Krzyzewski was right, in a sense: Smith was there, in the sound way that North Carolina dispensed with Duke. As early departures for the NBA render college basketball an increasingly adolescent sport, the average Tar Heels starter is a wave-him-through-the-door 21.7 years old. (Though still a sophomore, Cota is only three months younger than Blue Devils counterpart Steve Wojciechowski, a senior.) Even more unusual in this era of tricked-up, three-point offenses is North Carolina's old-fashioned dedication to getting the ball inside. The Heels are so inside-oriented that, in the second half against Duke, Jamison set a low screen for Carter, and the Tar Heels' rubber-legged junior swingman came off it not for a jump shot but for a dunk.
North Carolina's ability to get inside and draw fouls creates stoppages of play that allow the six starters—7-foot freshman Brendan Haywood is the only other Tar Heel who gets regular minutes—to catch their breath. In late-January victories over Clemson and Wake Forest, the Tar Heels outshot their opponents 86-19 from the line. Through Sunday, North Carolina had made 135 more free throws than its opponents had even attempted.
Not that Guthridge believes that rest at the free throw line is necessary. "Some of our fans think our depth is a problem," he says. "I don't. Divide six into 200 possible minutes in a game, and you get 33. That's about how many minutes a player in good shape likes to play."
This season those trips to the line are more likely to pay off. For the first time since 1992-93, North Carolina is making more than 70% of its foul shots. No Tar Heel worked harder on his free throws over the summer than the 6' 9', 223-pound Jamison, who after deciding last spring to pass up the pros has improved his free throw percentage by eight points, to 70.6.
Jamison may be the only favor Hurricane Hugo did for the Tar Heel State. In 1989 his father, Albert, was a 32-year-old carpenter in Shreveport, La., struggling to support his wife, Kathy, and their three children. He read a newspaper story about construction jobs in Charlotte, which was still recovering from Hugo's visit a year earlier. Albert began commuting to North Carolina for a month at a time, returning home for weeklong breaks between each stint. After 18 months he moved his family to Charlotte, and Antawn, then 12, came into the pale of the pale blue. "If the hurricane hadn't come through, I probably wouldn't be in a Carolina uniform," he says.
Jamison's father and mother were 20 and 17, respectively, when he was born. At that time, Albert's job often required him to travel, and with Kathy putting in 12-to 14-hour shifts as a cashier at a grocery store, much of the parenting duties fell to Antawn's paternal grandmother, Annie Lee Jamison. She died when he was a junior at Charlotte's Providence High, and ever since, in the locker room before each game, he has said a prayer while clutching a ring that belonged to her. Before he takes the floor, he'll point at the arena roof, indicating the woman he called Mama. But Annie Lee's son and daughter-in-law long ago assumed full parental responsibilities and still lay chores on their eldest child whenever he comes home. "I buy the food and his mother cooks," says Albert. "Someone has to clean the kitchen."
If you hear a man behind the Tar Heels' bench yelling, "They're beating up my boy," that would be Albert. Three times at North Carolina State on Jan. 21, Antawn hit the floor hard, one time bruising his left hip and elbow; still he scored a career-high 36 points. Clemson fouled so systematically on Jan. 28, committing an ACC record 41—Jamison attempted a game-high 14 free throws—that the Tigers finished the game with only four players on the floor. ("They outscored us when we had the man advantage," Guthridge says. "Rookie coach needs to work on his five-on-four offense.")
Like his first name, which is pronounced AN-twon, Jamison's game leaves people misdirected. He leads the ACC in rebounding in part because, after jumping once, he doesn't seem to need time to gather himself to jump again. "When everybody else comes down, he's already back up at the rim," says Okulaja. He leads the conference in scoring because he's ceaselessly traversing the lane or spinning off his man. "Once you think you have him defensively, he'll move, find a new spot and catch the ball," said Duke forward Shane Battier after Jamison had gone over and around him and his teammates to score 35 points. "Before you can say, 'Where'd he go?' he's scoring."
Jamison also spent the summer launching 400 to 500 jump shots a day, working to extend his range beyond the lane to NBA precincts. But he has long been comfortable shooting anything from 12 feet in, even though he concedes that the closer he is to the basket, the more improvisatorial he gets and the funnier his shots look. "Sometimes, when we're watching game films, the guys will see one of my shots, and all of a sudden they'll start snickering," he says.
"You hear about his quick release," Krzyzewski says. "But where's that release from?"