A force inside, May led North Carolina to national title
Posted: Friday April 8, 2005 4:53PM; Updated: Friday April 8, 2005 5:02PM
By Seth Davis, SI.com
Sean May scored 26 points in the Tar Heels title win against Illinois.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
When the clock ran out on the 2005 NCAA championship game, the ball was, fittingly, in the hands of North Carolina center Sean May, whose 26 points and 10 rebounds had powered the Tar Heels to a 75-70 victory over Illinois. Cradling the ball, May dashed across the floor of the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis before being enveloped by North Carolina coach Roy Williams. "I just wanted to hug the big rascal as long as I could," Williams said later.
The coach undoubtedly had plenty of company. A nation of North Carolina fans longed to embrace May after the 6-foot-9, 260-pound junior was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player. His impressive weekend in St. Louis (he had 22 points and seven rebounds in UNC's semifinal win over Michigan State) was merely an extension of a stellar season in which he averaged 17.5 points and 10.7 rebounds and shot 56.7 percent from the floor and 75.8 percent from the foul line. While Utah center Andrew Bogut collected most of the accolades that were based on votes cast at the end of the regular season, May's brilliance during the postseason is why he is SI's college basketball player of the year. "He wanted to win that national championship, there's no doubt," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said after the final. "He played like it the whole tournament."
In some respects, North Carolina's March to the Arch began during last year's NCAA tournament, when May shot 2 for 10 and had just 11 points in a second-round loss to Texas. "I didn't have much left in the tank," May recalls, "and after about the first five minutes I was done." That subpar outing convinced May, whose affinity for junk food had earned him the nickname Cookie Monster from teammates, to undergo an intense off-season conditioning program that enabled him to shed 10 pounds. "He's taken certain parts of his body and moved them around to different parts," Williams said during Final Four week. "He's made plays this year that I don't think he ever would have made last year."
May started the 2004-05 season somewhat slowly but ratcheted up his game once ACC play was in full swing. He averaged 19.7 points and 12.3 rebounds from February on and at one point had eight consecutive double-doubles, including an epic 26-point, 24-rebound performance in a 75-73 win over Duke in the regular-season finale. Moreover, Williams says May is a student of the game who is rarely unable to answer a question the coach poses in practice. "He's such a role model," Marvin Williams, North Carolina's 6-9 freshman forward, says of May. "I've probably learned more stuff off the court than on the court from Sean. He just carries himself with class."
May's stat line in the championship game was eerily similar to the one his father, Scott, posted in the 1976 final, when he had 26 points and eight rebounds for Indiana in a 86-68 win over Michigan. Sean, who grew up in Bloomington and was Indiana's Mr. Basketball in 2002, showed his teammates a videotape of his father's performance the night before UNC took on Illinois. He made a special point to emphasize the Hoosiers' celebration after winning the title. After beating the Illini, Sean was asked whose celebration was better. "This one is a lot better," he said. "It's my celebration and my team." It's no coincidence May was at the center of both.