Go to hell, Dook.

The U.N.C. men’s basketball team is playing what many consider to be a must-win game against Georgia Tech tonight. Carolina is 2-3 in the ACC, and 11-7 overall. We (yes, we, dammit) need to win 17 games to make the bubble of the NCAA tournament, 18 games would assure us a place. This game is important, yes, but despite what people think, it is not a must-win game.

It’s hard for me to claim to be a tarheel, as I was only enrolled at the college for one semester as a continuing studies student. But I attended classes for two years there, as did my then wife. I could only afford to pay for one of our tuitions, and I tended to be the one to fail out of school, so it didn’t make sense for me to be the one enrolled. Plus, as a casual student, I wasn’t required to take tests or actually show up unless I wanted to.

I have to say that Carolina was the beginning of the end of my marriage. Although she and I were both happy there, the place separates the flash from the substance, and once we left, (and went to LA of all places) my pining for a more substantive lifestyle made me unbearable for her to be around. I mean, she’s on a soap opera now, and I have my Carolina life back, so we both kind of won, I think.

I am a tarheel, despite the enrollment. When I got to Carolina, I was a boy, a fool. I was married and 23, but still, I knew nothing about art, about life, about beauty, about friendship. I had wanted to be a ‘real actor’, not the musical theater actor that I had spent five years becoming, and I went to UNC because there was so much opportunity to do just that. To act. At Carolina, they did seven student shows a semester, and there are three or four other companies on campus that do three or more shows a year.

I could give you the list of people I worked with there and tell you where they are all now, but I am trying to avoid names in this thing as much as I can. Suffice it to say, I was spoiled rotten, and in two years I crossed off every role on my “Must Do Before Turning Thirty” list.

More than that, it was the nights spent talking and drinking, the lunch trips to the cafeteria where we would use up all the unused meals on people’s cards. The morning that two friends and I covered the campus with paper announcing another friend’s birthday. While virginity loss and drug dabbling and experimental homosexuality were going on around me, I was learning what it was to have friends that you *love* so deeply that it lasts years and years into the future. It may be that way with every college, but the other three I went to inspired none of the same.

And that’s the thing. Jawad Williams (one of a stretch of extraordinary Carolina players that share my surname) scored three points last game and we lost. He could have done better. And I know he was kicking himself after the game, the same way I cried for hours when we had to cancel one of our performances of “La Bete” because I had lost my voice.

But he is suffering there, at Carolina, where your suffering translates into maturity, where you meet your partners for life, where people expect the best from you, even if you are a boy or a fool. You won’t be for long. You wake up the morning after a loss or a failed test or a drinking binge and you breath the clean air and look at the Carolina blue sky, and you call your friends and your life takes another step toward being just slightly better than everyone else’s life.

This game tonight is not a must-win, because by being a tarheel, they have already won.