-- With his arrival preceded by police sirens, heralded by a Dixieland band, cheered by adoring boosters and chronicled by a dozen TV cameras, Kansas basketball coach Roy Williams looked positively ill at ease Wednesday night as he strode into the New Orleans Hyatt, which is serving as the Jayhawks' home during this NCAA Final Four.
Official greeters festooned Williams with purple-and-gold Mardi Gras beads. And a makeshift stage had been erected in the lobby, where reporters breathlessly awaited any comment, sound bite or simple facial expression that might shed light on the Jayhawks' prospects on the eve of college basketball's biggest weekend.
"You got any questions?" Williams asked a bit testily after stepping to the podium. "Or are we gonna stand around and look at each other?"
Reporters probed gently at first. "How was the flight?" "What's the team's state of mind?"
Then came the question Williams had spent the previous 24 hours making clear he didn't intend to address: about the coaching vacancy at North Carolina, his alma mater, following the abrupt resignation of former Kansas assistant Matt Doherty.
"It's another distraction that I don't want to have at this time of year," Williams said. "It's not 99 percent of my attention devoted to Kansas. It's 100 percent! And that's it. One hundred percent! Nothing else."
This is Williams's fourth trip to the Final Four in 15 seasons at Kansas, and he has yet to win college basketball's national title. He has come to view the tournament as a crapshoot, with timing and luck as essential to success as strategy and athletic ability.
But this year, all factors seem to point in Williams's favor -- particularly after No. 1 seeds Kentucky and Oklahoma fell in the round of eight. Kansas ended up a controversial No. 2 seed in the toughest region in the tournament, but only gained strength and confidence in dismissing No. 3 seed Duke before ousting top seed Arizona, 78-75.
As Kansas prepares for Saturday's national semifinal against Marquette, the pressing question once again is whether Williams will finally shake the dubious distinction of being among the best college basketball coaches never to win the NCAA title.
And if he wins that elusive national title, the question that will immediately follow is whether Williams will use the achievement as an occasion to conclude his distinguished tenure at Kansas and return to North Carolina, where a once-proud Tar Heels team is in dire need of leadership.
Even now, the question is bordering on an obsession to basketball fans and sportswriters alike.
Making matters more curious is the fact that Williams has yet to put a forceful end to the chatter, opting to complain about the speculation rather than rejecting the notion out of hand.
"I don't think it's fair," Williams said this week. "My team, my staff, myself -- everybody deserves to have the right to focus on the Final Four this week."
Williams was offered the North Carolina job three years ago, following the resignation of Bill Guthridge, and anguished over accepting it for a full week before announcing plans to stay at Kansas. At the time, Williams's decision was seen as having been influenced largely by his loyalty to freshman recruits Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison. Those players are now seniors, of course, which only fuels speculation that Williams's ties to Kansas may not be as strong once the season ends.
While journalists persist in asking Williams about the North Carolina job, the coach says his players haven't mentioned it.
"They know I'm with them," Williams said. "It's all you guys [reporters] that have to do your job. Everybody that has a microphone or a pen thinks they've got to tell me what to do."
Kansas City Star columnist Joe Posnanski, for one, is adamant that Williams will stay at Kansas. "Roy Williams ain't goin' to North Carolina," Posnanski wrote in Tar Heel vernacular this week. "No way. No how. No sir."
Former Missouri coach Norm Stewart said he expected Williams to take the North Carolina job three years ago and turned out to be wrong. This time, he's not even venturing a guess.
"If he were going to leave, if Kansas wins, that might give him a way to say, 'Well, I've done it here,' " said Stewart, 68. "On the other hand, if he wins he might stay in Kansas."
Either way, Stewart predicts Williams will keep his sentiments to himself until after the tournament.
"I think Roy is probably capable of doing this better than anybody else -- of setting that aside so that his team has the best chance to win and so he can concentrate," Stewart said. "He'll make the decision after the tournament."
Today in New Orleans, Williams and his Jayhawks stayed largely out of sight. The team held a 90-minute closed-door practice, and players got their first look at game footage of Marquette and its 6-foot-5 shooting guard, Dwyane Wade.
In speaking to reporters at the Hyatt on Wednesday night, Williams confessed that he hadn't decided if he would show his players tape of Marquette's 83-69 victory over Kentucky, in which Wade had 29 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds.
"It scared me to death," Williams said. "I couldn't sleep last night for that reason."
Then, after fielding a few more questions, Williams wrapped up the impromptu news conference. The TV lights clicked off, the Dixieland band dispersed and the reporters drifted away to file their reports.
"This will be the last time you see me wearing these beads," Williams said to no one in particular as he headed to his hotel room.