As the clock hit triple zeroes Monday night in Phoenix—a moment that officially completed UNC’s quest for national championship redemption—this group of Tar Heels officially sealed their place in the program’s history books.
Head coach Roy Williams surpassed the late, great Dean Smith with his third national championship in Chapel Hill—but he was the first to admit it’s the players who win the games, shying away from any comparisons to his mentor when interviewed afterward.
“I think of Coach Smith, there’s no question,” an emotional Williams said. “I don’t think I should be mentioned in the same sentence with him.
“But, we’ve got three [championships] because I got these guys with me,” he added. “And that’s all I care about right now are my guys.”
Isaiah Hicks doesn’t share too many similarities with Michael Jordan, but they each hit shots that served as daggers in the NCAA Championship game.
Kennedy Meeks will now forever be linked with Sean May—and not just because of their similar body shapes. Meeks’ dominance on the glass throughout UNC’s march to the title helped him break May’s school rebounding record for a single NCAA Tournament.
Final Four Most Outstanding Player Joel Berry now joins a list of title-winning Tar Heel point guards that includes Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson.
Only Tyler Hansbrough has ever scored more career points as a UNC player in the NCAA Tournament than Justin Jackson.
The list goes on and on.
What matters most, though, is that when future generations think about playing–or cheering–for UNC they’ll do so with the intentions of being–or rooting–for the next Joel Berry, or the next Kennedy Meeks or the next Justin Jackson.
“This is what we’ve worked for,” Berry said. “The ups and downs that we’ve had, it’s all worth it.
“I can’t even describe my feeling right now,” the junior continued. “But I’m just glad that I was able to do something with this team because I felt like–with the personality and what we went through–I think we just deserved it.”
And while he has never been the most prolific player when it comes to statistics, senior guard Nate Britt’s brotherly relationship with Villanova forward Kris Jenkins gave the Tar Heels an opportunity to avenge last year’s heartbreaking loss with the man who provided the motivation watching from the front row—and in a UNC t-shirt at that.
Britt was also part of a senior class along with Meeks and Hicks which played in a whopping 17 NCAA Tournament games, winning 14 of them.
Following the loss to Villanova last season, Williams commented that it was his favorite team he’d ever coached.
For that reason, the coach couldn’t help but be emotional when placing this championship in context, and then thinking about last year’s senior class. That group included Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson and Joel James, three players who weren’t able to play a role in this storybook tale of redemption.
“I’d say this one is probably more special because it’s been a journey for the last three or four years,” Williams said. “Trying to do something, trying to do something, trying to do something.
“The tough thing is that it doesn’t make Marcus, Brice or Joel feel any better,” the coach added. “The feeling of inadequacy in the locker room last year is the worst feeling I’ve ever had.
“But yes, this one’s fantastic and sweet.”