NEW ORLEANS — Denny Crum sat two seats away from Eddie Sutton, and just down the line from Tubby Smith, while North Carolina coach Roy Williams showed up wearing a baby blue tie – and no Jayhawks sticker.
Yes, there were plenty of high-profile coaches on hand to watch the Final Four on Saturday night.
Some of them had pretty apparent rooting interests, especially in the Kentucky-Louisville game, which Kentucky won 69-61.
Crum, who wore a red-and-white striped shirt, won a pair of national championships in the 1980s with Louisville. Eddie Sutton had a couple of wildly successful years with Kentucky, though they were no match for Smith’s group of Wildcats, who won the 1998 national championship.
Of course, much of that team was recruited by current Louisville coach Rick Pitino, adding one more layer of intrigue to the Cardinal’s national semifinal against Kentucky.
“It’s healthy for college sports and basketball in particular,” Smith said. “Great atmosphere. It’s two programs that love basketball.”
Crum said that Kentucky was “tough. They’re very athletic, very, very good.” Sutton was more excited by his seat, the best he’d had at a Final Four since taking Oklahoma State in 2004.
“It’s the best seat I’ve ever had except for the Final Four on the bench,” Sutton said with a smile. “I don’t know how I got down here.”
Williams said he was pulling for Kansas, the school he led to three Final Fours – and the same school that knocked his Tar Heels out of the NCAA Tournament last weekend – when the Jayhawks took the floor against Ohio State in the other semifinal game.
Williams remains fond of the Jayhawks and greeted several of his old friends from the program on Saturday night. But he didn’t wear a sticker of the team’s mascot on his shirt, like he did at the Final Four in 2008, when the Jayhawks beat North Carolina en route to their last national title.
“Nobody asked me,” Williams said with a smile. “And I got a lot of crap for it last time.”
Further down the row from Williams was Larry Brown, who led the Jayhawks to the 1988 title. Among the other coaches on hand were Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, Lon Kruger of Oklahoma and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo.
“It’s fun to be here,” Izzo said, “but it’s always more fun the way we’ve been here in the past.”
Izzo won the national title with Michigan State in 2000.