As he returned to the Georgia Dome, site of Saturday's regional final against LSU, reporters wanted to know how many times Paulino had watched the replay of his shot. They wanted to know if President Bush had called to congratulate him. They wanted to know if he got any sleep.
Then it was suggested that Paulino might supplant Texas quarterback Vince Young as the Big Man On Campus when the Longhorns return to Austin.
"He walked into breakfast this morning with shades on," forward P.J. Tucker said Friday.
"And he actually did say, Vince who?' " Texas coach Rick Barnes said.
Laughter filled the interview room. Barnes wasn't done ribbing his senior guard. Paulino had requested four copies of the tape before leaving the Georgia Dome Thursday, Barnes said, and asked for a VCR to be sent to his hotel room.
All Paulino could do was grin and bear it. It was good to be the Sweet 16 hero – at least for one day. If the Longhorns needed something to loosen them up before the regional championship game, they had discovered it.
"You know, until we win the national championship, I don't think it's anything compared to what Vince did," Paulino said of his three-pointer. "As far as this new-found celebrity, or whatever you want to call it, I just take it for the moment. The guys can tell you I never let anything get to my head.
"I will forget about this as soon as we go out there [on the practice floor] and we start shooting around, and as soon as [Barnes] starts talking about what we have to do for LSU. It will be a memory – until the season is over."
Paulino, who never before had hit a game-winning shot at the buzzer, admitted he had trouble sleeping. Of course it's hard to sleep when you are flipping through the channels and watching replays of the shot. At two or three replays per hour, Paulino figured he had seen the shot about nine times.
But Longhorn No. 1, who lives in the White House, did not call.
"I got a lot of calls from family members and they were happy for me," Paulino said. "And I was happy about that. It just feels good when family and people that want to see you do well are happy for you."
Earlier this year Paulino was named to SI.com's All-Glue team that "recognizes players whose under-the-radar, won't find-em-in-the-box-score contributions are critical to their teams' success." After averaging 10.8 points in the Big 12 conference season, he is averaging 11.7 and shooting 45.7 percent from three-point range in the postseason.
"I've always thought Kenton probably really didn't give himself enough credit for how good he is," Barnes said. "He's always been a very smart player. He had to battle injuries the first couple years, but this year he's been everything that I think we always thought he could be. We would not be where we are today without Kenton Paulino."
STILL OFFERING RELIEF
LSU is one victory away from its fourth Final Four appearance, but the school's first since 1986.
The Baton Rouge Brigade is a rarity in this age of global recruiting. Seven of the Tigers are from Louisiana and all five starters are from Baton Rouge or nearby. For that reason, they understand how much their tournament run means to those in the Gulf Coast area still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.
After the devastation of the storm last September, LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center was converted into a triage unit. Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Tasmin Mitchell were among the LSU athletes who volunteered by setting up hospital beds, unloading supplies and holding IV stands for patients.
"It really touched me from a mental aspect as far as my purpose in life," Davis said Friday. "To sit there and see a patient sitting there and everything they went through. In the midst of all that, they still know who I am. They're still enlightened by my presence and that kind of showed me what kind of impact I had on people. . . . It really changed my life and gave me a purpose."
Mitchell said helping others helped bring the team together.
"We helped and we saw some things that we had never seen before," Mitchell said. "We were grateful for not being in the midst of that and that it really skipped over us. But it really brought us together." LSU coach John Brady said the feeling of community on his team is unique in college basketball.
"These guys grew up together," Brady said. "They have their own way of communicating, their own language that I'm not privy to, and their own way of doing things. They're great to be around. They have helped me be a better coach. Not because they're talented players, but because of their approach to the game, their approach to one another, and their response to me."
Brady and Barnes got big contributions from their bench players in the regional semifinals Thursday night.
Darnell Lazare played 18 minutes for LSU, scored 10 points on 5-for-8 shooting, had a steal and two assists. Magnum Rolle had two points, two blocks and three rebounds in 10 solid minutes.
"Without Darnell's play off the bench and his positive attitude about coming off the bench, and his leadership as a junior, we certainly wouldn't have been able to have the success that we have had," Brady said. "Magnum Rolle is on the same path as Tyrus Thomas. This spring and summer, Magnum Rolle will put 15 to 18 pounds on his frame and he will be the same type of exciting, explosive player that Tyrus has been for us."
For Texas, Mike Williams and A.J. Abrams each had nine points off the bench. Williams was 4-for-4 from the field and had seven rebounds in his 20 minutes. Abrams added seven assists.
"We're not asking Mike Williams to score," Barnes said. "What we have asked him to do when he goes out there is to really give us a presence, to give us energy, to run down rebounds. When I went back and reviewed the tape, he made an effort every shot that went up."
"It's tough to come down after a shot like [the game winner by Paulino]. We just have to pull back together and understand that there's still work to be done."– Texas guard Daniel Gibson
"Right now I don't have a bill to worry about. I don't have to deal with the business aspect of basketball. Playing in the NBA is one of my dreams. But when it comes to a business, you have to grow up. . . . That's why I'm going to school. I'm trying to learn the financial aspect of trying to buy a house, cars, 401K's. I want to be physically ready and mentally ready."– LSU forward Glen Davis
"I'm fortunate to have a father who was the first African-American to play college basketball at LSU. He's passed on a lot of stories and has given me a lot of advice on basketball but also on life. He went through a lot of trials and tribulations. Hopefully, his strength has been passed on to me." – LSU guard Garrett Temple
"We will probably start Brad (Buckman) on (Davis). We know Davis is athletic and he can get up and down and move well. You have got to be able to play the press. You have got to counter him. We are probably going to throw a lot of bodies at him and try to wear him down. He takes up a lot of space." – Texas forward P.J. Tucker
Ken Davis, a longtime college basketball writer for the Hartford Courant, is covering the Atlanta regional exclusively for Yahoo! Sports.
- Rick Barnes