Members of the 1971 NIT Champion Tar Heel basketball team (l-r): Bill Chamberlain, Dennis Wuycik, George Karl, Steve Previs and Lee Dedmon are recognized during halftime. ROBERT WILLETT - email@example.com
CHAPEL HILL -- North Carolina on Saturday welcomed back members of its 1970-71 team, a collection of players who still stake claim to being Dean Smith’s first national championship club.
Those Tar Heels won the NIT, rather than the NCAA that Smith’s teams won in 1982 and ’93, but winning the NIT was a big deal in those days.
As a bonus, the ’71 team knocked Duke out of the NIT in the semifinals (73-69) in New York’s Madison Square Garden. They then defeated Georgia Tech (not an ACC member at the time) in the championship, 84-66.
“We’re still a close group after all these years,” said Dennis Wuycik, one of the team’s best players.
Picked for seventh in the eight-team ACC, the ’71 team finished 26-6 overall and 11-3 in the ACC.
A standout guard on the team was George Karl, now head coach of the Denver Nuggets. Karl, who turns 60 in May, made the trip during the break for the NBA All-Star Game.
Since 2005, Karl has battled prostrate and throat cancer, but said Saturday that he “feels great and is in good health.”
“I haven’t felt better in a long time,” he said. “Getting back and being around the guys makes me feel even better.”
Smith didn’t attend Saturday’s ceremony but did join the team for a dinner Friday night.
-- Caulton Tudor