Traveling Violations: Talking shop
by Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports
November 9, 2004
MT. AIRY, N.C. – For the last 58 years, Russell Hiatt has been cutting hair and talking Atlantic Coast Conference basketball at perhaps the most famous barber shop in America.
It was more than 45 years ago – the Frank McGuire Underground Railroad years at North Carolina – that a young kid from this small town named Andy Griffith used to come in for haircuts.
Griffith later moved to Hollywood and created a self-named, long-running television show based on his hometown (fictionalized as "Mayberry"). It even featured a talkative barber named "Floyd."
And so straight out of an "Andy Griffith Show" episode Tuesday, there was Hiatt, 80 now but still going strong. As the Carolina afternoon gave way to dusk on Main Street, Hiatt talked hoops with his friend David Willard while waiting for customers inside Floyd's City Barber Shop (motto: "2 chairs, no waiting").
"They've got one kid down there at Chapel Hill who could be as good as anyone in the country," Hiatt said of North Carolina's talented but tumultuous guard, Rashad McCants. "If he'd only get his head on.
"But I'll tell ya, they could be a Final Four team."
"There's a whole bunch of Final Four teams this year," said Willard, who works for the state. The preseason national poll had six league teams ranked in the top 20.
"I think they got Duke down there," said Willard (they're fifth in the ACC poll). "Duke is going to fool everybody. They are going to come in."
In North Carolina, ACC basketball is a 52-week-a-year obsession. The same conversation can be overheard at little storefront barbershops from Asheville to Albemarle and big-city joints in Charlotte and Raleigh.
There may be places elsewhere in the country with more passion for a single school, but nowhere else is an entire league obsessed over like here in North Carolina.
Both Hiatt and Willard are UNC fans first. But like most people down here, they have a second favorite also, in this case Wake Forest which is just 40 miles down the road in Winston-Salem.
"I was for Carolina before they even moved Wake Forest down there," Hiatt said. The university was located in Wake Forest, N.C., in the eastern part of the state until 1956. "But if they are not playing North Carolina, I'm pulling for Wake."
These guys know the players and personalities on all the teams, even the out-of-state ones.
"Everybody's got Wake Forest picked because of Chris Paul," Hiatt said. "But Georgia Tech is going to be real good."
Like many businesses in town, Hiatt gets a lot of customers because of the television show. He's had a ton of athletes in through the years. He regularly cuts the hair of three major league baseball umpires. The only college coach to visit, however, was former West Virginia head man Gale Catlett.
Dean Smith never made it in. Of course, Andy Griffith hasn't been by in 45 years either.
Hiatt does however have a personalized, autographed basketball from University of Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, who attended nearby High Point and coached high school in the area.
Hiatt turns a profit off of Floyd's shirts and coffee mugs, but his main business still is trimming hair. He says he has enough money to retire but has too much fun hanging out, meeting people and talking hoops.
No ACC basketball fan could disagree.
The television satellite dish may be the state flower of West Virginia, but the cell phone tower still is scarce.
Valued Reader Email
Dan – I am a student at Indiana University in Bloomington but my family lives in Floyd's Knobs, Indiana. I thought it was important for me to mention that you spelled our city's name wrong; it is Floyd's Knobs, with an "s" at the end.
By the way, you missed out on one of the best views of the Ohio River Valley by not driving through.
Floyd has more than one knob? Interesting. I don't doubt the views are great though.
Dan – I did a little research on Felix the Cat being Logansport High School's mascot … I'm not sure anyone knows for sure how it happened. There are at least three different versions.
What I do know for sure is that Felix is the oldest recognized mascot in the state of Indiana. Hall of Fame Coach Cifford Wells was involved, as was basketball player Curly Hupp.
Then there was Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins, who was angry with us for skipping the Bearcats on the tour this year. Especially because, he reports, his team looks so good.
Although, some of those media types, including Drew Diener of WHAS, Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader, Matt May of the Cats Pause, Victoria Sun of the Cincinnati Post and Michael Smith of the Louisville Courier-Journal can't be too difficult to deal with.
Madden recently built Hamburg Place, a shopping center on the outskirts of Lexington that has become a local commerce capital. We ate at the very good Montana Grill there.
Trust me, no buyer's remorse here. Five million or not.
Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Wednesday, Nov 10, 2004 1:49 am, EST