Jilted Jayhawks get shot at Roy
By Caulton Tudor
Raleigh News & Observer
It was inevitable that a Roy Williams-coached North Carolina team would someday have to deal with Kansas in a high-stakes game.
That day will be Saturday in San Antonioís Alamodome, when the Tar Heels and Jayhawks yet again face off with a national championship either directly or indirectly in the balance.
The first meeting was the 1957 championship game in Kansas City when North Carolina defeated Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain in a triple overtime thriller to launch the era of ACC emphasis on the NCAA tournament, rather than the once more prestigious NIT.
A second meeting occurred in 1991 in Indianapolis, when Williams and Kansas defeated Dean Smithís team in the semifinals. Smith had dreaded the pairing from the moment it was set, and his emotions leaked through his normally impenetrable mental armor. Late in the game, he was ejected by official Pete Pavia. But before leaving the court, Smith went to each Kansas player, shook hands and embraced Williams, his former longtime assistant.
Two years later in New Orleans, Smith faced Williams again in the national semifinals. The Heels won en route to the second national title for Smith.
Saturdayís fourth meeting will be no less emotional ó the upshot of Williamsí decision to leave Kansas after the 2003 season to revive the UNC program Smith built into a national model.
This will be a difficult week and the game even more so for Williams. To some extent, heíll attempt to de-emphasize the pending anxiety, and, in part, he has a legitimate case to make.
After all, some of the current Kansas players probably donít know Roy Williams from the Firth of Clyde. Five seasons these days in college basketball can equate to an eternity. The Kansas freshmen werenít even in high school when Williams left.
But the players rarely drive the back-story. The fans do, and Kansasí fans will harbor hard feelings until Bill Self ó or some future coach ó delivers Williamsí symbolic head on a plate of a victory celebration over the Tar Heels.
Itís not exactly apples and apples ó in North Carolina, football to basketball rarely is comparable ó but UNC fans can understand the dynamic.
Many of them will never understand exactly why Mack Brown left Chapel Hill for Texas, just as some N.C. State fans still curse the day Lou Holtz was lured away for the NFL.
In many college programs, thereís a bond between coach and fan that goes beyond most sports relationships. The fans see their coach as an extension of themselves and their values, and the coaches need those fans to provide the momentum required for successful recruiting.
Kansasí fans bonded with Williams to the extent that there will always be a bitter edge to the parting. That will be in the atmosphere Saturday.
Itís not much of a stretch, if any, to assume Kansas will want this win as much as any game the school has ever played.
It will be the sort of drama that CBS has sought for years. But on another front, the Kansas-UNC game is a consolation prize. The real story of the 2008 NCAA tournament ended Sunday when the Jayhawks defeated Davidson, allowing all four regional No. 1 seeds to reach a Final Four for the first time.
Williams, Self, Memphis coach John Calipari and UCLAís Ben Howland will extensively address the merits of their teams for the next few days. But regardless of which school is still standing next Monday, the biggest winner of this tournament will be the little team from the Charlotte suburbs.