As North Carolina coach Roy Williams makes his fifth trip to the Final Four without a national championship, Jawad Williams stunned reporters when he was asked if the players were out to win it all this weekend for their coach.
"For me personally, I don't think we're trying to win a championship for Coach Williams," Jawad Williams said. "We're trying to win a championship for ourselves."
That's understandable, considering none of the current cast of Tar Heels have even sniffed a Final Four run. Still, leave it to Jawad Williams to tell it like it is.
Williams followed up the comment by saying he hopes that he and his coach can "meet halfway" and accomplish the feat together.
Sean May then rescued the moment.
"I want to be on that team when he says 20 years from now, when he's getting ready to reitre and thinking about the things he's done in his career…I want to be on that 2005 team that he thanks for finally getting him that first championship."
Today while passing the time waiting for the Tar Heels' 7:40 p.m. CST tip-off, May might try to entertain his teammates with a private screening of the 1976 NCAA championship game between Indiana and Michigan. Or, he may wait until after Saturday's game with Michigan State, if Carolina wins.
In that game, led by Scott May's 26-point MVP performance (IU's Kent Benson added 25 points), the Hoosiers completed the last undefeated season by a Division I school. The elder May was also named the consensus national Player of the Year.
Sean said he has been waiting for the right moment to break out the videotape.
"It's in my backpack now," May said on Friday. "I've had mixed feelings about it. I'm not sure if I'll show it because sometimes we go through a routine, and I don't want to break that routine.
"It definitely brings inspiration to me. I just want them to see the final five minutes and celebrations that my dad's team had at the end."
While much of the media's focus surrounding the UNC-Michigan State semifinal match-up has centered around centers' May and Paul Davis, little has been made of the experience differential at point guard.
Although reserve senior point guard Chris Hill joined Davis and forward Alan Anderson at the pre-practice press conference podium on Friday, freshman Drew Neitzel (6-0, 170) is the starter. While without as much depth at the position as the Spartans, key to the Tar Heels' Saturday success will depend on how well veteran Raymond Felton can exploit Neitzel's relative inexperience.
Neitzel, who hails from Grand Rapids, is averaging just 3.7 points and 2.9 assists per game. However, the 18-year-old reigning Mr. Basketball in the state of Michigan has led the Spartans to a 12-2 record since he replaced Hill in the starting lineup.
"Drew likes to get the ball up the floor real fast," guard Shannon Brown said. "He gets the ball to us in the right position."
REMEMBERING THE LITTLE GUY
As much as you might not want to, it's simply hard not to like Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.
A custodian at the Spartans' basketball facility in East Lansing, Mich. on Tuesday, went out of his way to help a lost reporter find his way around. Known only as "Rudy," the janitor later found out he might be getting a ticket and an all-expense inclusive trip to the Final Four in return for his random act of kindness.
At the time Rudy, who is not a supervisor, didn't believe the rumor. But on Wednesday night, Rudy and a friend were on the flight with the basketball team bound for St. Louis, as the personal guests of Izzo.
The gesture was in keeping with a newly formed Michigan State tradition. When the Spartans won the 2000 NCAA title, each custodian in the building received national championship rings.
Are you annoyed by N.C. State football coach Chuck Amato's strained and raspy voice? If you are – and if you're reading this, that's highly likely, then chances are good you wouldn't care to hear Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber speak either.
There is no doubt Weber has had to overcome a great deal of adversity this year with the recent passing of his mother and the elevated expectations on the Illini to win it all. But it is also apparent he doesn't mind being at the forefront of the media focus.
Weber certainly doesn't seem as one stricken with grief or crippled by pressure to bring home his first NCAA title – and that is to his credit. Weber, who spent 25 years as an assistant under retiring Purdue coach Gene Keady, is two victories away from accomplishing what his mentor never could.
"I hope people don't take this the wrong way, but I'm not sure I deserve this," Weber said during his press conference on Friday.
If you close your eyes, it's hard to tell that's not Amato at the podium, or N.C. based freelance writer Dave Droschak doing his uncanny impression of him.
SPORTS IN PERSPECTIVE
Baseball is undisputed king of sports in St. Louis. While The St. Louis Post-Dispatch provides a great deal of coverage of the Final Four in town since 1978, the top story of Saturday's post-format sports section is a full page article from the Cardinals-Orioles spring training game from Oklahoma City.
In fact, you have to turn through two more pages of baseball coverage before you reach the college basketball section.
As you enter East St. Louis, the section of the city on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, there is a giant billboard depicting St. Louis slugger Mark McGwire. Although the recent buzz is the sign may come down pending his possible involvement in the steroids debacle which permeates Major League Baseball these days.
Again, that's not to say the newspaper has not done an excellent job covering the Final Four; it has. And granted, Opening Day is tomorrow – Tuesday for St. Louis (at Houston), but even on semifinal Saturday, it's clear where the local priorities lie.
Oh, by the way, Baltimore won Friday, 3-1.
There is a reason why 52-year-old Rick Pitino has already piloted a record-three different teams to the Final Four, with a legitimate shot at winning his second national championship this weekend: He's smart.
While the unquestionable majority of the fans walking up and down Broadway Street on Friday were clad in bright Illini orange, Pitino may have pulled off a masterful coup by wooing the local fans to his cause.
When the Louisville charter arrived in at Lambert International on Thursday, the coaches and players were all wearing Cardinals caps.
Nothing unusual about that, except they were St. Louis Cardinals caps.
Ticket scalping is a serious offense in Missouri. On Thursday, St. Louis police arrested 48-year-old North Platte (Nebraska) Community College basketball coach Kevin O'Connor for allegedly scalping and resisting arrest.
He was hauled away in handcuffs among the throng of fans just outside of the Edward Jones Dome, the visual splattered all over the local evening newscasts.
The face value of a Final Four ticket ranges from $110-170, but on eBay, four-ticket packages are reported going for as high as $5,600.
Police Maj. Harry Hegger, the central control commander, told The Post-Dispatch that while undercover officers are patrolling specifically to nab scalpers, most of St. Louis' finest are there to "keep the peace."
‘THAT'S AWFUL, BABY!'
It comes as no surprise that college basketball analysts Billy Packer of CBS and ESPN's Dick Vitale would have trouble finding many friends among the Inside Carolina message board faithful. However, it seems the two don't care much for each other's company either.
In a published report in Saturday's edition of The Post-Dispatch, the two outspoken commentators had this to say about their relationship:
Packer: "I've never been to Dick Vitale's house. I've never had a meal with him. I think I've talked to him one time on the telephone. I've never written him a letter or a note. He's never written me a note. We've never played golf. I don't even know if he plays golf.
"The things that we have in common – I understand that he has a great family, a real neat wife – I have likewise. But that may be the only thing we have in common.
"This would be a perfect example: I saw Dick at the ACC tournament maybe for a minute and said, ‘Hey, hi. How are you doing?' I really have no relationship with him."
Vitale: "I have great respect for Billy, I really do. I have great admiration for any man who has done this for over 25 years. He's very good at what he does. We just happen to do it in different styles. We happen to be different personalities, as people. It's like, ‘Do you have a Cadillac or do you have a Pontiac or a Chevrolet?' There are choices."
Jim Nantz said that's good.
"They're styles could not be any different, and that's a great thing," Nantz said. "That makes each one stand out."
VALUE IN KIND
Finally, this is for my new friends at Loyal Lids (www.loyallids.com), a Pittsburgh-based sports apparel company with a mobile outlet set up in the lobby of the Embassy Suites, which not only had a wide range of officially licensed Final Four T-shirts and caps, but also carries sizes bigger than XL and even allowed me to exchange a hat I had bought after I got to my room, tried it on and decided I wanted a different style.
Loyal Lids' motto is "Heads Above The Rest," and they provide mostly hats for all major sporting events nationwide such as The Masters, The Kentucky Derby, The NBA Finals, The MLB All-Star Game, The Brickyard 400, and many others.
Thanks guys. Your next Inside Carolina advertisement won't be a freebie.