This article appears in the February issue of Carolina Blue Magazine. To subscribe to the magazine, click here
The new basketball coach had to pause and reflect for a moment at the reporter’s question.
Daniel Bolick, less than a year removed from his final game in a North Carolina uniform, is the JV boys’ basketball coach at Durham Academy. He knew he was under the Roy Williams coaching tree, but did he know how far back that went?
Roy Williams was an assistant under Dean Smith, who played at Kansas for the equally legendary Phog Allen, who played for the Jayhawks under its first basketball coach James A. Naismith—the creator of the sport.
“Oh wow, I didn’t even know,” Bolick said. “Well in that case…”
A former walk-on for the Tar Heels during the 2010-2011 season, Bolick has tried his hand at a playing career already, but it folded as quickly as it got started.
The Carolina Jaguars of the American Basketball Association announced their roster on Dec. 2, and on it was the 6-foot guard from Chapel Hill listed. Two weeks later, the Jaguars’ game against a team from West Virginia was canceled. The team’s once-active Facebook page has gone without an update since mid-December.
“Financially they were not where they said they were,” said Bolick of the team, which was owned by Carolina Cats Sports & Entertainment along with the Rocky Mount team Carolina Cougars and Greensboro’s Carolina Cheetahs. “Some of the players had quit their day jobs so obviously they were disgruntled.”
But his dream to keep playing didn’t die along with the Jaguars. He’s signed up to play for the Atlanta-based Universal Basketball Association. The league doesn’t pay its players, but it has provided several players a springboard to play overseas by posting stats online, compiling game film and working with players’ agents.
And so every other weekend, he’ll make the drive from Chapel Hill to Atlanta and play for the UBA while crashing with college friends to save on travel costs. He hopes this will lead him overseas. Also on his mind is the possibility of getting a Tawainese passport (his mother’s country of origin) and potentially playing on the national team there.
In the meantime, he lifts weights at local high schools, works out at UNC’s Student Recreation Center (which he was delightfully surprised to find still allow alumni in) and trains occasionally at the Smith Center practice gym.
“I walk into the locker room and team room and it’s almost like I’m on the team again this year,” Bolick said. “They welcome me with open arms.”
Known to some as the “Yellow Mamba,” Bolick helped changed the name of the UNC walk-ons from the “blue team” to the more modern “Blue Steel.” He was a fan favorite among the Smith Center crowd as he helped institute the always-funny Twitter account “@Real_BlueSteel.”
For his one-year career, Bolick posted six points, five rebounds in two assists in 14 appearances that totaled 19 minutes. But he and the rest of the walk-ons were never treated any differently than the starting five—at least when it came to the equipment they got.
“On the basketball team we got all the same gear, the same shoes,” Bolick said. “Last year we probably got 15-20 pairs of shoes and multiple shirts and jumpsuits. There were countless shoes that I didn’t even take out of the box last year.”
He’ll use those shoes twice a month in Atlanta while the rest of his time he’ll have a whistle around his neck, directing eighth-, ninth- and tenth-graders around the Durham Academy court. And if his coaching ancestry is any indication, Bolick should do just fine from the bench.
“I’ve learned that everyone has their own coaching style their own personality. You have to be yourself as a coach,” he said. “I admire how great of a teacher Coach Williams was. It seems so easy and effortless as a player, but when you do it as a coach, you find out it’s not quite as easy.”