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Obama plays hoops with UNC Tar Heels

From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones and NBC's Mark Murray
For the second time in the past four days, Obama played basketball in front of TV cameras -- this time with the big boys. Below is the pool report from the New York Times' Jeff Zeleny:

It was shortly after 7:00 am when Sen. Barack Obama arrived at the hallowed ground of college basketball, home of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. Before heading to the court for a quick morning game, he took a tour of the team's facility. His guide? Coach Roy Williams.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Williams walked through the basement hallway of the UNC basketball center, passing black and white photographs from seasons gone by. The coach, dressed in a suit, and the senator, dressed in workout clothes, made small talk and smiled throughout the brief tour, which concluded in the locker room. "What a tradition," Mr. Obama said, his eyes gazing around the room, which was decorated by banners from previous Final Four appearances.

Joined by Wanda Williams, the coach's wife, the three stood on the plush blue carpet, where a school logo fills the center of the room. This is a zone of respect, where neither players nor coaches are allowed to walk across the logo. (Coach Williams explained the rules to the senator and a local Secret Service agent warned your pool to keep its distance from the mighty UNC.)

The senator made his way to the M.W. "@!$%#" Peebles Jr. Practice Facility, where members of the UNC team were already warming up. One by one, the players approached and shook hands with Mr. Obama. From the moment they came into view, it was clear that today's game would be slightly more rigorous than the one he played last Friday night at a middle school in Kokomo, IN. "These guys are a lot better than me," Mr. Obama said, running down the full length of the court, trying to keep up with guys half his age, who less than a month ago were playing in the N.C.A.A. Final Four.

Tyler Hansbrough, the national player of the year for 2007-2008, was on hand in his signature blue jersey, No. 50. Mr. Obama drew the good fortune of being on his team. The senator played for several minutes, occasionally lagging behind the bunch. His best chance for a basket came shortly after he made a behind-the-back pass. As the ball was passed back to him, he fired up a jump shot, but it bounced from the backboard and around the rim.

"Thought I had that one," he said.

The coach, who was watching from a chair on the edge of the court, called a substitution. "Gonna take a break, get a tip from the coach in terms of what to do," Mr. Obama said. For about 10 minutes, he took a seat by the coach and his wife and watched the players continue their morning game.

"The smartest thing you did was backing out of the way of that rebound down there," Mr. Williams said.

"Did you see that?" Mr. Obama replied.

A few members of the pool ventured over to the side of the court.

"These guys are big and fast when you're out there," Mr. Obama said, slightly short of breath. "It's impressive."

"And I hope they get bigger and faster," the coach replied.

After a brief time out, Mr. Obama returned to the court and played for several more minutes. He took his shot at one more basket, but it fell short.

"You guys are leaving the next president of the United States wide open," Mr. Williams jokingly yelled. When the senator was fouled, one of the players apologized. Not to worry, Mr. Obama said. "The Secret Service won't do anything to you."

In addition to Tyler Hansbrough, whom Mr. Obama congratulated for his recent decision to play another year before entering the NBA draft, this is a roster of players who suited up today: Danny Green, Deon Thompson, Marc Campbell, Marcus Ginyard, Mike Copeland, Wes Miller, Ty Lawson, Will Graves, Alex Stepheson, Surry Wood, Patrick Moody, J.B. Tanner, Jack Wooten. (Wayne Ellington, Quentin Thomas and Bobby Frasor, were on hand, but did not play.)

The senator stayed on the court for a few minutes after your pool was escorted from the gym. While the pool was watching, the senator did not score any points, but campaign aides later reported that he sunk a 3-point-shot.

We'll wait for the highlight reel to confirm.