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Sunday, December 18, 2011
TMA: Capel's return makes familiar plays

By Robbi Pickeral

The Morning After: Thoughts, notes and anything else that didn’t quite make this space after North Carolina’s latest game (in this case, the No. 5/6 Tar Heels’ 97-82 victory over Appalachian State on Saturday night, during which senior forward Tyler Zeller scored 31 points).

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Everything the Tar Heels ran Saturday night, Appalachian State coach Jason Capel said, “I knew it was coming.”

After all, he was coaching in the arena – albeit on the opposing sideline – where he started at forward for North Carolina from 1998-2002. And he was coaching against a program that he once helped to a Final Four.

“It was good to be home,’’ he said.

Capel, a former two-time All-ACC player, said he was proud of the way his Mountaineers responded against his No. 5/6-ranked alma mater at the Smith Center. Appalachian State trailed by as many as 29 points in the second half, yet lost 97-82.

“We didn’t just play hard, we competed,’’ Capel said. “We didn’t take a step back when they clocked us in the mouth, we just kept coming forward. We got down [29] … we stayed together. That's part of the process.”

Capel -- who, at 31, is the third-youngest Division I men's head basketball coach in the nation -- admitted he was a bit nervous before the game. Although he returned to watch his former teammates play in 2005, and came back for the 100-year celebration of Carolina basketball a couple seasons ago, he hadn’t been around the program as much as some alums.

So, “it was good to come to back, it was good to share that [pre-game] moment with Coach [Roy] Williams, it was good to see … a lot of familiar faces, people I know. It meant a lot to me.”

The highlight: when Bill Guthridge, his head coach for his first two seasons at UNC, attended the Mountaineers' shootaround. “And no one understands how much that meant to me,’’ Capel said.

But it does make it easy to understand why each team’s plays were so familiar to the other; Carolina coaching ties, and strategies, run deep.

“They call it ‘B1’, I call it ‘Detroit’. They call it ‘B2’, I call it ‘Detroit Double’,’’ he said. “… I tried to stay away from the stuff we run alike, because I know they know it. [But] I called ‘Detroit’ one time, and Kendall [Marshall, UNC’s point guard] said ‘B1.’ It’s the same stuff, you try to give it two names. He put the two fists up one time, and I told my guys, ‘They’re trapping the first pass.’ The signals are the same.

“Obviously, they have a different athlete to be able to execute some different things, but we got them in some things they do themselves, and that makes you feel good a little bit. Because we were able to execute it knowing they knew what was coming.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.