North Carolina coach Matt Doherty might be a rookie head coach in the ACC, but he's been a target of the Cameron Crazies before.
And the 38-year-old Doherty, UNC's animated sideline boss, is sure that he'll be a target again -- starting Thursday night when his No. 4 Tar Heels (17-2) travel to Cameron Indoor to take on No. 2 Duke (19-1) for sole possession of first place in the league.
"When I played at Carolina, there were much better players than me on the court, so Duke fans spent a lot more time trying to rattle them because they had much more impact on the game than I did," said Doherty 48 hours prior to the game. "But there was one time that they got on me pretty good."
Asked for details, Doherty was pretty vague. "I was a senior and I said some things that we are all in good fun."
Of course, Doherty's name is attached to some of Dean Smith's best Carolina teams. Besides the national championship in 1982, Doherty's sophomore year, the Heels won the ACC regular-season title each of the three seasons he started. He repeatedly stepped up in the conference tournament, making the all-tournament team three times.
As a McDonald's All-American, Doherty was highly recruited out of Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville, N.Y. He is remembered as the reliable workhorse on the 1982 championship team, where he played with four bigger stars: Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Sam Perkins and Jimmy Black. Doherty averaged nine points a game over his career and was third all-time in assists at Carolina when he graduated.
But, much like a presidential candidate, Doherty is learning this week that things said and done in fun as a 21-year-old can be dredged up to add some juice when old rivals get together years later. As a UNC senior prior to the Jan. 21, 1984 game at Duke, Doherty said of the Cameron Crazies:
"I think Duke fans are a bunch of Northeasterners who study too much and don't show a lot of class -- and release it on the players."
"They're not that clever."
Actually Matt, they are.
Over the years, they've distracted Detlef Schrempf's free-throw routine by counting his pre-shot dribbles in German and showered former Georgia Tech star Dennis Scott, who battled weight problems throughout his career, with countless pizza and Dunkin' Donuts boxes.
Always prepared, Doherty has done some advance scouting on the Cameron Crazies and at least in part knows what they have planned.
"I heard that they have T-shirts printed up with a list of coaches who said 'no' to Coach (Dean) Smith this past summer," said Doherty. "There's Coach Williams' name with a line through it. 'Larry Brown' with a line through it and then 'George Karl' and 'Eddie Fogler', too. That's a pretty good way of pointing out that I was the school's fifth or sixth choice to replace Coach Guthridge."
Doherty might not have been option No. 1, but he's turned about to be a popular choice in Chapel Hill, thus far -- although his hands-on, aggressive management style took some time to adjust to for the players and students alike. Doherty wants his teams to go hard all the time -- in every practice, every game, every drill, every minute.
And when they don't, he'll get in a players' face. Or worse. For example, during an early-season practice, Doherty wasn't happy with the effort of forward Kris Lang.
"I was trying," Lang said months later. "I really was."
Not hard enough for Doherty, who yelled "Not on my watch" and then kicked over a trash can. It's hard to imagine Smith or Guthridge doing that.
Said Doherty: "Some kids, you can get on because you know if you get on him, the rest of the players will say, 'Gosh, if he's going to get on him, he'll get on me.' And then everyone's play rises.
"It's (about) what hot buttons can you push, knowing which ones you can push, knowing which ones you shouldn't, and when and where you can do that."
So far, his animated, trash-can kicking ways are working. The Heels have won 14 straight games, including their first seven in the ACC.
"Matt is similar to Coach Smith and Coach Guthridge in terms of X's and O's, but he has his own little wrinkles, too," says Virginia coach Pete Gillen. "Plus, he's much more emotional than his two predecessors and I think that's been good for Carolina. They're much more aggressive, particularly at the defensive end, and I think that's a reflection of Matt and his personality."
Will Doherty continue to coach this way a decade or so from now?
"Who knows," says Doherty. "Right now, I'm 38 years old and I jump around the sidelines and I'm emotional out there. By the time I'm 58, I might be much more reserved than I am now."
But Doherty's sideline antics are not premeditated, not orchestrated. It is just him being himself -- whether it's crying on the court after the 70-69 Wake Forest win; getting in a defensive stance in his suit and tie on the sidelines; or that little chair-throwing incident at halftime of a December game against Massachusetts.
"It wasn't a little chair either," Doherty joked afterward.
Doherty had been looking at the halftime statistics against UMass, which were none too pleasing.
"I was getting madder and madder as I read the stat sheet," he said. "It just happened. I didn't ridicule anybody. I just wanted to wake our team up."
Carolina, up by seven at the break, won by 31.
"It got our attention," Lang said, smiling.
And Doherty's sideline antics will grab the attention the attention of Duke fans Thursday night (and in years to come) - making college basketball's greatest rivalry even that much more heated.
A freelance writer from Bethlehem, Pa, Bill Doherty is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. While passionate about his work, he never throws trash cans.
|Matt Doherty has guided the Tar Heels to 14 straight victories -- including seven to start the ACC season.|
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