There's an excellent chance Roy Williams will notch his first NCAA basketball championship in his 14th season as a head coach. His Kansas Jayhawks have all it takes to beat Maryland tonight, then probably Oklahoma on Monday.
But if Roy gets sidetracked, he'll have a lot more shots.
The legendary Phog Allen was in his 35th season at Kansas when his 1952 club became NCAA champion. Coaching icon Dean Smith was in his 21st year at North Carolina when it happened for the first time. It took Kansas-bred Adolph Rupp 18 years at Kentucky. The fabled John Wooden took 16 years at UCLA to capture the big one. Counting two previous years at Indiana State, St. John had been a head coach for 18 seasons.
Silver-thatched Lute Olson was in his 24th year as a head man for Long Beach, Iowa and Arizona before he earned his first NCAA title ring in 1997. Mike Krzyzewski spent five years as Army head man and then 11 at Duke, total of 16 years, before his Blue Devils beat Roy Williams' Jayhawks for numero uno in 1991.
So what if Roy is 14 and counting? If things don't work out this time, he'll be back, maybe even a year from now.
Bobby Knight? He won in his fifth year at Indiana but had six years at Army prior to hoisting the Hoosiers. Bob's buildup thus ran 11 seasons. But would you rather have your kid playing for Phog, Dean, Roy or Wooden, or Bombastic Bobby? I don't need to study at Knight school to answer that one. Larry Brown won in five years at Kansas after tuning up at UCLA and with the pros.
There are unique circumstances. Ed Jucker won the NCAA in his first season at Cincinnati, 1961, repeated in '62 and was one free throw away from three in a row in '63 when Chicago-Loyola sprang that huge upset. Jucker joined the Bearcats after two years at Merchant Marine and five at Renssellaer.
Assistant Steve Fisher got a battlefield promotion and lucked into a 1989 title at Michigan.
Indiana's Branch McCracken led his Hoosiers to the title past Kansas in 1940, his second season at Bloomington. He prepped for eight seasons with Ball State.
It takes a lot of good timing, luck and happenstance to take home the Big Bacon in college ball. The competition is stiffer every year.
Considering the caliber of people Roy has assembled and the marvelous image he projects for KU, Lawrence and the state, what really appreciative fan gives a big rodent's rectal region if he doesn't quite get over the hump this time?
There'll be the usual detractors; everyone around here will feel lousy because the prospects are so promising and our guys are so admirable. But the Jayhawks under Roy Williams not only display good citizenship along with their skills and fine tutelage, but can hold their heads high about academics.
Hope you read the Tim Carpenter piece in Wednesday's Journal-World about KU's having the best graduation rate (for the latest reporting period) of any of the Final Four teams. KU's 64 percent is 10 points higher than the average grad rate for the entire Kansas student body and reflects the emphasis Roy and Co. put on school.
I still contend the best coaching job Roy ever did was in 1991 when his Jayhawks beat Indiana, Arkansas and North Carolina in that order, nationally ranked 2-3-4 teams. The title game loss to Duke, 72-65, can never diminish that brilliant runup.
We reflect on the marvelous 34-2 record of the 1997 team which, like the current one, was truly good enough to win it all. Eventual champ Arizona upset the Jayhawks 85-82 in the third NCAA game when the gutty Jerod Haase couldn't help due to injury.
It's a shame so many people grouse about that '97 setback and forget a terrific statistic: All six seniors on that roster walked down Mount Oread and got diplomas that spring Jacque Vaughn, Haase, Scot Pollard, B.J. Williams, Joel Branstrom and Steve Ransom. Cynics contend statistics are for losers not here.
A Kansas championship in 2002 would be scrumptious. But no matter what happens, you can't diminish the thrills, chills, fun and pride Roy and these guys have brought us. And like Roy and that guttural Arnold Biceps-Abs character, they'll be b-a-a-a-ck!
One word of advice. Don't let Maryland get off to a demoralizing alley-oop dunk like Duke's Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill uncorked at the outset in 1991 or that Cuttino Mobley-sparked slam that knocked, and kept, KU back on its heels in that '98 second-round Rhode Island stunner. Veteran Maryland has the tools to deliver a devastating jolt like that a la Juan Dixon to Lonny Baxter. So does Oklahoma.
Still on what this '02 KU team can do if it keeps its focus, I have to correct a dumb goof from last week. Call it a senior moment I knew it was Al Franken rather than Mike Myers who gave us the "Saturday Night Live" whining that "I'm smart enough, I'm good enough and, doggone it, I like myself!" Some of you corrected me; most were very nice. Silly error, sorry!
But, doggone it, these Jayhawks are good enough and smart enough and they need to like themselves and their head coach enough to give us the very best they have starting with Maryland. Roy turned down a lifelong dream regarding North Carolina out of loyalty to a lot of kids he recruited on this team.
The owe their best and need to turn heaven and earth to make sure their dedicated coach doesn't have to go beyond his 14th season to get that NCAA title breakthrough.
KU's damn sure good enough. If not, 2003 won't be too shabby, either.