But up and down Tobacco Road, the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament is the big deal when March rolls around. It is 11 games of the finest hoops in the land packed into four days, and this season’s big event is scheduled for March 13-16 in Charlotte. There will be four games Thursday, four more Friday, two on Saturday and the championship contest Sunday.
ACC Mania is a malady afflicting basketball fans from Boston to Tallahassee, but it reaches epidemic proportions in this state, home of Big Four schools Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State and Wake Forest. The conference tournament has long been a huge drawing card, solely because of the brand of basketball at its outset and now as much a social event as a got-to-have-it sports ticket.
People mark the ACC Tourney on their calendars far in advance, and many of those folks are not necessarily planning on attending the games. But they are planning to watch the action on television.
It may be the ideal time to take sick days from work or talk a school teacher into finding the games on TV and skipping the lesson plan for the day. It might be the perfect time to meet friends for a long lunch at a spot that has television sets tuned to the games. Or it could be a great excuse for a party.
Although there is probably a myriad of such get-togethers, none in and around Fayetteville can top the ACC Bull Shoot. Not for longevity and not likely for numbers.
This version of madness began in 1975 at Bobby Bleecker’s apartment. Among those present were Ken Lancaster and Marshall Waren, who have joined with Bleecker to not only keep the party going over the years, but to make it bigger and better. Also on hand for that first Bull Shoot were Dennis Russell, Paul Holland, Chip Parks, Danny Kinlaw and Skip Dixon.
“I think we popped some corn and had some beer,” Bleecker recalls. “It wasn’t a big thing, just some friends getting together to watch basketball.”
Things have certainly changed. The 34th annual Bull Shoot will be held this year at Waren’s house. As has been the case in recent years, 400 invitations will be sent out. Catered food will include barbecue, ribs, fried chicken, all the fixings, and homemade ice cream.
“Those early years, we moved around,” Lancaster says. “We rented motel suites and were at the Women’s Auxiliary building on Haymount for a while. About the mid-’80s, we started having it at my house because our home had a basement. Before long, we started rotating among me, Bobby and Marshall (we all have basements), depending on whose wife was in the best mood.
“Back at the start, we would go all day that first day, when there were four games. Now, since we’ve gotten older, it runs from noon until 6 o’clock. We get too tired to watch the afternoon and night games. Most of the guys are Carolina fans, then come State, Duke and Wake. When Big Four teams are playing, we have a good turnout.
“We have big-screen TVs in the yard, in the basement and upstairs in the house. We may have a little pool where everybody puts in a dollar. It’s good basketball and good fellowship. We have a lot of fun.”
Bleecker points out that the ACC Tournament is a good reason for friends to have a reunion.
“Some of us only see each other that one time a year,” he says. “You know how you’ll go to a funeral and see somebody you haven’t seen in a long time and say, ‘It’s good to see you, but it’s bad we have to meet like this.’
“Well, at the Bull Shoot, it’s a good way to meet. These guys like ACC basketball, and they like each other.”