“Crazy thing is I looked up at the score while we were all celebrating. It was 71-65. In 1991, before these guys were even born, I think I lost the national championship game to Duke, 72-65. So it's a lot sweeter tonight to say the least. But I have nothing but great things to say about Mark Few and the Gonzaga team. They had an unbelievable year. But we made some plays down the stretch. There's nobody in coaching that I have more respect for than Mark. He's a young man that I tried to talk with and to. We've enjoyed each other's company and watching them on tape and looking at the stat columns and how they were significantly better than us in several categories. But they had a great, great run.
“I told the guys in the locker room, 2005, when Sean May was playing, the team that we beat in the national championship game was 37-1. And that was Illinois. And tonight we got Gonzaga when they were 37-1. So for us it's a fantastic feeling. At half I was really mad because we didn't handle the clock very well at the end of the first half. And I thought we weren't very intelligent. And I do think we are a smart team.
“I jumped on them at the first of the half and I told the staff I was going to, but I was going to try to give them something at the end. And I tried to be more positive and I told them, last year we were ahead at halftime and the other team came out more focused than we did. So it was our job to come out more focused than Gonzaga. We got off to a good start, and it goes back and forth, and with three minutes to play we have the timeout. I think it was 3:08, I'm not sure. And I said if you would have told us that we were going to be in this situation the first day of school, meeting at my house, we would have all taken it. And that's all Roy Williams did. I didn't do one other dadgum thing.
“But these guys made big-time plays. Theo was all over the board getting loose balls. Joel made a couple of big baskets. Isaiah, my boy has been struggling like a dog, but tonight he looked like a greyhound there a couple of times there a couple times there at the end. Told him this morning, your last high school game you won the state championship. And he had like 34 points, 30 rebounds. I told him I would take that tonight. He didn't really give that to us, but he was big for us and made a couple of big, big baskets down the stretch.
“At the end, when you're watching your kids jump around and the excitement, the thrill they have, there's no better feeling in the world as a coach. Thank you.”
Isaiah, how did you avoid losing your confidence, given the struggles you went through and just make yourself still be ready to make the plays at the end here?
ISAIAH HICKS: “Everybody still had faith in me. Everybody was always encouraging me. I felt like I was always trying. I feel like, when you try, good thing is eventually going to happen. That's all I was doing.”
Joel, you've had the ankle problems, and you said you weren't getting lift on your jumper. Did you make any adjustments tonight, or was it just gritting it out and making shots?
JOEL BERRY II: “Yeah, I think it was a little just gritting it out. But I said that when I came -- when we were done with warm-ups, I was running to the bench and we do our regular handshakes with our coaches. And I ran by Coach and he told me, just use your legs. And every time I took a jump shot I just tried to use my legs and some of them were short. But the ones that we needed went in.”
ISAIAH HICKS: “That's all that matters.”
JOEL BERRY II: “Yeah, that's all that matters. So it was a little bit of myself and then just my coaches and my teammates helping me out.”
Theo, Joel, Isaiah, I'm guessing, Theo, you're going to change your screen saver now on your computer. But could you talk about the three of you when the moment came, when you knew you had won, when it was over and you knew you were national champions. Especially after last year, what was going through your heart and mind?
THEO PINSON: “Yeah, definitely going to change my screen saver on my phone now. I can do that. I don't think anybody can really explain that feeling. I mean, I know, I pretty much -- everybody that was on the floor was tearing up with those seven seconds left. It was so hard to keep yourself together because you knew you were that close. And it's a feeling that you will never forget, just seeing everybody on the team just so excited that we were finally here in this moment. We did it. And that's something I'll never forget. And I love these guys to death.”
JOEL BERRY II: “Yeah. When Kennedy blocked that shot and I grabbed the ball and threw it to Justin, I immediately almost started crying. And then we got, Kennedy got another steal and I went and found the ball and I got fouled. And we were just sitting there. I don't know why, but all of a sudden the ref came up to me and said, your coach wants to know if you want a timeout, and I said yes.
“And I went up to Coach and I just hugged him. I told him, I'm about to cry. And he just told me, you know what, just go out there and knock your free throws in. And I know I missed the first one. But I tried to focus in on that second one. But, I mean, it's just an unbelievable feeling. And this is what we worked for. And the ups and downs that we've had? It's all worth it. And I can't even describe my feeling right now, but I am just glad that I was able to do something with this team, because I felt like just the personality and what we went through and I think we just deserved it.”
ISAIAH HICKS: “Once I seen Kennedy block the shot, you know, we was only up, I think, by five. You know, the play was still going, I had my hands in the air, tearing, I really couldn't see nothing. Then next thing you know, I see Kennedy steal it and I think I almost lost it. It's just the way to go out as a senior, knowing this is my last college game no matter what. And, you know, it's a complete 180 from last year. I feel like this is where, you know, what we worked for. It's finally here. It's hard to describe it. It's so surreal. And I had to pinch myself one time. Couldn't believe it.”
Isaiah, you and Kennedy both were playing with four fouls for a large chunk of the end of the second half. How difficult was that? And how much did that affect the flow and the pace of the game for you guys?
ISAIAH HICKS: “It didn't affect nothing for me. I know when I picked up my third, I looked at Coach and gave him a thumbs up, like, I'm good. Just leave me in. I don't know if people remember that.”
COACH WILLIAMS: “I listened to him. I left him in.”
ISAIAH HICKS: “I felt like I was going to do the right things. I felt like I didn't want to come out. And I wasn't going to miss this chance with these guys. I felt like when I was out there I was doing everything I can, just playing smart.”
Joel, or any of you, really, you guys obviously, it's been discussed all week, you know what it's like to be in that other locker room that Gonzaga's in right now. Late in the game, was there ever that tangible moment where you guys looked at each other verbally, nonverbally, and basically said we're not going to let that happen again? I'm just curious because it was such a close game down the stretch and you know, obviously, what it's like to be in Gonzaga's shoes right now?
JOEL BERRY II: “I think we had, like, a media timeout or something, and one of our assistant coaches, Coach Rob, just said, remember that moment and how we felt last year. And we don't want that again. So we just gotta give it our all. And that's the moment where we locked in. And we went out there and just gave it our all, literally. And we were able to come out with the win.”
Do you know which media timeout that was?
THEO PINSON: “It was, like, 3:05.”
JOEL BERRY II: “Yeah, three minutes left, yeah.”
When you guys, last year, saw Marcus Paige's shot go in with 4.7 seconds left and that emotion was going through, can you compare and contrast the differences between that moment, and then when you had the timeout with seven seconds left?
THEO PINSON: We had five more seconds --
ISAIAH HICKS: “It was 4.6 wasn't it? Hold up. First of all Marcus' shot was to tie the game. So we knew that was going to go to overtime. And with that shot, felt like we had the momentum and everything. This time, you know, we was up. And Joel was at the free-throw line. We knew at this moment we had it done. And that feeling, you know, is just something else.”
THEO PINSON: “No, he covered it all. I mean, it was a tie game after that. And we knew we had -- it would have been overtime and we still would have had to play. This time we were up. We knew if we got stops, we were going to win the game. So it was completely different.”
Joel, your ankle for the last couple of games, I just want to know, like, I cry with one sprained ankle and you're giving your all every single night with two sprained ankles. As a leader of this team, like what does that mean to you? And what does it mean to just give that 100 percent regardless of whatever pain you're feeling for this team?
JOEL BERRY II: “Yeah. My trainers were coming up to me constantly: Are you okay? Are you okay? We need to come down and do rehab. Take this up to your room. Do that. Do that. And I just kept on telling myself: Look, just a couple more weeks. Just give it your all. And so it was times where I saw Theo going back to his room and he's, like, I'm not even going to get me a nap. And I'm, like, I gotta go down to the pool.
“So it was a lot of rehabbing and a lot of just sacrificing my time. But I'm always about team. And I didn't put myself first. I put the team first. And I did whatever I could to be able to be at 100 percent, because I mean everyone would like to play at 100 percent. But I think the difference with me is that I have heart and I have will to do whatever it takes to be able to get out there and compete with my guys.
“And we said that from last year we were going to just give it our all throughout the whole season and get back to where we wanted to be. And that's what I did. And that, just throughout that whole time the last couple of weeks, that's just played throughout my head, just give it your all, fight for your team, and just go out there and complete for your brothers. They're like family to me. And that's all I did. And I was able to put my pain aside and just think about them first.”
Roy, I know they're all sweet, but because of how last year's ended, does this one feel any differently?
COACH WILLIAMS: :You know, I think it does. They're all, as you said, they're all really sweet. I mean, 351 teams start thinking that maybe we could do that. Some of them more realistic than others, but even the ones that have no chance, they think of that moment. So they're all extremely special. I've been very, very lucky.
“But I'd say this one is probably more special because it's been a journey for the last three or four years of trying to do something, trying to do something, trying to do something. The tough thing is it doesn't make Marcus, Brice and Joel feel any better. So that's the thing that I'm going to have for a long time. As I said yesterday, whenever it was, the feeling of inadequacy in the locker room last year is the worst feeling I've ever had.
“But, yes, this one's fantastic. And it's sweet. Oh, jeez, I'm going to get another reprimand from the tournament committee because I've got a dadgum bottle up here that's not supposed to be here. I do have a letter in my file because I had a Coca Cola in here one night. I should have kept it and said, I got the trophy; you can have the damn letter of reprimand.”
You alluded to it a little bit the last three, four years, what it's been like for you. What has it been like to you? And what does this mean to you because of everything you've had to go through?
COACH WILLIAMS: “I wish it got no attention here, because this should be about the kids. I wish it got no attention. But I know it's out there. But the last three or four years have been very hard. I told you, people have questioned my integrity, and that means more to me than anything. I know that we did nothing wrong. I know that I did nothing wrong. I've been investigated 77 times, it seems like. And everybody came to that conclusion. But there were some mistakes made at my university that I'm not happy about either.
“But there's also, it always says for little or no work, and that's not true, or that for classes that weren't classes, and that's not -- they were taught differently. And whether I approve of it or not it makes no difference. But it's been there. It's been harder to recruit. We've lost about everybody that we tried because the sensationalism of the newspapers. I mean, I had to start defending myself four years ago. And I used to say that I hoped that it was over with before I retired. Now I'm saying I hope it's over with before I die. So I'm not that happy about that part of it.
“But your question yesterday whenever it was, there's nothing good about this. Because I didn't understand the question. There's nothing that this has caused guys to stay. I mean, they stayed because they trusted us. They stayed because they loved the University of North Carolina. We didn't get a lot of guys we wanted to get. But you know what? We played on the last Monday night last year and we got beat because another team made a better play. We played on the last Monday night this year. And to me that's a great deal of credit goes to those kids, because they realized they did nothing wrong. I think it was Dennis that asked the question last night, but the rules are that we were playing. Whenever the decision is made and whatever they do, everybody's gotta live with.
“But this team that I had last year and this year's had nothing to do with that. And the things that have been put in the paper have been very harmful and very hurtful. But that's what it is. Let's please, I'm not telling you what questions to ask. I'll answer any dadgum question you want. But please I would like you try to focus on what with these kids have accomplished instead of something that somebody did 24 years ago.”
How difficult was it in terms of game flow and game plan with all the fouls in the second half?
COACH WILLIAMS: “I don't know what Mark said, but it was an ugly game. I mean, I don't think either team played exceptionally well offensively. The second half, they shoot 27 percent and we shoot 35 for the game. So I don't think either team ever got in a real good flow. The fouls were part of it. But just the bigness -- that's a terrible way to say it. My wife's an English teacher. But the game is so big that you get so hyped up, you have to control your emotions and be able to play within yourself. Justin Jackson's 0-for-9 from the 3-point line and he rushed so many of them.
“In a normal game he may not have done that. So I think it was the magnitude of the game had a lot to do with it and the defenses on both ends, on both teams, I think had something to do with it. I'm just happy we're not talking about a 3-point attempt that was ruled we touched and it went out of bounds and they made the 3. I'm just glad we're not talking about that.”
What do you think of what Joel was able to do with the ankle problems and again coming off of that game he had in the semis, and what has he meant to this team?
COACH WILLIAMS: “You know, he really has a great deal of toughness. I mean, after the game Saturday, his knee -- it was swollen Saturday night. And the trainer said it got a lot more puffy. He's been in the pool, hot tub, cold tub. They've been massaging it, doing everything they can possibly do, four and five times a day.
“But the games are going to be played. We can't get a delay and say we're not ready. You gotta play. And his toughness, I think, everybody on our club picked up on that. I think it was important to everybody. He's a shooting point guard. And tonight he was 4-for-14, but the last three weeks since he had the sprained ankles he shot a terrible percentage. But he was well over 40 at one point this year. It's limited what he does very well in a game. But he still competed. I look down here: Six assists, one turnover, 22 points, that was an amazing game.”
You talked about the rhythm and the pace. When those things are sucked out because of the constant whistles, how do you keep your composure, and how do you go about coaching when the officials do get a little too involved?
“I don't know that they got too involved. I was just really upset and disappointed in the one call. But that's basketball. It's a very difficult game to call. I'm sitting over there, I'm not thinking the officials are doing a terrible job. I swear to goodness, that's not what I'm thinking. I'm thinking our offense stinks. “I mean, serious. I told them don't worry about what the referee is doing, he missed a call, but, my God, we missed four free throws in a row, missed layups. So we were at fault just as much as anybody else. But it was an ugly game because two teams really wanted it badly and the other team wasn't going to allow them to have easy things. That's what I think it was.”
On Tuesday before you guys left, you said that once the game clock starts, experience goes out the window. But you have 10 players who returned from last year. Do you think at this point, does your stance change on that experience at all?
COACH WILLIAMS: “You know, Joel went to the line, missed two free throws; Kennedy went to the line, missed two free throws, because of the magnitude of the game, and we were in it last year. They shot a little bit better from free-throw line than we did. And they didn't play it last year. I do believe, when it got inside the three-minute mark and I challenged them about, we've got to play right now, I think our experience, not just of last year, though, but our experience against Arkansas, our experience against Kentucky, our experience in the Butler game, I thought all those things really helped this team much more so than the memory of last year.
“And I wanted to give them something positive when we left the locker room, and that's the reason why I told them we were way ahead, not way ahead, but we were up five at halftime and the other team came out, played harder, and won the game.”
You mentioned that you told the players during halftime, to remind them of the score of last year's game and to tell them not to settle. What other things did you tell them to keep them motivated and were able to come out in the second half and perform the way they did?
COACH WILLIAMS: “I spent most of my time yelling at them, because I didn't like the way we finished the first half. But I think you can do all that, and it's coaching. But then try to give them something to latch on to in a positive way. So that's the reason why I gave them that. But I told them we can play a lot better. And I believed we could. I still believe we can play a lot better. We have to give Gonzaga credit, too. But I think that gives halftime talks too much credit. And I'm just being straightforward. “Somebody's asked me before: What did you tell them at halftime? I said, I told them the same thing I told them three weeks when we got by 50 or whatever it was. I just tried to put some positive thoughts in their minds coming out the start of the second half.”
You may have answered this, but Stilman said at the three-minute timeout, you just basically told them: We're going to win this game. What's the difference in that last three minutes, what did your team do?
COACH WILLIAMS: “Isaiah made, I think, I don't have the stat -- I have a stat sheet but I don't have play-by-play. Things have been swirling around. But I think Isaiah made two big baskets in the last three minutes. And I think that that was just a youngster willing the ball in the hole, because he had stunk it up for the last couple of weeks most of the time.
“And then we got up three, and then we got a great stop, and then all of a sudden goes from three to five quickly because on the steal -- puts it down. I was mad at Justin for hanging on the rim so long, I wanted him to get back. And then Kennedy comes over and wants to hug me, and I said, "Finish it." That kind of thing. It really is -- my memory, I usually remember every play. And I'm sort of screwing it up right now.”
You said, I guess, on Friday that you'd give an honest answer on Monday about going to the White House and going to see President Trump if you won. Now that you're here, I'm curious, can't jinx yourself. So what your thoughts are.
COACH WILLIAMS: “I haven't had any. I probably screwed it up. I should have told you let me think about it afterwards, because I wasn't going to jinx myself. We won in '05; we never got invited. I don't know if we're going to get invited this time. That's a bad way to put it. They invited us in September when they were doing a lot of teams. Well, all my team were already at the NBA training camp and two of them in Europe. So we didn't go in '05. And we did go in '09.
“But, you know, the office of the presidency of the United States is the most fantastic place you can be. But let me think on it. Again, I don't know that we're going to get invited. I really don't. But I know one thing, we're putting up a nice banner in the Smith Center that's hard to get.”
Speaking of Dean, you were asked about this outside, that now you have one more title than he does, three since 2005. I know you're not big on legacy, but what do you think this does do for you?
COACH WILLIAMS: “You know, Jimmy told me yesterday he was going to ask me that question. I almost got emotional. I really -- I don't think Roy Williams should ever be put in the same sentence with Dean Smith, I really don't. I think Coach was the best there's ever been on the court. And he was an even better person. And so it's a little staggering.
“When I looked up at one of the boards tonight and saw those guys, they had more titles than our North Carolina teams had, not Roy Williams, because I don't like it that way, but that was a little emotional for a second. But I really -- I don't know what to say. I mean, because that is -- I'm very, very lucky. I'm doing what I've always wanted to do is to coach kids and trying to get them to have a common goal and make sacrifices. And it's number three. But they've all been fantastic, and I've been very fortunate.”
You had talked so much about your relationship with Coach Few. You've had a lot of these, been on the other end of some of these, especially the last year. And I know it's tough after the game to really say much, but did you say anything to him, share a moment that maybe you could share with us?
COACH WILLIAMS: “You know, he's a really good friend. I mean, one of the funniest looks I've ever seen was we have a private plane and I had given him a ride, and we go from Vegas to Orlando to see another recruit, and the door seal has a leak. And it starts whistling the most shrill, uncomfortable feeling you've ever seen. And he's sitting there like this, his hands in his ears, saying: Why did I follow Roy Williams in this plane? But we got through it okay and the whole bit.
“But we've had some good times together. And I've coached against Jerod Haase, and I've coached against Dean Smith and coached against Mark Turgeon. Almost never saw Mark during the game tonight, because I don't focus on the other coach. But as I started to walk down there, we're jumping around, and I realized that I hadn't shook his hand.
“And I started down there, and it was the same kind of feeling I had when I coached against those guys that I've either coached or been my assistant. And I told him: I was sorry that it had to be against you. I know how you feel. And it was almost emotional because I do respect the youngster so, so much. And he calls me his mentor or one of his mentors, and that's a pretty damn neat thing.”