Bill Self, left, left Illinois abruptly to coach Kansas where Roy Williams once worked the sidelines before departing, abruptly, to go to North Carolina. Guard Brandon Rush leads methodical Kansas into tonight's semifinal game against North Carolina. Forward Tyler Hansbrough leads run-and-gun North Carolina into tonight's semifinal game against Kansas.
SAN ANTONIO - Dan Barker had three heroes.
"My dad, my grandpa and Roy Williams," he said yesterday as he carried nachos to his seat at the Alamodome.
These days, though, he only has two.
"Roy Williams dropped pretty far off the list when he left," said Barker, a die-hard Kansas fan in search of a certain measure of revenge in tonight's Final Four meeting against the Tar Heels.
True, it's been five years since Williams shocked the Jayhawk state with his abrupt departure for North Carolina. And Kansas is faring just fine, thank you.
But to say Jayhawks fans are "over it," or that this is just another game - well, that's not quite accurate, either.
"If we lose this game, then one single man will never have inflicted so much pain on me as Roy Williams," said Barker, who wore a "Believe In Self" T-shirt and didn't even bother packing his "Benedict Williams" shirt, the likes of which were so popular back in 2003.
For his part, Williams says all the right things, talks about how his favorite schools are 1) North Carolina and 2) Kansas and that he was honored to have been given a chance to lead the Jayhawks for 15 years. How he still has friends in Kansas.
He also knows there's lingering bitterness.
"To me, if I go out there, and 37 people throw tomatoes at me, that will bother me a little bit," Williams said.
They didn't, not in yesterday's practice, at least.
"The fact that some people will say some things or do some things, that hurts," he said. "There's no question. If you see a bathroom, and instead of saying 'Men's Room,' it says 'Roy's Room,' that doesn't make you feel good. Let's be honest. If somebody puts your picture up over the commode, that doesn't make you feel good."
Kansas fans will never forget Williams' famous utterance five years ago, in the heat of the moment during a live TV interview after the Jayhawks lost to Syracuse in the national finals: "I could give a [bleep] about North Carolina right now," he said.
Two weeks later, he was wearing Carolina blue.
"I fully understand it's a business," said Kansas alum Ryan Johnson, who came to San Antonio in search of tickets for tonight's game. "It's their lives, and they can't depend upon the opinion of a fanatic to make the decisions for them."
But the way he did it. Well, that still rankles.
"When they offered him the job in 2000, and he said no, he said no because he didn't want to leave KU," Johnson recalls. "When they came calling again in '03, I think he looked at the KU bench, saw mediocre players, and looked at the North Carolina bench and saw McCants, May and Felton. That's why he left. He made a big to-do about going home. Well, if it was that big a deal, why didn't he go home when they originally asked him?"
Other fans, less critical, believe Williams left for only one reason: His bad relationship with athletic director Al Bohl, the one-time University of Toledo AD who replaced Williams' longtime friend, Bob Frederick, in 2001.
"I'll always be grateful for having Roy coach at my school," said Andy Brandt, a trainer for the 1971 Kansas team that went to the Final Four. "You know, Larry Brown led us to a national title in 1988, but we weren't really considered a 'national' program at that point. Roy took us to the next level. He made us a national program. That says a lot."
Now, any true KU fan also will acknowledge the coach who replaced Williams, Bill Self, pulled a somewhat similar stunt with Illinois, jilting the Illini to coach the Jayhawks.
Similar, but not exactly the same, says Johnson, who lives in Chicago.
"I'd say Illinois fans probably hate Bill Self as much as Kansas people hate Roy Williams," Johnson said. "But there's a difference. Roy Williams left the cupboard empty. Bill Self left the cupboard full."
Indeed, Illinois was in the national title game two years later.
Another irony of this year's game is that it comes amid speculation that Self might, himself, bolt Kansas after the season to return to his alma mater, Oklahoma State. The Cowboys don't have half the tradition of KU, but do have a very wealthy donor in Boone Pickens, who can make lots of things happen.
Self reiterated what he said Thursday when the OSU job came open - that he plans on meeting with Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins after the Final Four to discuss an extension.
"I hope Lew is talking about something in that regard as opposed to, you know, where we're going to play golf," Self said.
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