Tournament Tales: Jawad Williams

While the Cavaliers search for their first NBA Championship, there are three young members of the squad who’ve reached the top of the mountain collegiately.

Darnell Jackson won the NCAA title with Kansas in 2008 and two Cavaliers have won National Championships with the North Carolina Tar Heels – Danny Green (2009) and today’s subject, Jawad Williams, in 2005.

Williams – the pride of St. Ed’s high school in Cleveland and one of the Wine and Gold’s more inspirational stories – played for both Roy Williams and Matt Doherty. In Coach Williams’ first year with UNC – (Jawad’s junior season) – the Tar Heels finished 19–11 and were ranked in a final media poll for the first time in three years. Carolina returned to the NCAA tournament, but was bounced in the second round by Texas.

But the following year, Jawad and Co. were on a mission. In the opening game, UNC demolished play-in winner Oakland, running out to a 26-point halftime lead and not looking back. They thumped Iowa State by 27 and squeaked by Villanova – 77-76 – on Rashard McCants’ two free throws. They topped Wisconsin by six to reach the Final Four.

Carolina spoiled Tom Izzo’s first Final Four appearance, blowing past MSU – 87-71.

In the 2005 Championship game against Illinois, the Heels led by 13 at halftime but a furious run – led by Deron Williams – brought the Illini back. Illinois tied the game at 70-apiece with 2:46 to play, but they wouldn’t score again as Carolina won its fourth Championship in school history. Jawad finished with nine points and five boards in the title game.

In today’s installment of Tournament Tales, the soft-spoken Williams takes a moment to describe his climatic final two years at Chapel Hill …

Previous Tournament Tales: Daniel Gibson | Darnell Jackson | Chris Jent

Your first trip to the NCAA was a tough one.

Jawad Williams: We lost in the second round to Texas. That was a tough loss. But my teammates and I were in the gym the following week – getting ready for next year.

Boobie wasn’t on that team, but does he rib you about it?

Williams: Yes, he does. Quite often.

And how did that loss affect your next trip to the Tournament?

Williams: We just knew what to expect. We weren’t caught up in all the hype of the Tournament. Going into my second year, it was more like: ‘Let’s go out and get this done.’ It wasn’t about enjoying our time out there. It was a business trip – and we took care of business.

Are nerves worse early in the Tourney or as it gets closer to the Final Four?

Williams: Our team didn’t have any nervousness. We felt that we had the best team all year – except for a couple losses. But we never had any nerves because we knew if we went out and played our game, we’d be unbeatable.

Is there pressure on UNC players during tournament time by the high-profile alumni?

Williams: A little bit. But you feel most of the pressure in the summertime, when the older guys come back. ‘Twan (Antawn Jamison), Vince (Carter) and all those guys came back and they came back and called us the “Chapel Hill Lakers” because we had all the talent in the world, but we didn’t win.

That was a tough one. And we took that one to heart.