There are a lot of neat things about Friday’s North Carolina season opener against Michigan State in the Carrier Classic: playing on an aircraft carrier, competing in front of President Barack Obama (who is scheduled to attend), to name a couple.
But to Tar Heels coach Roy Williams, the importance of the Veteran’s Day game comes down to one key thing: "To me, it’s a way of honoring our military,” Williams said during his Tuesday news conference in Chapel Hill. “That’s what it boils down to. It’s those people, and not just the wounded warriors -- of course, we want to give them a special place in our heart -- but just the people that serve our country and make the rest of us, everybody in here, able to do what we do. So I’m looking at it from that standpoint more than anything."
Williams has nine uncles -- five on his father’s side of the family, and four on his mother’s side -- who served in the military, according to Carolina's game notes. Two of them spent their careers serving the country.
Point guard Kendall Marshall's dad spent three years in the army, and his grandmother, GiGi Spearman, served 26 years in the Army and retired as a lieutenant colonel. So he has this game in perspective, as well.
"I think what they do is so much more important than what we do," Marshall said. "We're out here playing for fun, this is almost like a hobby for us. This is every day they are putting their lives of the line. I definitely have much more respect for what they go out there and do day to day as opposed to us playing basketball for fun. We're representing our university and we want to play well, but at the same time, there's a bigger thing at hand."
Included on the lengthy list of other team members with ties to the military (more specifics can be found in the link above):
Pre-season All-American Harrison Barnes has two uncles, a great uncle, and three cousins who served in various branches. Five additional cousins are currently serving.
Forward John Henson has eight cousins serving.
Reserve guard Leslie McDonald's mom, dad and uncle all served in the Army.
Freshman forward Jackson Simmons' grandfather, Butch, was a World War II Army paratrooper who earned the Purple Heart. Simmons currently has a cousin and uncle serving overseas in the Army.
Assistant coach Jerod Hasse has two brothers in the military: Steven is a lieutenant colonel and F16 pilot with the Arizona National Guard; David is an Air Fore colonel based in Germany. Matthew Holladay, son of director of player operations Joe Holladay, is a former Army Ranger paratrooper who served in Iraq.