Monday, April 3 marked the end of the month long journey. A packed audience of 63,400 filled the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, and millions more tuned in on CBS to see the Gonzaga Bulldogs face the North Carolina Tar Heels. It was an intense battle to the end, but North Carolina ended on top in a 71-65 victory. Every school goes into the tournament with the expectation to be classified as a winner. Here are the makings of a champion, the qualities that shape a team’s success, as seen through the Tar Heels basketball program:
1. A DRIVEN COACH
Roy Williams is a former UNC alum, playing in the late 60s, an assistant coach in the 70s and 80s, and since 2003, the head coach. He may know more about his school than any coach in the history of college basketball, with the exception to his mentor and former Tar Heels coach Dean Smith. The Final Four is not foreign to him; he’s walked in those halls ten times. Only three people have held the championship trophy more times than Williams’s three: Adolph Rupp (Four time champion, has coached many legends of the game), Mike Krzyzewski (Five time champion, one of the primary reasons why Duke is a national powerhouse), and John Wooden (Ten time champion, arguably the greatest basketball coach ever). The head coach is meant to build a team’s culture, and without the direction of Roy Williams, North Carolina could have lost their winning ways.
2. HEALING THROUGH TIME
Experience is what allows humans to develop their talents and overcome mistakes. In the current one-and-done world where most college basketball players want to leave college as soon as possible to the pros, North Carolina’s maturity and continuity was admirable. The upperclassmen players outnumbered the underclassmen 9-6, which is a large margin for a powerhouse team like the Tar Heels. For the older athletes, they all had one experience that haunted yet motivated them all season: the shocking loss at the buzzer in the 2016 national championship against Villanova. The pain of the loss further built the comradery, and because of the upset, star upperclassmen Justin Jackson, Joel Berry II, Kennedy Meeks, and Isaiah Hicks all stayed, despite the possibility of each of them being selected in the NBA draft. The blood, sweat, and tears these guys suffered together only made the 2017 win that much more special.
3. SHARING THE LOVE
Though Jackson, Berry, Meeks, and Hicks have made a name for themselves, the depth of the Tar Heels cannot be underestimated. Sophomore Luke Maye, who only averages 14 minutes per game, exploded for 17 points against Kentucky in the Elite Eight, including the game winning shot that solidified his clutch ability. Junior Theo Pinson has been constantly overlooked because his numbers don’t jump out at you, but many of the players and coaches would agree that without him, their run wouldn’t be possible. Freshman Seventh Woods was a high school sensation in South Carolina, but sacrificed playing time for the betterment of the team. Senior Stilman White never averaged more than 5 minutes per game in his 4 years at UNC, but never complained and contributed well when his name was called. The roster seemingly had no ego, which helped skyrocket their title chances.
4. BACK TO WORK
The day after Dean Smith’s UNC team winning the 1993 national championship against Michigan, he wasn’t celebrating. Instead, he was taking flights to various cities in attempts to scout new players that would later join the team. This week, Roy Williams is expected to take trips to try to recruit two of the top high school seniors in the nation: shooting guard Romeo Langford from New Albany, Indiana, and power forward Zion Williamson from Spartanburg, South Carolina. This has become the Tar Heel tradition: celebrate the moments of success, but always strive to get better. Meanwhile, Pinson, Berry, and Jackson have an important decision: whether to stay for their senior years or commit one year early to the NBA. Seniors Meeks and Hicks will graduate and most likely try to go pro themselves. For the three other senior players that were less utilized, it will be an uphill battle in trying to become a professional player, but they’ve been in this situation before. Proving those around them wrong is something they’ve been accustomed to, and many past Tar Heels have exceeded expectations.
So, the road is over. Success, upset, heartbreak, and greatness has defined the Madness in 2017, but don’t think that the universities are taking time to rest. It’s the habits made in the offseason that translate into on-the-court dominance. After all, the behind-the-scenes diligence becomes what are the makings of a champion.
By Carson Frost