Wojcik's Talents Come to The Fore

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 2, 2005

ST. LOUIS, April 1 -- Two years ago Friday, Matt Doherty resigned as North Carolina's head coach and his assistants were not retained, thus ending a tumultuous three-year stint in Chapel Hill, N.C.

The life of one of those assistants, Doug Wojcik, has dramatically changed during the past two years. Wojcik was a focal point of attention Friday largely because he is currently linked to three programs, including two that will play each other tonight.

"Is today the anniversary of it all?" said Wojcik, a Michigan State assistant. "It's pretty amazing."

Indeed. Wojcik, who was also an assistant at Navy from 1990 to '99, will take over as head coach at Tulsa as soon as the Spartans finish a season that has turned out better than most would have imagined weeks ago.

What's more, Wojcik helped recruit most of the talent on the North Carolina team that the Spartans will face Saturday night in the national semifinal at the Edward Jones Dome.

"You never know how the bracket is going to be set up," he said. "You knew you were going to root for [North Carolina] throughout the tournament. You knew they had turned it around. They had already arrived. The fact that the two paths converge in the Final Four is an incredible thing. I think I have a better chance of hitting the lottery than that happening."

After one practice session Friday, Wojcik walked off the floor and could not help but reflect on his journey the past two seasons. One day he was an assistant at North Carolina, he said, and the next day he wasn't. Ten days later, he was hired onto Tom Izzo's Michigan State staff.

Wojcik is proud of how the North Carolina players have excelled this season under Coach Roy Williams and grateful for how they have spoken of Wojcik during interviews.

"He taught me a lot about life, a lot about basketball," North Carolina's Sean May said. "He was really that person I went to when I struggled my freshman year in terms of breaking my foot and dealing with issues on and off the court."

North Carolina's upperclassmen have plenty in common with Michigan State's seniors, who were viewed as underachievers because they had not had the same success as the group of Spartans who reached three consecutive Final Fours between 1999 and 2001.

"The senior class at Carolina was maligned as much as our senior class," Wojcik said. "Jawad [Williams], Jackie [Manuel] and Melvin [Scott] have dealt with a lot, and they've put up with it pretty well."

Wojcik said he is comfortable that he is now a head coach, even though it's his third week being away from his new program. Wojcik named his brother, Dave, as a Tulsa assistant on March 23, so the staff could begin building a program that reached a region final only five seasons ago.

But Wojcik has not entirely gotten used to the fact that he'll coach against the players he recruited. While he may have more knowledge about the nuances of certain players' games, he doesn't expect that his added insight will be much help if the Spartans' defense can't slow down the Tar Heels, the nation's highest-scoring team.

"Regardless of the outcome," May said, "I'll go over and give him a hug. I'm going to wish him the best of luck in his new job."

Michigan State assistant Doug Wojcik, a former Navy point guard, will be the next coach at Tulsa.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company