Williams, Boeheim get another shot

Posted: Thursday, April 03, 2003

NEW ORLEANS -- Roy Williams thinks Kansas vs. Syracuse for the national title has a nice ring to it.

That way, Williams figures, either he or counterpart Jim Boeheim will finally shed the label of being one of the best coaches never to win an NCAA championship.

''If we make it to the final game, at least one guy's going to leave with some of that load off of his shoulders,'' Williams said Wednesday during a conference call for the Final Four coaches.

Kansas plays Marquette in the first semifinal Saturday, followed by Syracuse against Texas.

Williams and Boeheim have a combined 42 years of experience as head coach at their respective schools. They have 1,068 victories and 36 NCAA tournament appearances between them, but no national championships.

Both men have been this close more than once before. Boeheim has lost two national championship games, while Williams made it to the Final Four three times previously, including last year.

Williams insists that the prospect of going 0-4 in Final Fours doesn't add any pressure for him.

''I do have a goal and dream of winning a national championship at Kansas, and we try very hard to be in position to do it all the time,'' he said. ''Still, we haven't done it, but I still feel my life is pretty darn good, and if I coach for another 15 years and have some similar success that we've had the first 15, I'll feel lucky regardless.''

Williams, a former North Carolina assistant, has won more than 80 percent of his games as a Division I head coach, ranking him ahead of all other active coaches.

Kansas lost in the 2002 semifinals to eventual national champion Maryland. The Jayhawks' other Final Four appearances under Williams came in 1991 and 1993.

Boeheim is in his 27th season with Syracuse, having won about 75 percent of his games.

''Jimmy's a guy who's accomplished a great deal,'' Williams said. ''I think he feels similar to me, that as long as he can continue feeling good about himself and his players feel good about him and the people at Syracuse feel good about the way he runs the program, the fact that you win a national championship isn't going to change any of that.''

Boeheim will return to the Louisiana Superdome, where his Orangemen lost a 74-73 heartbreaker to Indiana in the 1987 final. Keith Smart was the hero that year, hitting a baseline jumper with 4 seconds left after Derrick Coleman missed the front end of a 1-and-1 for Syracuse.

Asked if he found it ''weird'' to be he headed back to the Superdome for a Final Four, Boeheim said: ''It is, a little, but we've kind of gotten through that. It's been 16 years.

''In '87, I thought we played great. Keith Smart just took over late in the game and made some great shots.''

The two coaches will face very different challenges this weekend. Boeheim is looking for consistent, levelheaded play from a young team that includes two freshmen and two sophomores in the starting lineup.

Williams is trying to dismiss the speculation about his future now that Matt Doherty has been fired as North Carolina coach -- a job Williams once coveted but turned down.

On Wednesday, Williams asked reporters to stop asking about the Tar Heels' job until after the Final Four.

''I didn't think this decision would come up again, but it has, and it's already been a pain,'' he said. ''My team deserves me not having to answer those questions ... I think my team deserves the right to focus and enjoy this week.''

Texas coach Rick Barnes said he suspects that Williams is concerned about how his players will deal with constantly hearing that their coach might not be around next season.

''Those guys have worked so hard to get here, they shouldn't have to answer questions about Roy's future,'' Barnes said.

Fourth-year Marquette coach Tom Crean, whose stock seems to have risen with his small Jesuit school's march to the Final Four, said he wouldn't let talk of other coaching opportunities bother him.

''I'd rather have them saying that than saying I'm going to be fired," Crean said. ''I don't get caught up in it, and I don't think (my players) do, either.''



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