CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – North Carolina is back in the Final Four, reaching the final round in Houston after what have been some trying years on the Chapel Hill campus.
UNC remains under investigation from the NCAA and the school could face sanctions, although the Wainstein Report did not implicate the men’s basketball program.
Asked how that has impacted Carolina this season, Coach Roy Williams said Monday, “It’s different what we’ve had to go through. There were mistakes made – we’re sad about that.”
But, Williams said, the team has put that aside as the season has unfolded.
“These kids trusted us and believed in us,” Williams said.
As for Williams, he said he didn’t feel the success this season has “validated” the program or him as a coach.
“It doesn’t validate anything. I don’t think my integrity was in need of validation. But it’s been a tough time,” he said.
He said his deep ties to Carolina – where he and his wife went to school – made the NCAA investigation more difficult.
“It’s not just a work place for me,” he said. “It’s painful. It’s been hurtful.”
Senior guard Marcus Paige and senior forward Brice Johnson also said this season has been particularly rewarding.
“There’s been a lot of stuff I never could have anticipated happening,” Paige said. He added, “To go through the ups and downs has made us even stronger and makes this even more rewarding.”
“It definitely makes it more special after what we’ve been through the last four years and all the scrutiny we’ve gone through,” Johnson said. “Now we can just talk about going to the Final and forget about the other stuff.”
Williams believes the success of his team, led by seniors Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, will be the primary story as the Tar Heels move into the national spotlight.
“I’m hopeful that that will be the story down there,” Williams said.
He is also wants his team to do more than just enjoy the trip. Carolina has won two national titles under Williams and is the only No. 1 seed remaining in the tournament.
After his team won the East Region, he reminded the Tar Heels of something one of his former players at Swannanoa Owen High School, Porky Spencer, once said.
Williams quoted Spencer as saying, “I didn’t come this far just to get this far.”
Williams told the team, “That’s the way I feel, I hope that’s the way you feel.”
Once in Houston, the games will be at the massive NRG Stadium, the home of the Houston Texans. The stadium seats 72,000 for football games.
Asked about playing on such a big stage, Williams quipped, “I haven’t thought about it at all. How big is it?”
But then he reminded reporters that his 2009 team won the national title at Ford Field in Detroit.
“It was pretty big, too,” he said. “You are still playing on the same court.”