It is a rare and beautiful thing to see your team be anointed the favorite then crowned the champion. This Tar Heel team, which endured the pressure and expectations from June of last year until now, did exactly what we all thought they would and rolled to a national title. It was certainly not without adversity or clouds of doubt concerning their ability to actually close the deal. But when it came down to the brass tacks, the core of this Tar Heel team not only found a way but played the best basketball they could possibly play.
Roy Williams was asked before the game who needed to step up and he said everyone because it would take a team effort. Somewhat ironic that a team so many assumed would be riddled with selfish personalities looking to impress the NBA scouts, meshed into a team that go contributions from every position. Somewhere along the way this team became less about the dominance of Tyler Hansbrough in the post and a balanced offensive attack. It was a perfecting meshing of the personnel and a credit to Roy Williams for shaping a team that had faced so much adversity.
If I had to settle on who or what defined this title run, I would say it was Ty Lawson. The junior point guard had endured endless questions concerning his toughness, maturity and ability to perform at the level necessary to win a title. Those questions were seemingly resolved as the season wore on until a freak toe injury sidelined Lawson for the two ACC and first NCAA Tournament game. Once again the critics pounced but this time Lawson was ready to answer. What followed was perhaps the greatest performance by a Tar Heel point guard in the NCAA Tournament. Lawson did everything his team needed him to do whether it was a basket, three point shot or a key steal. Lawson dominated all five games he played and it was his facilitation of the offense as well as keying the defense that made this run possible.
Wayne Ellington and Danny Green found their shooting touches at just the right time. Ellington looked so much like Donald Williams in 1993 with his abilities to hit threes almost at will. There is a history at UNC of wing players losing their shooting touch at the wrong time. That was not the case with Ellington who was red hot in every game they played save the regional final. Green likewise shook off a horrid ACC Tournament and found a way to help his team. Much the same was true of Bobby Frasor, Deon Thompson and Ed Davis. In the case of the latter pair, their presence in the championship game cannot be underscored enough. Both Davis and Thompson helped to form a relentless wave of interior scoring that MSU could not abate. Frasor on the other hand, was never really an offensive threat but simply showed heart, brains and hustle. So much of what Frasor does is never quantified on the stat sheet but for his enduring two injuries his play is rewarded with a championship ring.
Then there is Tyler Hansbrough. The media talked about destiny when it came to Michigan St but the truth is Tyler Hansbrough was a player of destiny. When was the last time we watched a player who won a NPOY as a junior, returned to finish his career with over 2800 points and capped it all off with a national title? It was the storybook ending for him. It was the stuff of dreams, the perfect end of that movie where the shy kid from a small town in Missouri fights like mad to reach the pinnacle. With one minute left in the game, Hansbrough came out the game. He embraced Roy Williams, Steve Robinson and Joe Holladay. The look on his face was pure joy. After four years of working hard, playing hard, maintaining unbridled intensity in pursuit of the grandest of college basketball prizes he could finally let go and enjoy himself. Hansbrough had climb all the mountains. He had squeezed the last drop of goodness from his college career and walks away as arguably the greatest Tar Heel basketball player of all time.
In June we saw the trailer to this movie. Along the way the plot was twisted with uncertainity but in the end it concluded exactly as we thought it woud with Hansbrough's legacy and Lawson's legend bringing another title home to Chapel Hil.