When the University of North Carolina men’s basketball team rolled into San Antonio for the 2008 Final Four, many still questioned whether or not Coach Williams could win the big one with his own players. They rolled out with a train wreck of a defeat at the hands of eventual champion Kansas. The loss was embarrassing and humiliating for the entire program. They trailed the entire game (most of the way by double digits), and the Tar Heels, who were picked by many to win the tournament, were left devastated by the loss, and questioned what the future held for the team.
The following two months the team went through a little turmoil. Three of its stars, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, and Danny Green put their name into the hat for the NBA Draft, although none would hire agents. Lawson was arrested and charged with a DUI, and Coach Williams still had that question lingering over his head. It appeared to be unraveling right before Williams’ eyes.
Then it all started to come together. All three of the UNC stars decided to come back for one more run. Three freshmen coming in, Tyler Zeller, Larry Drew, and Ed Davis were McDonald’s All-Americans. All of a sudden the Tar Heels were beginning to show signs of being capable of one more tournament run, and the possibility of answering the question for Coach Williams was becoming a reality.
When the season began UNC was a unanimous No.1 in the pre-season polls. They had quite possibly the best point guard in the nation in Ty Lawson, the returning Naismith winner Tyler Hansbrough, and a star-studded cast loaded with juniors and seniors throughout the starting line-up. They did have Coach Williams however, and the lingering question of "can he get it done?"
The team opened up with dominance in the Maui Invitational. The tournament included a 102-87 win over top 10 ranked Notre Dame. Later they traveled to Detroit where they completely took apart the Michigan State Spartans in their own backyard. The 98-63 final started the talk of this team going undefeated.
The start of the season wasn’t all cookies and cream however. Senior forward Marcus Ginyard became sidelined with a foot injury, and it didn't seem to get any better. Tyler Hansbrough missed four games due to a stress reaction in his shin. Freshman center Tyler Zeller suffered a broken wrist and was looking to be gone for the season.
The start of the ACC season showed that the team troubles were beginning to show on the court. The once-invincible Tar Heels started out 0-2 in ACC play, including a humiliating 85-78 loss to Boston College in Chapel Hill. The question once again started to show its ugly head.
The team fought through it though, sweeping arch rival Duke, winning the ACC regular season crown, and fighting their way back to No.1 seed status going into the NCAA tournament. Then came the toe. Quite possibly the most valuable player on the team, Ty Lawson, had a banged up toe that would not get better. So the question re-surfaced.
The Tar Heels got healthy, they got confident, they got coached. The UNC Tar Heels rolled through the tournament like a commuter train rolling through the sticks. Finishing with an 89-72 National Championship victory over Michigan State in Detroit, redemption was served, and the question got answered.
We sometimes buy into ideas that people give us concerning whether or not coaches can get a certain job done. The critics speak loudly and clearly as they unravel every minor detail when breaking down a coach. There are times when a coach will let his team do the talking on the court, and Coach Williams and the 2008-09 University of North Carolina Tar Heels let their voices echo off mountains, and in that same moment nothing but silence is heard coming from the critics.