Unlike Magic Johnson, who attempted to inspire his beloved Spartans before they began their Final Four journey, Michael Jordan, who had been in Detroit for at least two days, didn’t offer any words of encouragement for his Tar Heels.
North Carolina players had to settle for Larry Bird, who wore a similar shade of blue when he played at Indiana State, walking by the UNC bench just before the game, pointing to the starters and offering a “Good luck, guys.”
The Tar Heels just stared back at Bird, half in awe of Larry Legend, half wondering what exactly he meant by that.
This group needed no such luck. This was, by far, the best team in the NCAA Tournament.
The Heels weren’t just good — they were UConn women’s team good.
Not a Magic-al pregame speech, not an overwhelming home-court advantage, not a contrived greater cause, not even the toughest of Ford-tough attitudes could have helped the Spartans overcome what they had in store for them Monday night.
When folks last fall predicted an undefeated season for UNC, the first half of Monday’s championship was exactly what they envisioned: a team that dizzies you with its speed, overwhelms you with its inside scoring options and demoralizes you with three-point shooting. A team whose only flaw is occasional lapses in defense, which only means the difference between winning by 30 points and winning by 20.
The Heels could have withstood one of their top-four scorers actually leaving for the NBA and still have been good enough to win the school’s fifth national title. But with Ty Lawson, Danny Green, Wayne Ellington and Tyler Hansbrough all coming back, it was the ending this team was meant to experience. Roy Williams couldn’t mess this up. Heck, Billy Gillispie couldn’t mess this up.
But what Williams is doing in North Carolina is much more than impressive than babysitting a group of can’t-miss kids.
All he has done in his six years since arriving to coach his alma mater is dominate the college basketball landscape. Sure, the Gators won back-to-back national titles, but they did it with a lightning-in-a-bottle starting five and have followed that up with back-to-back NIT appearances.
After winning the national title in his second year at Carolina with players he didn’t recruit, Williams rebuilt a team of his own recruits and reached the Final Four three years later, then won his second national title one season after that.
Get used to more of this. Williams arrived in 2003 and in six short years has made Carolina the team of the decade. And it’s the early favorite to repeat next decade.
Sitting close behind ESPN’s Dick Vitale toward the latter stages of Monday’s title game, when everyone in the area was hoping aloud that the Spartans could at least make a game of it, fans might have heard Vitale, the voice of college basketball, summing up UNC in three words: “Too much talent.”
That won’t change. Not as long as Williams is recruiting for the school that barely needs to be sold.
It’s why this championship team didn’t need a pregame speech from an icon. Or even luck.
In this sport, Carolina blue is absolute gold.