WILMINGTON - When Pat Sullivan's name is mentioned, few people stop to reflect on moments of brilliance on the basketball court. They don't think of slam dunks, behind the back passes, clutch three pointers or memorable steals. But when Sullivan's name does arise – assuming those folks know college basketball history – thoughts of the Final Four embrace the mind.
Sullivan came to UNC in the fall of 1990 as part of what was originally considered the first Fab Five recruiting class. Along with Derrick Phelps, Brian Reese, Eric Montross and Clifford Rozier - who later transferred to Louisville - Sullivan and the Tar Heels experienced tremendous success in Chapel Hill. That success, however, continued as the Bogota, N.J. native was a part of Carolina's basketball staff first as an administrator and then an assistant coach. Only two people ever associated with Carolina basketball as a player and or coach have earned more Final Four rings (six) than Sullivan, and their names are Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge.
Sullivan, who won a national title in 1993 as a player, went to three Final Fours as a player: In 1991 as a freshman, 1993 when the Heels won the national championship as a junior and in 1995 after a redshirt year. He was also the video coordinator in 1997 when the Heels went to the Final Four in Smith's last season as head coach and in 1998 and 2000 as an assistant under Guthridge.
Sullivan was hired in August to assist UNC-Wilmington women's basketball coach - and an assistant with the 1994 UNC national championship team - Ann Hancock.
The following is a transcript of a recent interview Sullivan did with my show, the SportsWAAV, on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington.
AJ – Talk about the biggest difference from coaching men and women.
PS – Right now the biggest difference for me is going from a high major program like the University of North Carolina, where I was coaching future NBA stars like Joseph Forte and Brendan Haywood and even guys like Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison, is that the game is so much more athletic and faster and so much more above the rim where as this pace is a lot slower and played below the rim. But I'm really impressed with the skill level but more so with the women because that is all they can lean on with their skill level because they aren't at the point now where they can go up and catch alley oops yet.
AJ – Do the women have to rely on the fundamentals more where the fundamentals can get lost in the men's game with the dunking and leaping?
PS – Absolutely, I think that is a very good point. Not that the men don't have any fundamentals at all it's just that with the men you can make a great play and go to the basket but because they are so unbelievable athletic they can just wipe the ball from the basket. The women are so fundamental where if they make a move chances are they're gonna get a basket because it was such a great fundamental move.
AJ – Talk about the relationship with coach Hancock.
PS – It's a neat story actually. Dave Hanners who played at North Carolina back in the 1970's and was an assistant coach at UNC when I was there, he and Ann dated for a while and that's how I met Ann and we played a bunch of golf and going out to eat and things like that and coach Hanners, who is with the Philadelphia 76ers with coach (Larry) Brown, he called me back in August and said that Ann was looking for and assistant coach and it really worked out well because of the relationship that I had with her back in Chapel Hill and that she is a great young head coach and that she helped guide a team to a championship back in '94 with coach (Sylvia) Hatchel in Chapel Hill.
AJ – You just rattled off a bunch of UNC names, is it tough keeping up with the family tree? Do you keep a diagram of the UNC family with you? Do you know where most Tar Heels are and what they are doing?
PS – Most likely. I was e-mailing Kevin Salvadori yesterday. I keep up with Brian Reese all the time. I was in touch with Buzz Peterson last week.
AJ – What's Salvadori doing these days?
PS – He just got released by the Celtics. He was with Boston over the summer and will probably end up going overseas and that is a touchy subject with everything (Sept. 11) that has transpired. But he played in China last year but he's gonna bounce around for another two or three years. But he still wants to play, he still has that itch but I am not sure what he is gonna get into after he is finished playing.
AJ - What about Brian Reese?
PS – He is up in New York City. He is a director for a park and recreation program up in the Bronx. Kind of violence prevention, after school programs, summer leagues, still kind of involved in basketball, academics and violence prevention up there.
AJ – Back to UNCW. How does a program compete with one like Old Dominion that has not only dominated the CAA but been a national power as well?
PS – For me its more that I am kind of at the opposite spectrum when I was at UNC because so many teams were trying to get where we are and ODU is in the same situation. It is kind of a tough situation for everybody knowing that everybody else is going into conference play knowing you are playing for second. If we just continue to have a good showing in the league and perform well I think that will increase our recruiting base, which is what we need to do. And the more we do the more kids we can get interested in coming here to Wilmington and to the beach.
AJ – Having someone with your credentials should help out.
PS – I certainly hope so and that is one of the big reasons why I came down here. I do have some good ties in this state and this state has been really good to me. And this community is a really good community and if you have a successful team this community will support you, just like on the UNCW men's side where coach (Jerry) Wainwright has done a really good job.
AJ – What are the goals for this team?
PS – At North Carolina, and I know a lot of people felt North Carolina would have a Final Four team or championship team, but one thing coach Smith or coach Guthridge did for us as a team, or when I was coaching there was that we only talked about making the NCAA Tournament. That was pretty much the only thing we talked about because we thought that was a reasonable goal. Here it is more if we play hard, smart and together, those things will take care of itself and that if we give the effort night in and night out and play unselfishly and do the things that coach Hancock wants the kids to do, the wins and losses will take care of itself.
AJ – You have coached and been around so many great Tar Heels. What kind of pro player do you think Forte will be?
PS – I think Joseph is going to be a very good pro. Like a lot of kids going out it is so hard to turn down the money and another year in college wouldn't have hurt him at all, but I think he is going to be a great pro because he has an ability to score off the dribble that a lot of people don't have. But he needs to be a more consistent outside shooter off the catch. But he has a great knack to put the ball on the floor and hit the mid-range jumper and is a much better defender than a lot of people think.
AJ – What was it like in Bogota, N.J. being recruited by Dean Smith?
PS – It was really a big surprise to me. I grew up watching Michael Jordan and you saw those games on NBC and Carolina was always on TV. And I just always dreamed about playing for Carolina. I grew up watching St. John's and loved Chris Mullen but for some reason I just loved Carolina and the way they played and it seemed appealing to me. And believe it or not I never thought they'd recruit me. But I guess I played pretty well and thank God for Derrick Phelps because we were on a team at the Nike All-American camp and they just came to show their interest in Derrick and he (Smith) saw me and liked me and the rest is history.
AJ – And you were a part of that great recruiting class at UNC, which was one of the first super classes. Tell us about that legendary practice where coach Smith had you guys play the veterans.
PS – They called us the Fab Five before the Michigan Fab Five, which was the next year. I'll never forget that scrimmage. Coach Smith split the teams up pretty even for the first couple of practices and I'll never forget he had his annual coaches clinic and there were probably 500 or 600 coaches in attendance and all of the sudden and it was time for a scrimmage and he brought the starting team and said (we) were going to play the starters and we thought this was going to be great. Well, he called Rick Fox, King Rice, (Pete) Chilcut, (George) Lynch and Hubert Davis and those guys together and tells them to run this and that and the next thing you know our heads are spinning and we're getting killed in front of all these coaches and you talk about having an ego busted quickly and that was the day it happened.
AJ – Was that a good thing?
PS – Looking back I think it was a great thing. At the time we all were so mad and upset and going back to the dorms saying, ‘I can't believe coach Smith did that to us in front of all those people.' But I think it was a great message not only to all those coaches but to us because it seemed like there were ten guys and five new freshmen and from that moment on it really showed us we were not as good as everyone was telling us we were.
AJ – Last month with the Washington Wizards here, it seemed like Chapel Hill east with Haywood, Davis, coach Smith and all the former UNC guys here. What was that like?
PS – It was like a homecoming for me. Phil Ford and coach Guthridge drove down for a day and Hubert and Brendan took me out for dinner - I lived great for a week. I hadn't had steak for about six months and with those guys and I was eating filet every night. Those guys were great. It was really nice. It was just kind of reiterating the fact that Carolina is family and is really a special thing and I am so glad I made the decision 1 years ago to attend UNC and those guys really do keep in touch and it was just really a neat thing.
AJ – What will you take from you UNC experience that will stay with you and what was the number one thing that coach Smith taught you live every day in your life?
PS – I think the one thing that coach Smith got across to us more than anything was that we all needed to be unselfish to be successful and I try to do that all the time. And as a player that means the extra pass but as an adult that means to give and to take your time to give to charity and to be unselfish and that is the one thing he always preached to us as a team but he also knew this for the after basketball part. Another thing is that when I played there we were always a cohesive unit. And there was never really one star and were all treated fairly and he treated us like grown men. There were no mind games amd if we made a mistake he told us and if we did something right he patted us on the back. It was almost like a father-son relationship.
Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He is also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a nightly radio show on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AJWAAV@aol.com.