JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Jawad Williams, Melvin Scott, David Noel and Marvin Williams weren’t the biggest contributors to North Carolina’s championship performance –- at least not on the floor.
That distinction went to Sean May, who simply decimated Illinois inside. The hulking forward scored 26 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and missed only one shot from the field. Illinois had no answer for him. May almost single-handedly won the game for the Tar Heels, and in the process gave coach Roy Williams his first NCAA championship.
It was a classic title game that pitted the two best teams in the country against each other. It’s not often the NCAA tournament works out that way, but it did this year. Illinois and North Carolina didn’t disappoint, and the outcome was uncertain until the final few seconds. The game was a fitting culmination to an unusually dramatic and exciting tournament that saw more than its share of stunning upsets and thrilling endings.
Williams, Scott, Noel and Williams, meanwhile, didn’t pour in the points like May (the quartet combined for 18 of North Carolina’s 75 points), although Marvin Williams did contribute a key tip-in with only 1:26 left. Sure, they were valuable members of the Tar Heels who did their share in North Carolina’s championship season. May’s dominance, however, is what history will remember about the 2005 North Carolina Tar Heels.
But in another sense, the contributions Williams, Scott, Noel and Williams made to their team off the court may be even more valuable.
All four players are devoted Christians who are not reluctant to talk about their faith in God. A recent Freedom News Service article by Bob Sutton in the Kinston (N.C.) Free Press gives insights into the spiritual side of Scott, Noel and Jawad Williams. Williams and Scott admitted they had believed in God all along, but their increased devotion came only this year.
“It was something we decided we needed to do in our lives, get away from the norm and make some changes,” Williams said in the article.
It was a joint commitment, with the two teammates encouraging each other and challenging each other in their Christian lives. They were baptized together late in the season at King’s Park International Church in Durham, N.C. They started studying the Bible together during the season, with Noel, May and other teammates and non-basketball players joining them.
Although not mentioned in the story, Marvin Williams also is a devout Christian. I’ve read about his kind nature and the small-town values that were instilled in him by a loving mother and grandmother. He’s also quick to credit God with the immense talent that will undoubtedly propel him to the NBA in the near future.
The spiritual emphasis had a deep effect on the Tar Heels this year. Noel said it has been a bonding agent for the team.
“It has flowed throughout this team this whole year and I think that’s part of the reason this team has gone as far as we have,” Noel said in the Kinston Free Press article.
These men may not have been the stars in North Carolina’s championship win over Illinois, but I’m guessing that’s OK with them. A team accomplishment is more important than individual accolades any day.
But behind the scenes, these four Christians on the team -– and possibly others of whom I’m not aware –- have made contributions to the Tar Heels team this year that may echo through eternity.
Tim Ellsworth writes this column for BPSports, online at www.bpsports.net.