NEW ORLEANS – Here is one way that blue bloods become blue bloods. Coaches come, they stay, they win, their resumes ripen into legend.
So there are no coaching revolving doors represented at the Superdome this weekend.
Bill Self has been at Kansas 19 seasons. He is one of only six coaches for the Jayhawks in the past 103 years, not counting an interim when Phog Allen needed to take a rest. All six took teams to the Final Four. Five went to the championship game and three won. One of the coaches before those six was the only man to own a losing career record at Kansas. Dr. James Naismith, the guy who invented the game. Much good his peach baskets did him.
“I take it very seriously, that I’m the caretaker of the most historic program that’s ever been . . . in the brief moment of time that we actually are here,” Self said.
Jay Wright has been at Villanova for 21 seasons. He is one of only five coaches for the Wildcats in 86 years. Four were in the Final Four, two won a championship. He is almost taken aback when his program is mentioned on the same level as the other three A-list teams here.
“We never aspire to be one of those programs. As a matter of fact, we fight the urge to be like them because we’re just so different. We just try to be the best Villanova we can be,” he said. “But when people on the outside connect us to them or count us as part of their legacy and tradition, we love it because we have so much respect for them.”
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Duke has had one coach for 42 years. You probably have heard about him. This will be it for Mike Krzyzewski, but he said Thursday he doesn’t think much about that right now. “I have tried not to do that because then I think you leave a hole somewhere in your preparation for the game on Saturday. I think you have to be all-in on Saturday and then accept the consequences.”
Which brings us to the new guy.
Come Saturday, in a Final Four where the other three coaches have been at their posts for a combined 82 years, Hubert Davis will have been the North Carolina coach for 363 days. Still, even with a first-year coach, the Tar Heels are like the other three when it comes to stability. He is the sixth North Carolina coach in 70 years. Four went to the Final Four, three ended up champions.
Now Davis – who played in 137 games as a Tar Heel in 1988-92 – has the wheel. He had much to say about his role, his feelings, and getting ready for Duke. Let’s spend part of Thursday with the rookie, in a sea of Hall of Famers.
The excitement of making it here his first season: “The first day of practice I had put a picture of the Superdome in their locker. I didn’t want them to dwell on that, but I wanted them to see what we’re fighting for and why we’re practicing so hard, why we’re preparing and what is going to be required of us to have a chance. That’s all that we have done all season. That’s all we’re doing right now.”
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His feelings about the Tar Heels winning titles in the Superdome in 1982 and ’93: “I remember the ’82 championship game and me only being able to see the second half because I had a Boy Scout meeting. I remember in ’93 it was a group of guys that I had played with. I was a rookie in the NBA and we were playing the Atlanta Hawks and I was on the road with my New York Knicks team and watching the Carolina team play Michigan. I remember feeling two powerful emotions; joy and happiness because they won, but also sadness because I wanted to be there. I had always wanted to cut down the nets and be a national champion at North Carolina and I didn’t have that opportunity.”
On North Carolina’s early-season struggles: “There has been a lot of newness. It’s a new head coach, new coaching staff, three transfers, two freshmen, tweaks, pivots, alters in terms of how we play on both ends of the floor. It takes time.”
On the challenge of the job: “For me it was never difficult. It just wasn’t. Taking this job was an act of service for me. The wins and losses don’t define me. (It’s the) experiences and the relationships with the players . . . and the love for this institution and this program.”
The charges early that the Tar Heels were playing soft: “I couldn’t be mad, I knew (it) was right. People can’t say that about our group right now. They fought back, they stood their ground, they planted their feet and they competed.”
The idea his messages to his players were not being fully heard early. That included his fondness for the word bejeebies as a replacement for swearing. Or the constant use of slogans such as energy, effort, toughness: “I would love to think – I have three kids – that everything I say, they go, `Yes, Dad,’ and they’re going to do it. (But) there’s a lot of times where they have to go through it and then they go, `OK, Mom, Dad, you were right.’ I think that over the course of a year consistently conveying to them the importance of us being a good defensive team . . . how it’s connected to how we play on the offensive end, they’ve seen it. They’ve experienced it and they’ve seen the success of it, maybe you can say now they believe it. Maybe not buy in, but now they believe it.”
By the way, his players confirmed Thursday how that process took some time.
Armando Bacot: “Offensively we were playing hero ball, just not playing together, not making extra passes, not setting the screen and rolling certain ways just because we didn’t think we’d get the ball. I think after that, we just drew the line and said we have to stop being selfish.”
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Leaky Black: “At first I thought it was kind of goofy, hearing bejeebies all the time. It was kind of weird. But right now we really don’t pay much attention to it. We pretty much get the message.”
Brady Manek: “At the beginning of the year, he was pretty repetitive on certain things. And you don’t really know where he’s going with that. But the last month and a half, we’ve really bought into what he’s been saying, and it’s all been making sense. We all have to play together, we’ve all gotta play smart, we’ve all got to bring our toughness every game. So he’s been doing it for a reason the whole time.”
Finally from Davis, the topic of the hour. North Carolina vs. Duke: “The rivalry is real. My thought process and my communication to the players has been none of that. The reason being, that doesn’t help us Saturday. What helps us Saturday is our preparation, our practice and how we play. The historical factor of us for the first time meeting in the Final Four, the rivalry, Coach K’s last year, my first year, that’s insignificant to us.
“I have talked to the team at great length to focus on what is real.”
When Krzyzewski coached his first Final Four Duke team, Hubert Davis was a sophomore in high school. Saturday night, he’ll be trying to end Krzyzewski’s career. That’s pretty real.