By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports
April 4, 2005
Sean May turned 21 and into a legend on Monday night, hoisting an occasionally rattled North Carolina team on his broad shoulders and delivering Blue Heaven back to the promised land with a 75-70 victory over Illinois.
And when it was over, after he had done all the dirty work, made 10-of-11 shots, hauled in 10 rebounds and raised countless hands in Illinois players' faces, May ran to the sideline and looked for a familiar face who knew exactly how he was feeling.
Twenty nine years ago it was Scott May, Sean's father, who helped lead Indiana to a perfect season and an NCAA title. Now it was Sean who delivered the perfect ending for the Heels.
"I tried to find him after the game but he skipped into a corner," Sean said. "He's a little shy."
In turn, his son spoke over and over about his dad's influence, his legacy, his love. "We talk before every game," Sean said. Prior to Monday "was probably the shortest conversation we've had. He said, 'Son, I love you, I'm proud of you, but go get it done.'"
May watched his father's title game on ESPN Classic on Sunday night along with some teammates. In that 1976 game, Scott finished with 26 points and eight rebounds. On Monday Sean had 26 and 10.
Scott was named to the all-tournament team on college hoops' last perfect club. Sean put together an even more perfect ending, winding up the event's Most Outstanding Player.
In an age when so many athletes are obsessed with their own glory, their own respect, their own legends, May is a breath of fresh air. He spent the entire postgame talking about his dad, then his teammates, then his dad again and then his coach, Roy Williams, who finally won his first NCAA title on Monday in the game's other prominent storyline.
"For many years down the line he'll always talk about this 2005 team, how special we were," May said.
What was most special was the Heels' ability to withstand a powerful Illini second-half surge. Carolina was brilliant in the first half, leading by as many 15 points and threatening to turn the title game into a laugher.
But Illinois was too tough to go out like that, and in the second half the Illini mounted a comeback, twice tying the game and numerous times threatening to blow right by the Heels. A sea of Orange-clad fans who had flooded across the Mississippi formed a raucous, partisan crowd.
But in each lonely moment for the Tar Heels, there was May. His oversized hands, soft touch around the rim and easy free throw release provided calm in the middle of the storm.
During one stretch of the second half Carolina went to the 6-foot-9, 260-pound junior on six consecutive possessions.
"He was just killing them," said point guard Raymond Felton. "Why wouldn't I give it to him?"
In answering that question, Carolina put to rest the overplayed and largely inaccurate talent vs. team hype that preceded this game. Illinois was supposed to be the team, Carolina just a collection of NBA talent in waiting.
But the Tar Heels withstood Illinois' charge as a team. Marvin Williams scrapped for a difficult put-back with 1:31 to break a 70-70 tie. Felton made a clutch final-minute steal and then drained the game-clinching free throws. Jawad Williams denied Illinois' dangerous late-game threes.
And in the midst of it all was May, fighting, battling and delivering on every possession, at every turn.
"Our group was a team," Williams said
A family even, you could say.
Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Tuesday, Apr 5, 2005 4:04 am, EDT