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The Roy Williams’ era at UNC has produced three incredible title journeys

The heartbreak of prior years makes 2005, 2009, and 2017 all the more memorable.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Gonzaga vs North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

I fully admit I’m probably on a limb by myself when I say I would not want my favorite sports teams to win the championship every year.

That’s not to say I would ever root against them. If somehow UNC was to win the championship every year for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t be upset. It’s just doesn’t seem like it would be as fun as it sounds on paper.

The most rewarding part of your team winning a championship is experiencing the journey along the way. It’s watching them lose and be heartbroken that makes wins like Monday night’s as satisfying as it was.

Roy Williams now has three championships at North Carolina. All three of them have been the culmination of winding, often heartbreaking journey.

When Williams first took the Carolina job in 2003, he himself was coming off a loss in the national championship game. It was his second loss in the final, the fourth time he had been to the Final Four, but he still hadn’t won a title. He was fully entrenched as the coach that “couldn’t win the big one”.

UNC meanwhile was coming off a NIT season and was just a year removed from an 8-20 season. Matt Doherty was fired, and UNC finally got Roy to come to Chapel Hill. A year later, they were back in the NCAA Tournament, but fell in the second round.

The 2004-05 team managed to complete a turn around from 8-20 to national champions in just three years. They nearly lost in the Sweet 16, and took down a Illinois team that had lost just one game in the championship game along the way. Williams came home and won his first title, taking UNC back into the upper echelon of the sport in the process.

The next title came just four years later. Fans of other teams may roll their eyes at this, but the four years in between featured some often painful moments.

After a good 05-06 season which came as a bit of a surprise, UNC came in as a national title contender in both 06-07 and 07-08. In the 2007 Elite Eight, the Tar Heels blew a double digit lead to Georgetown before getting run over in overtime.

The following year, with Tyler Hansbrough in the midst of a National Player of the Year season, the Tar Heels got the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and returned to the Final Four. Against Kansas, everything went wrong in the first half and Carolina found themselves down by 28. Despite that, they nearly came all the way back before a Kansas run finally put them away. For the second straight year, the Tar Heels’ season ended in a completely heart-breaking fashion.

Hansbrough and the rest of that team came back for one last shot in 2008-09, and finally got their title. The tournament run itself wasn’t particularly drama-filled, but it represented the final step that era of Carolina basketball had to take. Four years between titles may not be a long time, but it was a four-year journey that no fan around for that period should take for granted.

The era that culminated in the 2017 championship really began in the 2012-13 season. After the Kendall Marshall injury that caused the 2011-12 team to fall earlier than expected, Marshall was one of several Tar Heels to leave early for the NBA.

That caused incoming freshman Marcus Paige to be given the starting point guard job earlier than expected. After a pair of second round losses in Paige and Brice Johnson’s first two seasons, a recruiting class that included Joel Berry, Justin Jackson, and Theo Pinson enrolled. That season ended in a Sweet 16 loss to Wisconsin.

Carolina came into the 2015-16 season as the preseason number #1 ranked team. They got a #1 seed in the tournament, and made it to the championship game. Of course they fell behind by ten, staged an incredible comeback to tie the game on Paige’s three. You remember what happened after that.

Carolina did not get a #1 vote in the preseason AP poll for this season. They lost Paige and Johnson. Several other big name schools brought in loaded recruiting classes. By most people’s expectations, the Tar Heels were going to be good but maybe not national championship good.

Then the season started. Justin Jackson turned in the ACC Player of the Year. Kennedy Meeks emerged as the rebounding machine that showed up in the tournament. Everyone on the team stepped up at some point along the way. It was a team that had redemption on their mind. And they got it. The pain of 2016 will never be forgotten, but it hurts a lot less now.

All three of Roy Williams’ titles have been the culmination of memorable eras in North Carolina basketball. National championships don’t come around often. It’s the years that don’t end in titles that make the ones that do all the more sweeter.