearly, the Southeastern and Big 12 conferences had passed the ACC at the national level.

However, the arrival of Williams means the ACC now has three of the nation's elite programs, with the Tar Heels' image being instantly restored thanks to Williams' career .805 winning percentage, second all-time.


Suddenly, the league has renewed depth, with up-and-comers Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, N.C. State and a Florida State team with underrated coach Steve Robinson guiding its once-sinking ship. No joke, the Seminoles could be only a year or two away from challenging for a top-four finish.

Yes, this means Terps fans will have to sweat out at least two more games than they've had to the past couple years. But if the Duke-North Carolina rivalry becomes what it was in the mid-90s and before, and Maryland-North Carolina becomes significant, that would give the ACC three rivalries that would captivate not just the conference, but the entire nation.

With Roy Williams on board at Chapel Hill, that's not just a dream, but a better-than-average possibility - which means nothing but great things for the ACC.

Fans of high school basketball have a lot to look forward to next season, because the number of All-Area athletes coming back is staggering.

Of the 20 first or second team boys this season, 13 were juniors - including Player of the Year David Miner. Seven first or second team girls will also return.

Teams which were good this year could be even better next season.

On the boys side, South Hagerstown, the Class 1A state semifinalists, returns Miner for his senior season, as well as emerging 6-foot-7 center Jesse Gutekunst.

Martinsburg, West Virginia Class AAA finalists this season, return all three of its top players in Durrell Johnson, Jeff Horst and Brandon Barrett. All three will be seniors, and expectations could equal or exceed those of two seasons ago.

On the girls side, Walkersville, the Class 2A state champions this year, lose Koffi Harrison but return everyone else, including sharpshooter Chelsea Trout and point guard D.J. Vernoy.

Middletown returns leading scorer Kristen Waeber for her sophomore (!) year, as well as Jill Martin for her senior campaign.

Hedgesville returns all five starters, including All-Area selection Tiffany Linn, from a 17-4 squad whose only disappointment was being upset by Martinsburg - a team the Eagles beat twice - in the sectional final.

Perhaps never before have so many good teams lost so few starters. These are truly exciting times on the prep basketball beat.

Dan Kauffman is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7520, or by e-mail at

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