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One Night Freed From Second Guesses

He also understood that the ball had to get to Sean May every time downcourt as long as Illinois tried to play behind him. By the time the Illini got around to fronting him, May had made 10 of 11 shots. The rest of the way, Felton took over. But so did the coach, who never lost his cool even as those around him were becoming understandably nervous. He had put his players through a difficult week after the Syracuse Region because he wasn't pleased with their defense.

"We went down in what we call the pit for a couple of days," he said. "We played without any rims, just defensive drills. I think they got the message that I wasn't very happy."

North Carolina's Roy Williams won his first national championship coaching with the same conviction that has been a staple of his career. (Mark Humphrey - AP)

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One thing that is often forgotten in sports is that some people evolve as they get older. They improve. Williams was a very good coach the day he took over at Kansas, trained by Dean Smith. He got to the national championship game in his third season and lost. He got back to three more Final Fours -- and lost. He got into the habit of talking in the third person and crying. He was mocked for that.

Now, he rarely talks in the third person, and he shed no tears, even in the privacy of the locker room, even when Smith and Jordan came in to congratulate him. No doubt the hug and the congratulations from Smith -- whom he still refers to only as "Coach Smith" -- meant a lot, but according to those who were there, neither man cried.

Williams began his career as Smith's third assistant, selling advertising to local business for the UNC basketball game program to make extra money and clipping newspaper articles for Smith to read on the road.

He is now a wealthy man, an icon in his sport, a lock Hall of Famer. And he has no more questions to answer about big games or big moments. Monday, when it would have been easy to fall back on habit and unwritten rules, he coached outside the coaching box, and when his team needed him to be completely in control, he was exactly that.

Illinois' rally provided a fitting ending to a tournament filled with drama. Weber and his team certainly helped provide the kind of finish the last 19 days deserved. In the end though, Carolina made the biggest plays in the waning moments of the basketball season.

At 10:23 p.m. Central time Monday night it became official: North Carolina was the national champion. But it was almost two hours earlier that Ol' Roy made the decision that led to that title. The final net is now his. No one can say he didn't deserve it.

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