Dec. 3, 2003
You can feel it -- North Carolina is enjoying the start of something big with the Roy Williams era.
When Williams took over the Tar Heels program in Chapel Hill last spring, you knew he would set a special tone. After watching North Carolina beat Illinois 88-81 Tuesday night -- I was broadcasting the game as part of ESPN's coverage of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge -- it's clear UNC is back where it belongs.
Williams is cultivating a sense of pride as he tries to get the Tar Heels back to the NCAA Tournament. He has a great passion for the game and for coaching. He had a sensational mentor as an assistant under North Carolina legend Dean Smith, and then he experienced tremendous success as the head coach at Kansas (leading the Jayhawks to the past two Final Fours).
North Carolina fans wanted something to be excited about, and now they have it. The Tar Heels program should be a staple in the top 10, competing for ACC titles and national championships. That's where the fans are accustomed to seeing it.
North Carolina fans wanted something to be excited about, and now they have it.
There have been lots of positive signs in a short time. Sophomore guard Rashad McCants is starting to learn good shot selection. He has so much talent and ability -- it's up to him whether he makes the commitment to the work ethic needed to improve further.
Sophomore Raymond Felton is already one of the elite point guards in America, and he stepped up to the plate to challenge fellow sophomore Dee Brown, the Illini's star point guard. I felt Felton set the tone by keeping Brown in check Tuesday night, shutting down the engine that keys the Illini. We didn't see the real Mr. Brown because Felton kept him under control.
North Carolina (4-0) earned the big win over Illinois (3-1) with that kind of defensive effort.
Sophomore big man Sean May is a marvelous all-around player. He's so important because he gives the Tar Heels a post presence, something sorely missed when he was injured most of last season. North Carolina is a different team with him in the lineup.
For a big space-eater, May is a great passer. He comes from winning stock -- his dad, Scott, was a member of Indiana's 1976 unbeaten national championship team.
Junior forward Jawad Williams is one of the most underrated players in America. He fought through a hip pointer to help the Tar Heels get to the winner's circle.
North Carolina's starting five is as good as any in America. The question for coach Williams is depth. If there are injuries, this could become a major issue.
Give the Tar Heels plenty of credit. They beat a good Illinois squad that loves to go up and down the court. Coach Bruce Weber should enjoy a solid first season in Champaign.
The future appears to be bright for the Tar Heels. It was bright on Tuesday night.
Click here to send a question for Dick Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.