If you’ve wondered who the short, blonde is in all my pictures from my recent trip to North Carolina, well, here she is. In her own words, Jamie Oenning Friesen writes about our weeklong basketball fantasy:
“In our family we joke that when we first remember meeting Mel she was standing at the front door to our house, just standing there on the porch, too shy to ring the doorbell or knock. In reality, my first memory of Melanie is (of course) a basketball game. She was an incoming freshman to our high school and had joined our team for our summer league. Maybe (maybe?) she had been at practice…I don’t remember. What I do remember is her on the court, flashing to the high post and getting the ball as I cut backdoor to the basket, mindlessly running the play like we were supposed to. The next thing I knew, the ball was in my hands as she had somehow threaded the pass through like 3 defenders and found me open under the basket. I was so surprised I missed the layup (the first of my career. LOLZ), but remember thinking “how did she make that pass? Who is that freshman?” That is truly my first memory of Melanie.
Our relationship evolved over the years from teammates (twice: high school AND college) to a-friend-who-is-really-my-sister. We have always seem to have some pretty crazy things happen to us and always have fun no matter what we are doing. We know each other so well and laugh so much that hanging with Mel is one of my all-time favorite things to do. Except when she tells me that my fingernails look like a homeless person. You’d think having cancer would make her nicer, right?
Basketball has been a central theme of our friendship from that summer of 1992 so it was only fitting that we got to spend the most incredible week in North Carolina living out some of our basketball nerd dreams. While it may seem like we spent the week just taking selfies melfies with tons of famous basketball people, we did much more than that ok? We got to take a peek behind the curtain of two of our most respected programs and meet some pretty amazing people. Are we now best friends with Coach K? Pretty much. Do we both now have Eric Montross’ personal cell phone number in our phones? Yep. Are we vacationing with Coach Williams and his family this summer? Probably.
If you have ever tried to plan a trip/outing/event with Melanie, you know there will be 30 changes to the itinerary, an over-stuffed schedule and her forgetting her wallet 50% of the time. Needless to say, getting to NC was complicated and stressful, but we managed to get to go earlier than expected to get to see the UNC and Notre Dame men’s basketball game (in Charlotte due to a broken water main in Chapel Hill.) We had planned to be there very early but managed to slide into our seats just before tip-off (see above note about traveling with Melanie). BUT during that delay we met some super nice and amazingly well-dressed UNC fans, Mel got interviewed and we chatted with Laura Montross who might be the nicest person in the world. She knew of Mel’s story and hooked us up with her husband, UNC and NBA star Eric, who wanted to show us UNC’s facilities during the week. We mulled over this offer for all of a nanosecond before saying “SURE!”
I literally had this SI cover on my wall when I was in high school. I know most teen girls have DIFFERENT things on their walls, but I think we should celebrate our differences. And who knew 16 years later when I met his wife in line at a basketball game I could tell her “I know who your husband is! He was on my wall as a teenager!” Which isn’t awkward or weird.
We were then able to enjoy a really good game between the Irish and the Heels (the Heels won) and got to take a super awkward Melfie with Irish star Steve Vasturius and chat with his parents which was really cool.
This is our friend Steve. He plays for Notre Dame.
On Monday Mel did more interviews and got a dinner-time phone call (NBD) from Coach K, who invited her to practice the next day. Yawn, whatever.
On Tuesday, guess what Mel did? Hey, you’re right another interview, before going to Durham for, yep, another interview. I was integrally involved in all these media appearances, holding her stuff for her and getting her water and sorting through bags of skittles as she only likes to eat the green ones. #diva. We passed out donuts to the Cameron Krazies who had been camping out for weeks for the game and got to meet a ton of super nice students. And then it was time to head inside to watch practice. Now, as we went inside we probably looked like two calm, cool, level-headed middle aged ladies. But inside, we. were. dying. We were both legitimately nervous. Like, couldn’t talk to each other, heart pounding, dry mouth nervous. In retrospect it makes no sense why we nervous (it’s not like we had to actually practice: although, truth be told, I was ready to run some 3 man weave) but at the time we were both freaking out.
Here’s us on the floor at Cameron. I have a personal goal of always posting pics of Mel where she looks confused or weird. Mission accomplished.
I can’t even say watching Duke practice was a dream come true because I don’t think either of us had even considered dreaming about it. We got a practice plan, got a tour of their facilities, watched practice, met the entire team, chatted with the coaching staff and had a good convo with Coach K. We asked him bball-specific questions (like one our most long-standing bball queries: does he teach an inside pivot foot or let the player use their strong foot. SEE WE ARE NERDS!!!), recruiting questions, talked about his family and the rise of the program. He is a down-to-earth guy who was really gracious and kind. And tall!
See, he’s tall!
Us with coach Jon Scheyer, who is just the sweetest, nicest guy (and lead guard on the Duke 2010 National Championship Team). He’s engaged ladies. He’s taller than I expected. Everyone within the program was super friendly. Duke basketball is just first-class.
Afterwards, we sat in the car in silence…like “what just happened? Was that real life?” Such a cool experience for us.
Mel making buckets in Cameron. JUST LIKE COLLEGE yo!
On Wednesday we traded Duke blue for Tarheel blue as we headed over to Chapel Hill to see the basketball museum (really, really cool!) and then met up with Mr. Eric Montross who walked us through the entire Carolina basketball facility. It is ridiculous. Like Eric kept saying “life is good as a UNC basketball player.” True dat.
We then headed into the Dean Dome to WATCH UNC practice! I know what you are thinking, “did you guys feel bad at all about watching the pregame practice of two rival schools in the days leading up to the biggest game of the year?” Turns out, we did not feel bad. In the stands of the Dean Dome, we also got a practice plan, sat by the ESPN crew doing pregame work for the broadcast and then, oh, by the way, got to go down and meet Coach Roy Williams.
Two days, two hall of fame coaches. That’s how we do it. He was extremely humble, kind, funny and his southern accent is quite charming. After practice we got to meet more Tar Heel staff and players who are all the most welcoming, nice and family-oriented group you can imagine. From their manager to their head coach…we felt like a part of the Tar Heel family. And then Mel beat UNC point guard Joel Berry at PIG and ruined his confidence for the rest of the season and most likely the duration of his NBA career. Thanks a lot Mel.
Is anyone still reading this? Game day at Duke was crazy-town, or should I say Krazie-town…the Krazies were in full force, the campus was jumping and it was just excitement everywhere for what is, annually, one of the biggest games of the year. Melanie had 3,450 more interviews to do before the Head Line guys (they are the students that manage the camping/tenting process in K-ville. It is very complicated. We must have asked about the rules 15 times and still didn’t get it) had gotten us VIP passes to enter Cameron 2 hours early. As we walked into Cameron, the classic Journey song “Don’t Stop Believing” was playing which is crazy as that was one of our warm up songs in high school the season we were undefeated up until the State Final game. We were on the floor pretty much up until tip off. At one point we thought we might actually get to play in the game. Mel was fresh off her PIG victory so it wasn’t that unreasonable of an ask.
We got pics with the Krazies, pics of the teams warming up, we were on background footage of Game Day, Mel got a pic on the Game Day set, we took Melfies with anyone we could…it was awesome. The game itself was amazing…loud, intense, back and forth…everything you could want in a big rivalry game. Mel and Preston had awesome seats right behind coach K, I used the VIP pass to go anywhere I wanted and ended up standing on the baseline with some Duke fanatics. You can see us in certain angles of the ESPN broadcast, and I’m easy to spot as I’m the only moron wearing a red shirt at a game between two schools who wear blue.
At halftime we got a melifie with JJ Redick. I think some other stuff happened then as well but who cares because #J.J.
After the game (a Duke win BTW) we chatted with all of our new best friends, took more photos, Mel did yet another interview and we basked in the awesomeness that just transpired. I will say that after watching the practices leading up to the game, being on the court for warmups and standing court-side for the game, I am RUINED for attending any other sporting event ever.
The reality of the week so far eclipsed any expectation that it is actually quite surreal. The thing that (like always) made it so special is the quality of the people we met and the lengths everyone went to make the experience so amazing. And I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with anyone else. One of the reporters asked me what it’s like to watch Mel go through this journey and I was honestly able to say that it has been inspirational watching her live out what she is saying. She is trying to make each moment count and fill her hours and days with meaning. That’s not always possible in the midst of laundry and boring stupid things like that but she definitely isn’t hesitant about jumping in or hanging back from meeting people, trying new things and putting herself out there. It’s fun to witness that. After all, this was the girl we nicknamed “Kramer” in high school. So to see her committed to living a full, rich life and actually making the small choices to do that is really cool and rubs off on those of us around her. So cancer sucks but cancer is what is forcing us to make time to have adventures like these so in a way, thanks cancer for reprioritizing life and opening the door to adventures and memories like these. We are now Duke and UNC fans for life!
And again, thanks to Mel’s brother and sister in law for housing us and the amazing people at Duke and UNC who went above and beyond. You will always have fans out west! And Coach Williams, just text us about the plans for the vacay this summer. Can’t wait.”