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The Big One-der

NCAA BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT / THE FINAL FOUR

Gary or Roy Williams Is Going to Get a Step Closer to First Championship

March 30, 2002|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — The former members of the Can't Win the Big One Society have heard the talk coming out of the Final Four.

"It's stupidity," Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun said. "Totally unfair."

It makes no sense to Arizona's Lute Olson either.

"How many big ones do you have to win before the 'big one,' just in order to get that chance?" he wanted to know.

They are coaches who couldn't win the so-called big one.

Then they won it.

Now Kansas Coach Roy Williams and Maryland Coach Gary Williams are in the crosshairs as they prepare their teams for an NCAA semifinal game today.

Kansas forward Drew Gooden all but rolled his eyes as another microphone was stuck in his face. The most-asked question at the Final Four? Gooden smiled.

"'Is there any pressure for us to win it for Coach Williams?' I'm tired of answering that."

Dean Smith was practically the charter member of the Can't Win the Big One club, reaching the Final Four six times before winning the first of his two NCAA titles in 1982.

Roy Williams--here at the Final Four trying hard to become the next to be kicked out of the club--was there beside Smith that night as a North Carolina assistant coach.

Amid the celebration, Williams leaned in close.

"I'm so happy for you, because it will shut those people up," Williams told Smith.

"He looked at me and said, 'I don't know that I'm any better coach than I was 21/2 hours ago.'"

Williams more or less shrugs at the question after reaching three Final Fours in 14 seasons.

"It's something I know people are going to say and I have got to live with," says Williams, whose 29-12 tournament record is one of the best among active coaches.

"If we ever do win it, they'll move on to somebody else. If we don't, they'll keep coming after me."

It's easy to forget that only 41 coaches have won the NCAA title.

There have been 63 champions since 1939, but John Wooden won 10 titles, Adolph Rupp won four, Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski three each, and six others have won two.

Olson won in 1997, the fourth of his five trips to the Final Four.

"How I really felt was that winning an NCAA championship was not going to be the determining factor about what kind of coach I am," Olson said.

"I've always felt it's more critical how much you get out of the kids who play for you, and how you're looked on by them, five, 10 years down the road.

"And also how people in my profession look at me, whether I do a good job or a bad job. I put a lot of stock in what people in coaching think of me."

Calhoun won in 1999, his first trip to the Final Four.

But he had lost in the regional final three times before--once on one of Christian Laettner's famous buzzer beaters for Duke, in 1990.

This season, Connecticut reached the Elite Eight again before losing to Maryland.

"A couple of years removed from winning the national championship, this team with a freshman and two sophomores was a minute from the Final Four," Calhoun said. "Maybe this was a better coaching job than the year we won.

"John Chaney got elected to the Hall of Fame without winning the 'big one' or getting to the Final Four. People in the profession know what John Chaney has done. The greatest measure of excellence is time.

"If you're John Chaney, he never won a national championship--although he did at the Division II level. It's more important he won 20 games every year, all those years."

Jim Boeheim of Syracuse hasn't won a national championship in 21 trips to the tournament. Lou Carnesecca never won one for St. John's. Gene Keady has never gotten Purdue to the Final Four. Neither did Norm Stewart at Missouri.

Calhoun insists winning a one-loss-and-you're-out tournament shouldn't be the referendum on a career.

Last week, he saw a writer from one of the nation's most respected newspapers, who'd told him seven or eight years ago a coach hadn't really accomplished anything until he'd made the Final Four.

"I told him I disagreed with him then, and after winning it all, I disagree with you now," Calhoun said.

"I can give you coaches I won't name who have won a national championship, and time has not been as kind to them as it will be to Roy Williams, Gary Williams and Kelvin Sampson--even though he's still a little young." [The Oklahoma coach is making his first trip to the Final Four, as is Indiana's Mike Davis.]

Roy Williams created expectations by reaching the Final Four twice in his first five seasons, most recently in 1993.

Now, having not advanced past the Sweet 16 since 1996, people ask him where he has been.

Nothing else was as painful, though, as 1997, when Kansas was 34-1 and No. 1 in the nation before losing to eventual champion Arizona in a regional semifinal.

Until then, Williams admits, winning a national championship had been his No. 1 goal.

"After the heartbreak of 1997 and not being able to have Jacque Vaughn, Jerod Haase, Scot Pollard and B.J. Williams go to the Final Four with that great team, the pain was too hard and it made me sit back a little bit and look at things a little differently," Williams said.

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