North Carolina is one win from a sixth national championship. Roy Williams is one win from joining coaching royalty.
Only five men have won more than two national championships. All are in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and immediately recognizable to college basketball fans.
A win Monday night over Villanova would vault Williams, who won titles in 2005 and 2009, into the group that includes John Wooden (10), Mike Krzyzewski (5), Adolph Rupp (4), Bob Knight (3) and Jim Calhoun (3).
“I’ve never had that thought. I really haven’t,” Williams said Sunday of moving up the title list. “You know, that’s company that is off the charts. But what I’d really, really love is for these guys … to get their first one. That would mean a heck of a lot more to me than any of that other stuff.”
Williams, who will coach in his fifth national championship game — third with the Tar Heels — has always projected humility during a 28-year coaching career at Kansas and North Carolina that landed him in the Hall of Fame in 2007.
Marcus Paige, North Carolina’s senior guard who gave a moving speech on senior night that had Williams in tears, knows his coach well.
“He probably spends zero time thinking about his legacy and stuff like that,” Paige said Sunday. “That’s just the kind of guy he is. He loves coaching his team and he puts all his time and his effort and his thought into how he can help us.”
The players have been thinking about it, though.
“By that same token, I think us winning a championship for him kind of vaults him into that next stratosphere of coaches when you look at the big picture, when you look at accolades,” Paige said. “You know, comparing Hall of Fame coaches, there’s not that many that have three.
“I think it would be very special to kind of get him up on a whole ‘nother level. Even though he probably won’t even think about it that way.”
One thing that has been special to Williams is that his two titles has him tied him with his mentor, former North Carolina coach Dean Smith. Even with a win, he wouldn’t consider himself better than his former boss.
“He was a heck of a lot better. I really believe that,” said Williams, who passed Smith for NCAA Tournament games coached with 93 with the semifinal win over Syracuse said.
“Sometimes I try to be humble, all this stuff that people think is nice. I don’t think I’m in the same league with Coach Smith, and I never will,” he said.
The last person to join the exclusive triple title coaching club was Calhoun, who won his third national championship at Connecticut in 2011.
“The whole idea was not to think about it,” Calhoun said Sunday of going for No. 3. “Then you realize you’re in pretty good company, first there’s John Wooden, then Mike and you get to Mr. Rupp and Bob Knight. Those are names you never think you’ll be associated with.”
But Calhoun said there comes a day when it hits you.
“I remember reading those names and, oh by the way, there’s Calhoun. It brought into light there were my contemporaries, Mike and Bob and my all-time hero, John Wooden,” Calhoun said. “I met Mr. Rupp once. It all doesn’t seem real sometimes. I was never thinking about chasing them.
“My dad used to say you’re known by the company you keep. That’s not bad company.”
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.