Coaches for Oregon, South Carolina and Gonzaga concede Roy Williams and his North Carolina players have an advantage when it comes to knowing how to deal with the spotlight during Final Four week.
They also don’t think it will matter once the games begin.
“You can play in the national championship game nine years in a row. If you go the 10th time, you’re nervous before that ball goes up in the air. There’s no such thing as not being nervous for a big game,” South Carolina’s Frank Martin said Monday during a teleconference with reporters.
“What I do think is a huge advantage for Roy, his players, staff members, everyone at the university, is having been through it as recently as last year. They’re fresh on the preparation, on the things to expect, what’s coming. That way they can better manage their times, their days, to eliminate any distractions that can prevent them from being prepared for the game itself.”
South Carolina (26-10) and Gonzaga (36-1) will be making their Final Four debuts when they meet in the first national semifinal Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Oregon is as much a first-timer as those two. The Ducks haven’t made it this far since winning the 1939 title.
Williams will be coaching in the Final Four for the ninth time, including five appearances with Carolina. The Tar Heels (31-7) play Oregon (33-5) in the second semifinal.
North Carolina lost to Villanova in last year’s championship game in Houston. Three of its starters from that 77-74 loss are back, and so are seven other players.
Basketball is only part of the Final Four experience. There are team activities, lots of media commitments and constant attention.
Oregon coach Dana Altman said he spoke on the phone with old coaching friends Lon Kruger and Mike Montgomery to gain some insight on how to balance basketball with everything else.
“We want to try to help our players as much as possible and make them as comfortable as possible, try to get the routine the same,” Altman said. “This is a bigger stage. Our guys are aware of that.”
Williams said he wouldn’t expect players from any of the teams to have difficulty adjusting to the environment.
“Kids nowadays are so much more experienced, they’re so much more worldly,” he said. “All the teams have high-profile players who have been very successful and were recruited really hard by several schools. People will play (experience) up if they choose to. Once you get there, you have to play the game. Yes, I think it helps for me and some our guys who were there last year to know the hoopla around it. Each coach is good enough to get their guys to focus on the games, and that’s what is important.”
Gonzaga coach Mark Few said “everything is going to get ratcheted up 300 per cent now with the media, the demands, the time.”
“The general distraction meter is going to go out the roof,” he said. “All four of these teams have shown they’re ferocious competitors and have the ability to focus on the task at hand.”
Other comments from the teleconference:
There was no update on North Carolina point guard Joel Berry II, who played on two injured ankles against Kentucky in the regional final. Williams said the travel itinerary might help. The Tar Heels fly to Phoenix on Tuesday night rather than on Wednesday.
“I thought it was smarter for us to go out Tuesday because some people’s feet do swell when they go on the airplane,” Williams said. “If that’s going to happen to Joel, I would rather have that happen Tuesday night as opposed to Wednesday night. Hopefully by the time we get to Thursday or Friday he’ll do some things in practice. I’m scared to death right now because I just don’t know.”
WHY NOT VEGAS?
On the day the Oakland Raiders’ move to Las Vegas was announced, Altman and Few said they would be in favour of NCAA Tournament first- and second-round games and regionals being played in Vegas. The Pac-12 Tournament was played at Vegas’ 18,000-seat T-Mobile Arena earlier this month. The NCAA has had a long-standing policy of not holding events in cities where betting is legal.
“Gambling’s everywhere,” Few said. “So we need to quit punishing poor Vegas when it’s in our own backyard, front yard, side yard, too.”
NOT IMPRESSED WITH HIMSELF
Altman has turned out to be a much better coach than player. He transferred from a Nebraska junior college to Eastern New Mexico in 1978. He averaged 3.7 points and 1.4 rebounds his first season. The school couldn’t find statistics from his second season.
“I didn’t have many highlights as a player,” Altman said. “I was awful. I would have sure hated to coach me.”
For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25.
Eric Olson, The Associated Press