Posted: Friday May 27, 2005 2:27PM; Updated: Thursday June 2, 2005 2:41AM
Roy Williams was emotional after finally winning a national title.
David E. Klutho/Getty Images
Anyone who knows me knows I'm a sucker for a free meal. Last week's Winged Foot Award banquet in Manhattan took care of my grumbling stomach and satisfied my college basketball craving.
It's been a decade since the New York Athletic Club started hosting this annual nosh, which honors the winning coaches from the men's and women's NCAA national basketball championships. I, in the past two of those 10 years, have made the NYAC my own personal soup kitchen. Standing invite aside, there's a lot to like about this award -- for no better reason than there's no vote to decide who wins it. No media. No coaches. Win the biggest game on the schedule, and dinner's on the house.
Last Thursday night, we raised our glasses to Baylor's Kim Mulkey-Robertson, who guided the Lady Bears to a national title, and North Carolina's Roy Williams.
Another thing to like about this banquet are its lighter moments. Some of the highlights:
Baylor point guard Chelsea Whitaker served up the nugget of the night -- that as a player, Mulkey-Robertson led her alma mater Louisiana Tech to the NCAA's first women's basketball championship in 1982, the same year the North Carolina men won their third -- before dishing a solid one-liner to both coaches: "so I think it might be in y'all's best interest if you starting cheering for each other next year."
Tar Heels assistant C.B. McGrath admitted he'd have no trouble saying a few nice things about Williams "even though he didn't play me much." The comment caught CBS Sports analyst and banquet master of ceremonies Billy Packer in midseason form. "There was a good reason for that," he sniped.
Mulkey-Robertson opened her acceptance speech with a joke about a Catholic priest and a Methodist priest on a fishing trip, then fighting through watery eyes and quivering voice to thanked her husband Randy, daughter, Makenzie, and son, Kramer, for sticking by her side.
As Mulkey-Robertson cradled the bulbous crystal Winged Foot trophy in her arms, I couldn't help but think of how deserving she was of this moment. And that's not to take anything away from Williams, who got all the credit in the world for fusing a collection of 12 or so ballers into one cohesive talent. Of course, seven of them are gone -- four of them likely via the NBA Lottery. Still, when Williams accepted the award, he did so "on behalf of the North Carolina team," he said. He had to. More than a few times, I scanned the room hoping to find a Sean May or a Marvin Williams in the bunch. Bupkis.
The spotlight on Williams grew more harsh as he tried to shrug it off; the many personal anecdotes in which he'd be cast were more one-man show than ensemble cast. Until last week, I didn't know Williams had had earlier Winged Foot banquet invitations rescinded after Final Four losses at Kansas in 2002 and 2003. Until last week, I hadn't realized how important Williams' 75-70 victory over then once-defeated Illinois on April 4 would be for all the former Jayhawks he had coached -- a few of whom (unlike their Carolina counterparts) were scattered in the audience. Jerod Haase, now an assistant strength coach at UNC, was one of the lucky handful to flank Williams on the dais. And as relieved as he was to see his coach and mentor finally win the big one, Haase reassured Williams, "you never needed that for us."