CHAPEL HILL — The news became official on Friday. North Carolina basketball player Anthony Harris suffered a tear to the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during Monday’s game against Yale and will need surgery to repair it.
But coach Roy Williams and Harris’ Tar Heel teammates didn’t need a doctor to confirm the worst. Their reactions after the 70-67 win said that they already knew how bad the injury was.
“The only thing I’m thinking about right now is that young man,” said Williams, who otherwise would have been celebrating his 879th career victory, one that tied him with his mentor Dean Smith. “He’s just a tough little nut; he’s worked his tail off to get back into this position.”
Harris was driving to the basket along the baseline with just over three minutes remaining when his knee buckled as he planted his right foot on the Smith Center floor. There was no contact with a defender.
The freshman guard immediately reached for his knee and was taken directly to the locker room by trainer Doug Halverson and team doctors.
It was an all-too-familiar situation for Harris, who missed his senior season of high school and the first eight games this season at UNC after suffering a similar injury to his left knee and undergoing reconstructive ACL surgery in December 2008.
His next surgery is scheduled for next week.
Harris was playing in just his fifth game for the Tar Heels. He burst onto the scene by scoring 14 second half points in UNC’s win against UCLA on Dec. 21 and was averaging 7.5 points over his first four games.
His injury was especially disheartening to fellow freshman and best friend Jeremiah Francis, who like Harris, missed his senior season of high school and the first eight games of the current season while recovering from knee surgery.
The two have been dedicated workout partners in UNC’s weight room during their rehab together.
Francis was understandably upset as he spoke about Harris’ injury after the game.
“That’s my brother and I hope everything is good,” Francis said before breaking down and openly sobbing. “Y’all don’t know what we’ve been through to get here, waking up at 6 a.m., lifts, trying to get everything healthy. I love him and I just wish (him) the best.
Francis said that he and Harris have been friends and competitors since the fourth grade. But their bond has become even stronger since arriving in Chapel Hill last summer.
“That relationship really developed going to the weight room early in the morning, working out,” he said. “It’s really hard to see him go down, especially when I know what he’s been through. It’s really hard right now.”
Because of the circumstances involved, Williams — in a statement — called Friday’s diagnosis “one of the most heartbreaking injuries one of my teams has ever dealt with.”
“Anthony is such a great kid and his teammates and coaches have all seen the countless hours he put in to come back from the knee injury he suffered in high school,” Williams said. “The impact on our locker room after the Yale game was devastating. Everyone associated with our program hurts for Anthony and his family. But we will rally around him and support him every step of the way. I know he will work unbelievably hard to get back on the floor.”