NEW ORLEANS -- They have been here as players, and now have returned to the Louisiana Superdome as young assistant coaches trying to build their careers. The memories came back in floods for them this week.
Matt Doherty, now an assistant at Kansas, was the starting small forward on North Carolina's 1982 national championship team that beat Georgetown with the help of a jump shot by a freshman guard named Michael Jordan.
Billy Donovan, now working for his college coach, Rick Pitino, at Kentucky, was the starting point guard on the 1987 Providence team that made an amazing run to the Final Four, only to be awakened from its fantasy by Syracuse in an all-Big East semifinal game.
"I remember thinking how big this place was," Doherty recalled Friday. "I remember Patrick Ewing blocking our first four shots [a couple were called for goaltending] at one basket and Michael hitting the jumper at the other basket."
And he remembers looking back at a picture that was taken right after the Tar Heels ran off the court: It showed North Carolina coach Dean Smith waiting to go to a postgame news conference with two players, James Worthy and point guard Jimmy Black.
"If James had not been wearing the net around his neck, you couldn't tell that we won," said Doherty.
Said Kansas coach Roy Williams: "I was crying after that game. We were happy, but we were also relieved. Coach Smith had taken a lot of heat for having never won, and I was so happy for him."
The tears that Donovan shed that night six years ago were for a poor shooting performance against the Orangemen and former nemesis, Sherman Douglas. It ended some very hot shooting for Donovan.
"At the time you don't appreciate it, but the more years go by, the more you forget about the game and the better you feel about being in the Final Four," said Donovan. "I've got a lot of fine memories."
While Donovan took a traditional route into coaching -- he was signed by the New York Knicks, who had hired Pitino, and joined the staff after playing one season -- Doherty took a more circuitous route.
After an injury during tryout camp with the Cleveland Cavaliers ,, short-circuited his pro career in 1984, Doherty began working as an investment broker on Wall Street. But the stock market crash in 1987 made Doherty check out other non-stock options.
"I remember watching the 1989 semifinals between Duke and Seton Hall, and I realized how much I missed basketball," said Doherty, who had relocated to Charlotte, N.C., to live closer to his wife's family.
Doherty began coaching a team of 14-year-olds, and did some color commentary on Davidson University games. He was hired by his former high school coach, Bob McKillop, as an assistant and stayed there for three years before joining Williams -- an ex-Tar Heels assistant -- at Kansas.
"This is like a dream for me," said Doherty. "One day I'd like to be
in the Final Four as a head coach."
Thinking of Jimmy V
Friday night's $100-a-plate testimonial dinner for the cancer research foundation established recently by former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano drew nearly 1,000 people at the New Orleans Convention
Valvano, who has been battling the disease since last summer, was unable to attend after being released from Duke University Hospital Thursday. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, a close friend of Valvano's, served as the evening's master-of-ceremonies.
"The mood of the night has to be done like this," Krzyzewski said, reading from a note that Valvano had sent. "Imagine me going around the room to each table, telling a joke, singing a song, probably insulting one or two people and hugging everybody."
Former Connecticut coach and athletic director Dee Rowe, who hired Valvano as an assistant coach after the former Rutgers guard got out of college, said having the dinner in New Orleans was a perfect setting.
"What greater place than New Orleans," Rowe said. "A town where he could have danced through the night. I wish he were here. Tonight we salute a special hero, a brilliant romantic. And as big as this dinner is, it can never be as big as what he's done for all of us."
Sadly, Valvano is fighting for his life on the 10th anniversary of his greatest victory as a coach, N.C. State's upset of Houston in
the NCAA final at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M.
With Vanderbilt's Eddie Fogler taking the job at South Carolina that came open when Georgia Tech's Bobby Cremins changed his mind, Ralph Willard of Western Kentucky has become the leading candidate for the position at Vanderbilt.
The connection there is Kentucky athletic director C. M. Newton, the former coach and AD at Vandy. Willard is a former Wildcat assistant.
Washington athletic director Barbara Hedges was seen yesterday conducting some preliminary interviews over breakfast at a local hotel. Among those who met with Hedges was George Washington's Mike Jarvis, Georgia Tech assistant Sherman Dillard -- a former assistant at Maryland -- and Duke assistant Mike Bray.
Some trivial pursuit: The only time Michigan won the NCAA Championship was 1989. The Wolverines lost twice to Indiana during the regular season that year, their football team won the
Rose Bowl and they won a tournament in Hawaii.