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Tuesday, April 8, 2003
Updated: April 15, 10:06 AM ET

Kansas, Syracuse put on memorable show

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

NEW ORLEANS -- Monday's national championship game wasn't a classic in terms of performances. Kansas struggled at the free-throw line. Syracuse's Carmelo Anthony had a flagrant foul. The end of the game was exciting but sloppy.

But the night was still special. Especially coming when it did, the 2003 national championship capped a season marred at times by scandal from coast to coast. It capped a tournament that was nearly postponed when the war with Iraq broke out.

Gerry McNamara
Gerry McNamara, left, made six 3-pointers in the first half.

This tournament, for some, was a welcome diversion, and it ended the way it should have: with a classy presentation by both teams, their coaches and the fans, who made sure they celebrated everyone's effort.

Mere seconds after an artistic block by Hakim Warrick negated a possible game-tying 3-pointer by Kansas' Michael Lee, Syracuse sealed the championship with an 81-78 victory.

But Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim delayed his celebration, taking time to congratulate his counterpart, Roy Williams. The two coaches shared a long moment together -- Boeheim won his first national title in three tries, Williams faced the agony of losing his second national title game in his fourth trip to a Final Four.

The game also marked the end of seniors Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich's collegiate careers. Both were jewels in the rich history of Kansas basketball. When Collison fouled out with 24 seconds left, the crowd gave him a standing ovation, including thousands of Syracuse fans. Boeheim also congratulated Collison after the game.

"I take no pleasure in beating Nick Collison," Boeheim said. "He's a class kid and what college basketball is all about."

Said Collison: "I'm very proud of what I've done in my career and I'm sure I'll feel better in a couple of days."

"The road to this spot began their freshman season," Lee said of Collison and Hinrich. "You want those two guys to go out the right way."

Williams, meanwhile, didn't leave with a title, but that shouldn't take away anything from his status as one of the college basketball's best coaches. Williams moved to the top of the list of coaches who have the most NCAA Tournament victories (34) without winning the title.

Said Syracuse senior Kueth Duany: "He's a classy guy and the whole Kansas program is a class act."

Williams did get a bit snippy in a postgame television interview, uttering a profanity when CBS reporter Bonnie Bernstein brought up the opening at North Carolina, Williams' alma mater. But that was his only slip; Williams was respectful of the media's responsibility to quiz him about the Tar Heels job throughout the week.

"Fellows, thanks very much," Williams told the media after the game. "All the junk that's been going on, it's been hard because people haven't believed me as much as I would like for them to believe me. But I felt like I owed everything to those 13 kids. Thanks for not pursuing it any farther ... further."

He smiled as he walked off. But his eyes were red and swollen.

Syracuse walked off as the first team since the 1986 Louisville Cardinals to go from NIT qualifier to NCAA champion. The Orangemen were the most unlikely champs since the 1985 Villanova Wildcats, the last unranked preseason team to win the title.

"When (Boeheim) has a team that is an underdog, he's dangerous," Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins said. "He had six of eight of his top players as freshmen and sophomores and he kept everyone together."

Boeheim has coached his alma mater for 27 years. Finally, he has his title.

"Coach Boeheim is a legend now," Duany said. "No one can touch him."

When Boeheim cut down the net, he looked like he could use a nap at home.

"I was tired," Boeheim said. "I get tired of these (close) games, I guess. I don't have the stamina that I used to. I think that's for the players. I was ready to go after we won the game. I think all that stuff (celebrating) is great for the players. In fact, I was thinking about what we're going to do next year right about that time, actually."

The Orangemen won the title behind three freshmen and a sophomore who worked himself into a big-time talent. They know next year won't be the same. Anthony is likely headed for the NBA draft, but not before owning each of Syracuse's tournament games. Classmate Gerry McNamara is a player who doesn't have the flash, but enough grit, determination and a big-time shot to produce an NCAA championship. And Billy Edelin, who should have been a freshman last season, won a title after a year's suspension and a 12-game NCAA suspension this season for playing in a 40-and-over men's league.

Syracuse's run proves how unpredictable college basketball has become. Syracuse isn't Fairfield, but the Orangemen weren't expected to be in New Orleans, thus giving hope for schools with national stature that don't enter the season with the thrust of national hype.

"In January, we still weren't ranked and we won a national championship," Boeheim said after the game. "I'm glad we're not like football because we play it out."

The college basketball community thanks him for that.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.



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