While North Carolina Coach Dean Smith and Kansas Coach Roy Williams, who worked together at North Carolina before Williams moved to Kansas, insist their prior relationship will not be a factor in their NCAA semifinal game today, one coach who has gone through the experience says it's not one to relish.
"If you can keep away from it, never play a team coached by a relative, a very dear friend, or one of your ex-players or assistants," legendary UCLA Coach John Wooden told the Chicago Tribune. "You're better off it you can avoid them," Wooden continued, "because there are always mixed emotions. It's more difficult than any other game because it becomes a situation where you don't want to lose, but in a sense, you don't want to win either. It's a situation where you would like both teams to win."In the 1975 semifinals, in Wooden's last year, UCLA played a Louisville team coached by one of Wooden's former players, Denny Crum.
Crum, told the Tribune, "Looking back on it now, I'm glad UCLA won. I still feel bad for our players and fans, but for Coach Wooden, it was a nice way to retire."
In the free-to-the-public practice sessions held by the Final Four teams in the Hoosier Dome Friday afternoon, the estimated attendance was 45,000 fans spread out over the four-hour session.
Said North Carolina's Smith, "I think we were a little nervous out there. We're used to closed practices. I don't think we advanced our game much."
With its 34-0 record, UNLV is attempting to become the eighth team in NCAA tournament history to go through a season without a loss.
More unbeaten teams have fallen short in the tournament than have pulled off the feat. A total of 17 teams to date have come into the tournament without a loss. The ones to stay unblemished have included San Francisco in 1956, North Carolina in 1957, UCLA in 1964, 1967, 1972 and 1973, and Indiana in 1976.
North Carolina freshman center Eric Montross is bound to get a mixed reception in the Hoosier Dome. The 7-foot center is a native of Indianapolis and helped his high school team win the Indiana state championship in the Hoosier Dome in 1989.
But Montross turned down a scholarship offer from Indiana University in favor of going out of state to North Carolina.
"I don't know what to expect," Montross said Friday. "It was a tough choice for me to go to North Carolina because Indiana is a basketball-crazy state. But I am very happy with my decision."
Greg Anthony, UNLV's senior point guard, said the NCAA made him recently divest himself of any involvement with a t-shirt and silk-screening company he helped develop in Las Vegas. He said they wanted to avoid any perception that he was cashing in on his notoriety as a student-athlete.
"I was a little stunned, but with all we've been through with the NCAA, I can't say I didn't expect it," said Anthony. "The NCAA wants you to come to school, and they want you to be a part of the learning experience and grow and try to prepare yourself for the future. That's what I was trying to do, and they tell me I can't do that."
Added UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian, "A black kid from a poor neighborhood works hard to elevate himself and his family. You'd think he would be the ideal of what a student-athlete should be. You'd think the NCAA would applaud that."
Kansas senior Mark Randall, the team's second leading scorer and rebounder, already has one NCAA championship ring to his credit - although he says he'll never wear it.
"Never have, never will," says Randall of the ring he was given in 1988 after the Jayhawks won the NCAA title over Oklahoma. Randall was a member of that '88 team, but only peripherally. He spent the year as a medical redshirt after undergoing corrective jaw and sinus surgery.
"I just didn't feel a part of it," says Randall. "I like this feeling a lot better."
This year's Final Four has to set some sort of record for number of returning participants.
Kansas has four players with previous Final Four experience (in 1988), while Duke and UNLV have eight players each. Only North Carolina, which hasn't been to a Final Four since 1982, has a roster devoid of players with Final Four experience.
Among the four coaches here, they have a combination of 14 previous Final Four appearances, including seven by UNC's Dean Smith, four by Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and three by UNLV's Jerry Tarkanian.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: NCAA Executive Director Dick Schultz, on UNLV's Tarkanian, "He is highly underrated as a coach, and is a great coach of a great basketball team. I believe the current (NCAA) investigation has nothing to do with his current team."