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Associated Press
FILE - This March 25, 2010, file photo shows Butler's Gordon Hayward going to the basket against Syracuse in the first half of an NCAA West Regional semifinal college basketball game in Salt Lake City. Hayward is expected to be taken in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft. (AP Photo/Steve C. Wilson, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to the NCAA Tournament, Marvin Williams has ultimate bragging rights in the Utah Jazz locker room.

But even though Williams is the only Jazz player with a national championship on his basketball resume, all the March Madness hype and hubbub brings back sweet memories for these professional athletes.

That's especially true for Williams, who helped lead North Carolina to the 2005 NCAA title. He had a key bucket late in the Tar Heels' 75-70 win over Deron Williams' Illinois team.

"Yeah, I don't think anybody will say anything to me because they know I have that in my back pocket," Williams said Monday after Jazz shootaround. "I might come in and wear one of my rings."

Utah swingman Gordon Hayward came one half-court shot away from sporting his own championship ring back in 2010, but the former Butler standout did pick up more wins on the Jazz's home court as an amateur than any of his current teammates.

Hayward smiled while reminiscing about his Bulldogs' magical run to the Final Four, which included Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight victories at EnergySolutions Arena three springs ago.

"Just great times," Hayward said. "We played and beat two really good teams. Syracuse was probably the most talented team in that tournament. Kansas State was really good as well. It was a lot of fun, just a lot of fun."

Playing on an NBA hardwood was also a hoot for Hayward and his Butler buddies. Being able to do that in his first basketball trip to Utah made the experience all the more special.

"Yeah, it did," he said. "Especially because at Butler, we never really played at NBA arenas. ... We didn't really get very many opportunities to do that."

Sorry, Jazz fans, but Hayward was excited to play on the same court where Michael Jordan hit the most famous shot of his career (after pushing off of Bryon Russell, of course). It was also neat for him to play — and cut down a net — in the building where John Stockton and Karl Malone called home for so many years.

"I remember talking about the playoffs. We all grew up watching some of that," Hayward recalled. "We talked about the players (Jazz and Bulls) that were playing on that court and getting an opportunity to do that. It was a pretty cool experience."

Speaking of pretty cool experiences, Jazz guard Randy Foye posted a fun photo from his past on his Instagram account Monday afternoon.

The action shot showed a baby-faced Foye shooting a jumper for his Villanova squad over a North Carolina player named Marvin Williams. Foye scored 28 points in the Sweet Sixteen game, but Williams' team eked out a 67-66 nail-biting win to advance.

Foye posted this text with the picture: "Nova Vs N. Carolina this Friday @7:30p. @foyeboy #Marvin Williams going at it in 05 NCAA tournament. #WeGotCheated #IHad28Pts #WeWillWinThisFriday #GoNova."

That's right.

Foye's Wildcats and Williams' Tar Heels are pitted against each other in the opening round — a rematch of North Carolina's victory that remains a sore subject for the Villanova product.

"Me and Marv are already talking. My Villanova Wildcats play his Tar Heels," Foye said. "We've been discussing a few things among ourselves."

Such as?

"I can't talk about that," he said, smiling. "Every time teams play each other guys are always trash-talking and going back and forth. We're just excited to watch the game together. Put it that way."

So, Williams?

"They've got a good team. I'm obviously confident in my Tar Heels. I'm obviously confident in my college coach (Roy Williams)," Williams said. "It'll be a good match-up. It'll be fun to watch."

Beating Foye's Villanova squad was just one great moment during that magical run for the Tar Heels. Williams' face lit up with an ear-to-ear grin while going back eight years to talk about that tournament.

"That was probably the most special time I've ever had playing basketball, just the run through the tournament, to see the excitement on campus, and throughout the team," Williams said. "Obviously, winning Coach Williams his first national championship, he had been to the Final Four a few times, but he couldn't quite finish it out. We got him his first one and that's really a special moment for all of us."

Part of Williams is bummed the Jazz will be in Texas the rest of the week.

He would have loved to have camped out at the arena for six NCAA games between the likes of Gonzaga, New Mexico, Pittsburgh and, of course, Belmont.

"Obviously, we're going to miss it, but it'll still be a good time for Salt Lake," Williams said. "I'd be here without a doubt. It's always fun to watch the tournament. You never know who's going to win, so it's always fun to have that element of surprise."

In all, eight Jazz players have teams in the Big Dance and three guys' squads are in the NIT. Four players have no rooting interests remaining in action, not even in the CBI or CIT.

You can bet Utah players will have their TVs tuned in at the hotel or locker room on Thursday and Friday, and hopefully later.

"That's going to be their Super Bowl, the first game," Foye said of his Wildcats' showdown with North Carolina. "I believe in them. I think they can do some pretty good things. I think we're going to come out being in the Sweet Sixteen."

Because Indianapolis isn't too far away, Hayward believes Butler will have good fan support in Lexington, Ky., where the Bulldogs take on Bucknell in the first round.

"I'll just have to watch them on TV. I'll be rooting for them. They've got a tough first-round match-up," Hayward said. "But some of the other games, if they were to win, they've got some other teams in their region that they've already beaten in the regular season.

"In that regard," he added, "I think it's kind of favorable for them."

P.S. Be careful when asking Mo Williams about his college. He razzed a reporter for asking about NIT-bound Alabama and the NCAAs.

"That might be a soft spot for him right now," Marvin Williams joked.

Mo Williams believes he has an inside track on the team pool, though. He smiled when that was brought up and added, "I plan on winning that, by the way."

Join the crowd.

Everybody in the tournament or with a filled-out bracket in hand is a winner the Monday before March Madness begins.

EMAIL: jody@desnews.com



Gordon Hayward's Butler vs. Bucknell

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