It was Saturday, April 5th, 2008. Coach Roy Williams was set to lead the North Carolina Tarheels, his alma-mater, into a Final Four match-up against his former team, the Kansas Jayhawks. Of course he was going through an emotional roller coaster, but he, like every other coach, wanted to win and advance to the championship game. Things didn’t go as planned! The Jayhawks trounced the Tarheels 84-66. Then it happened!
Fast forward two nights to the championship game. Anticipation is building as the Kansas Jayhawks are preparing to lock horns with the Memphis Tigers. The world is literally seconds away from tip-off and as the CBS Sports camera crew is panning around the crowd, loyalists of “Blue Heaven” see the most unsavory act of betrayal in the institution’s history. UNC’s head coach Roy Williams is in attendance, wearing a sweatshirt with a freakin’ Kansas Jayhawks mascot patch on it! Even though the patch was of average size, to Tarheel nation, it seemed to be of a size where Marvin the Martian could see it from Mars without a telescope. I understand rooting for your former team to win it all when your team couldn’t, but wearing the apparel of the team that destroyed you on national TV is worst than pitcher Pedro Martinez calling the New York Yankees his daddies when he played for the Boston Red Sox.
What Williams did created an uproar to the likes of which “The Old North” state has never seen before. UNC fans, students and alumni alike called into local sports talk radio stations, asking for his head on a platter. Even some of the players questioned Roy’s loyalty to the program. Surprisingly, all of the players eligible for the 2008 NBA draft opted to stay another year. When Williams caught wind of this, he was anything but apologetic, which left many wondering why.
Enter the 2008-09 season! College basketball analysts toted North Carolina as the best team in the country. Given everyone eligible would return from last season and the incoming freshmen class, North Carolina was rightfully considered the favorite to win it all. For those that had the embarrassment of last season’s tournament run etched in their minds, there was added incentive to win it this year. Veterans wanted to assure Williams he would never again commit such a treacherous act. The ‘Heels opened the season with 13 straight wins, all of them over non-conference opponents, including key wins over #8 seed Notre Dame and #12 Michigan State, who they crushed by 35points.
Conference play began and UNC lost two of it’s first three games. Panic arose, as analysts questioned how the team would fair once it gets deep into the ACC schedule. The losses proved to be wake-up calls. Williams steered his team to a 10 game winning streak before getting upset by a Maryland Terrapin team that most left for dead. Carolina would go on to win its last three games of the season, which segued into a second round ACC tournament loss to Florida State University. The lost proved to be helpful as the team understood there was a richer prize to gain.
Going into the 2009 NCAA tournament, there was a perception that UNC couldn’t defend the ball during the regular season, which led many to believe they couldn’t do so in the tournament. UNC proved their critics wrong by showing the nation it’s defensive prowess. Couple that with having the highest scoring offense in the country and the Tarheels were geared for handling unfinished business. The 2009 NCAA Championship game saw the ‘Heels in a rematch against a Michigan State team with vengeance on it’s mind. The odds seem to be in favor of the Spartans, given they were virtually playing a home game in Detroit’s Ford Field. Most analysts felt that MSU was playing not only for themselves, but for the auto industry, which has fallen victim to an unstable economy. This was supposed to be the game that provided the state of Michigan with some sort of refuge from its current mess. Here’s a question…Who isn’t suffering from today’s economy? An MSU win wouldn’t have save the auto industry. The Tarheels didn’t want to chance that, which explains why they dominated every aspect of the game. Point guard Ty Lawson set an NCAA Championship record with eight steals. Center Tyler Hansbrough, in the game, climbed from fifth to third all time in NCAA tournament scoring. UNC scored 55 points in the first half, another tournament record. Speaking of which, the 55-34 halftime score, largest halftime point differential in championship history.
Looking back at what this team accomplished this season, a scenario has to be considered. I can’t say for sure if Williams’ act of treason was premeditated or not, but I can surely say it lit a fire in the bellies of his players so massive that a championship was the only acceptable conclusion to the season. Williams should be thanked for his temporary role as Jayhawk’s groupie. Congratulations UNC, you now have five national titles and will forever stand in college basketball supremacy.
Written by Antoine Hoffman