Retro Lucas: '93 Carolina 78, Kansas 68
The Carolina basketball season is over, but I'm not quite ready to stop writing postgame columns just yet. So I thought I'd try something unique in honor of the 20th anniversary of Carolina's 1993 national championship.
Twenty years ago today, Dean Smith's Tar Heels beat Kansas in the NCAA Tournament Final Four. I watched that game from the Superdome stands, never dreaming--well, OK, maybe I would've dreamed it, but not believed it--that one day I'd actually get to work with Carolina basketball. But here's what I think I would've written if I'd been doing postgame columns on April 3, 1993. The could-have-been columns for the wins over Arkansas and Cincinnati are linked at the bottom of this story. Remember, this is as it would've been written on April 3, 1993.
So here we are again, in New Orleans.
Eleven years ago almost to the day, Dean Smith, Bill Guthridge, Roy Williams and Matt Doherty were in the Louisiana Superdome engineering a 63-62 national championship victory over Georgetown. Smith, of course, said afterwards that he was not a better coach than he was before the game started.
But the game changed the trajectory of the lives of many of its participants. Clueless national observers who had chirped that Smith “couldn’t win the big one” had to acknowledge that he was, indeed, one of the masters of the college game. The lanky freshman, Michael Jordan, used his game-winning shot to catapult himself into the basketball stratosphere, where he currently resides as two-time NBA champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist, and genuine American hero.
My uncle spotted Jordan’s father, James, at a Superdome concession stand on Saturday night. He insisted on buying Mr. Jordan a soft drink, after which the father of one of the world’s greatest basketball superstars—someone who now has worldwide fame—said, “One of my favorite times in my life happened right here.”
The same would’ve been true of almost everyone who was here on that night in 1982, wouldn’t it? Roy Williams improbably went from selling calendars out of the back of his car to the head coach at Kansas. Matt Doherty went from quintessential glue guy to New York stockbroker to, now, an assistant coach for the Jayhawks. If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed, it’s that Bill Guthridge is still seated next to Smith on the Carolina bench, right where you have to imagine he will always be.
Those four coaches—Smith, Williams, Guthridge and Doherty—gathered on the sideline before the game for a photo captured by Tar Heel photographer extraordinaire Hugh Morton. It’s an image you have to believe Mr. Morton will use for years to come. The past, present and—who knows?—maybe future of Tar Heel basketball, all together back in the building where they made so much history together.
It was the perfect portrait of a family reunion.
Oh, and then they tried to beat each other’s brains out.
Last time these two programs met, two years ago in Indianapolis, it felt like everything was wrong, especially the unceremonious way Smith was booted from the game by an overzealous official. This time, it felt exactly right. Carolina ran its best Carolina stuff. Kansas ran its best Carolina stuff. And this time, the Tar Heels ran it a little better.
It started with the imposing UNC frontcourt, which got 15 second-half points from Eric Montross on his way to a total of 23. That outcome, Williams could have expected. He knows Smith and the Tar Heels well enough to know that Carolina basketball—really good Carolina basketball—begins with the big man.
But what he might not have known was that the Tar Heels were going to get 25 points from Donald Williams, a sophomore who tossed in five of seven three-pointers.
“This wasn’t a chicken-or-the-egg thing,” Donald Williams said afterward. “I got my shots after Eric opened it up inside. Of course, it’s happened before, but I haven’t always hit 3s like I did tonight.”
Maybe not. But he certainly has hit 3s like that recently, as Williams is on an NCAA Tournament run that—say this quietly, so as not to affect the mojo—could have him remembered for a long time in Chapel Hill if he can just continue it for one more game.
His last three-pointer on Saturday came when the Jayhawks had closed their deficit to 68-65 with just 2:48 remaining. But there was Williams to hit a jumper, and then the Garner product drained a couple of free throws to stretch the UNC advantage to eight points.
“If there was one difference,” Kansas guard Rex Walters said, “it was Donald Williams hitting the outside jumpers.”
It’s hard not to wonder where this group might be in 10 years, or maybe even 20. Smith, hopefully, is ageless. Guthridge, you have to imagine, will be on the bench next to him for as long as Smith chooses to be there. Williams has Kansas back near the pinnacle of college basketball and appears set for a Smith-like career in Lawrence. Doherty is potentially a rising young coaching star.
It’s startling just how similar they all are, even after taking different paths to get there. Roy Williams was emotional after watching the end of the careers of Walters and Adonis Jordan. He spent much of his postgame press conference talking about his two star senior guards.
But then, he revealed another place where his heart might lie, in a comment that you have to imagine might have irked a few Jayhawks. The head coach had just spent 40 minutes trying to beat North Carolina. He’d clapped, he’d clinched his fists, he’d coached until the very last second of the 10-point defeat to the Tar Heels. Then, less than an hour after the final buzzer, he was asked about his plans for the championship game.
“I’ll be pulling like the dickens,” Roy Williams said, “for Carolina on Monday night.”