I've found over the past couple of months that there are lots of perks that come with living in Charlotte. The weather and city are great, the the BBQ is phenomenal and sometimes Hornets games are only 12 bucks (they're a playoff team, too!).
Perhaps the greatest perk of all, though, is that Charlotte is in North Carolina. And it's not just that it's in North Carolina, it's that it's about an hour and a half from Greensboro. Specifically, Greensboro Coliseum.
Louisville is going to play its first-ever ACC Tournament game in Greensboro today, and I'll have a chance to go see what it's all about. As a Louisville fan deep in enemy territory, there's not a much better way to kick off March Madness.
Greensboro is about an hour from Chapel Hill, so aside from the handful of Virginia and Florida State fans that will be in attendance for game one of the afternoon session, the rest of the place — aside from Louisville fans, of course — should be painted with the famously light shade of Carolina blue.
Other than the obvious things — the fact that game three of Louisville/UNC this season is bound to be a good basketball game, it's the ACC quarterfinals, Mangok's free throw line jumpers — I'm looking forward to everything. The atmosphere, watching Louisville away from home and getting a weird sense of pride when they take the floor to the fight song, throwing up the "L" to a bunch of people I don't know. All of the cheesy fan stuff.
North Carolina is a lot like Kentucky. No, I'm not going to go into who's better, because I'm obviously biased. They're different, they're both great, and that's fine.
Here, there's North Carolina and Duke. We're all familiar with how things are in Kentucky.
Unlike the Commonwealth, there are professional sports franchises in North Carolina, but the love for North Carolina and Duke (mostly North Carolina, sound familiar?) is everywhere, everyday.
When Duke and North Carolina played this past Saturday, me and one of my roommates went to a Buffalo Wild Wings to watch the game and get a small taste of the rivalry. We weren't disappointed.
The atmosphere at the bar was complete with a Duke fan who cheered excessively and ridiculously simply because he was in the minority and wanted to annoy all of the Carolina fans. Those Carolina fans yelled things at him, he yelled back. It was good, old fashioned rivalry, and it was great. Of course, Duke won again, so the Duke guy had the last laugh.
The point I'm getting at here is that North Carolina loves college basketball. The state lives for March just like Kentucky does, and those two worlds will collide in Greensboro today with some pretty high stakes. It's going to be awesome.
I think the reason I'm most excited is because I'll probably get to meet more Louisville fans for no other reason than to say, "hey, we both root for Louisville and we're here watching them in what's basically a road game, let's do this."
That camaraderie is always fun, but it's part of the reason I'm a Louisville fan in the first place.
When I was a senior in high school and was making my college decision, I came down to Louisville to visit a friend that I grew up with in Ohio that was then in his freshman year at Louisville. Since he liked going to school down there, Louisville was on my list of schools to apply to/check out.
Of course, I was visiting to see the school and the campus, but I really wanted to see a basketball game and experience Freedom Hall, which I'd only seen on TV and in video games (R.I.P. college basketball video games). I got my Freedom Hall experience, only it wasn't just a Freedom Hall experience.
It was the last Freedom Hall experience.
My first Louisville game was the last game at Freedom Hall against No. 1 Syracuse.
My friend had told me that getting a ticket would be tough, and in the end I paid 60 bucks for a student ticket in the upper deck that was on the other side of the arena from where my friend's ticket was. It ended up being a bargain.
When we got to Freedom Hall, my friend and I tried to sit together despite not having tickets next to each other, which quickly proved to be a futile effort.
So, there I was. In Louisville for the first time in my life, sitting next to people I don't know, about to watch the last game at Freedom Hall, wearing my first Louisville shirt that I had bought hours ago at the College Book Warehouse next to the Taco Bell/Pizza Hut on the corner of Brandeis and Brook.
As a high school senior from Ohio, I obviously had no idea what any of this meant. I was completely oblivious. But I learned pretty quick.
The intros happened (I still have my blinking rally towel), the game started, everything was great. I had never seen a No. 1 team play before, so at the very least, that was going to be worth it.
Everyone reading this knows how that game went, but it can't hurt to put this here:
Kyle Kuric and Louisville downed top-ranked Syracuse after smashing the Orange in the second half, and I was part of it.
I had studied up on my Louisville players before the game, so I felt like I knew these guys. Being at that game, it was impossible to not be completely enveloped in pride for Louisville, even though we had just met and I hadn't even come close to a college decision.
The lady who was sitting next to me had no idea who I was, just that I was clearly new here and that I was sitting by myself. I'll never forget our brief conversation after the game.
"So, are you a student here?" she asked.
"No," I said. "I'm actually from Ohio, but I'll be starting here in the fall."
"Oh, that's wonderful," she said. "You're going to love it down here."
I made my college decision that day, and almost exactly five years later, I'm about to go sit with a bunch of Louisville fans that I don't know from Adam as a Louisville alum.
If this experience is anything like my first, I think I'm going to love it down here, too.