ST. LOUIS - Roy Williams started walking slowly up the sideline as the longest three seconds of his life ticked off the clock. Instead of jumping, shouting or even pumping a fist, he calmly reached up to make sure his glasses sat squarely on the bridge of his nose.
After 17 seasons, 16 NCAA tournament appearances, five Final Fours and two losses in the title game, this was one thing that Williams had to see for himself.
Wave after wave of confetti floated down from the domed roof, over the scoreboard that read North Carolina 75, Illinois 70, and twirled in lazy spirals toward the floor. But Williams had no trouble picking his way through the maze to find the people he owed. What began as a receiving line quickly turned into a mosh pit as first Sean May, then Rashad McCants, and the rest of the Tar Heels wrapped their long-suffering coach in bear hugs.
“I’m just so happy for myself, my family and these seniors who went 8-20 and what they went through for four years,” Williams said. “They took me for a heck of a ride.”
It was a torturous exercise, to be sure, listening to one of the best coaches of his generation wade through one painful memory after another, never daring to say there had to be a championship out there with his name on it. Instead, Williams retold the story of how his mentor Dean Smith, had to sweat through seven Final Fours to get his; and how one of the first things Smith did afterward was turn to Williams, his assistant then, and say with relief, “I’m not that much better a coach now than I was two and a half hours ago.”
And no sooner had Williams taken his seat in the interview room Monday night, wearing a smile stretched wider than the spread collar on his starched white shirt, than he told reporters gathered in front of him, “I’m no better a coach than I was three hours ago.”
That might be true, but the previous three hours required every ounce of knowledge and skill Williams picked up along the way from the playgrounds of Spruce Pine, N.C., through 15 seasons at Kansas, and the last two at Carolina, where he returned to find a once-proud program down at the heels. He had to learn to push the buttons of all those talented kids who came to play for his predecessor, Matt Doherty, and Williams had to do it quick.
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Click to see pictures from UNC's win over Illinois in title game
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