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March 18, 2013

NCAA BASKETBALL (MARCH MADNESS): 'That's 1 MILLION times bigger than 9 TRILLION!'

(Continued)

DON'T BE A STRANGER

From the opening tip of the play-in games until the sound of "One Shining Moment" is blaring in the background as confetti falls on the newly crowned champion, we will be told over and over how each and every tournament game is freighted with emotion.

But if top-seeded Kansas and North Carolina both win their first games, and wind up colliding in the second round at Kansas City's Sprint Arena, well, you'll probably see Tar Heels coach Roy Williams fined for carrying excessive baggage.

Williams' ties to both schools are wrenching. He was born in in North Carolina, played briefly there, and worked under legendary coach Dean Smith as an assistant. Then he went to Kansas and made his reputation as one of the best in the game by winning almost everything in sight — Williams still has more wins in Kansas City than any other active coach, including current Jayhawks coach, Bill Self — except the national title. He had to go back to UNC to do that.

It's not that Williams didn't try at Kansas. He came achingly close to winning it all — four Final Four appearances there between 1988-2003, including a runner-up finish in his final season. But as that gap in his resume widened to become a sinkhole, Williams masked his competitive streak behind a series of stunts he said were designed to change his luck.

Once, he stopped the team bus so he could spit in the Mississippi River on the way to a Final Four. Another time, he patted the gravestone of Dr. James Naismith, Kansas' first coach and the man credited with inventing basketball. Other times, he brought a stuffed monkey to meetings and told the players to feel free to knock it off his back. None of it worked.

Yet he has nothing but good memories about his stay there, occasionally turning up in the crowd to pull for the Jayhawks when they play somebody else. Wonder if he'll feel the same way if Kansas — which beat his Tar Heels in the 2008 Final Four and again last March in the regional finals — pull off the trifecta this time around.

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