NEW ORLEANS - Kansas coach Roy Williams is within two victories of winning his first national championship, has won 417 games in 15 seasons in Lawrence and has taken the Jayhawks to four Final Fours, including back-to-back trips to college basketball's premier stage.
And yesterday at the Superdome, the primary question that continued to swirl around him was, will he stay or will he go?
Two days after fending off reporters' inquiries regarding speculation that he is headed home again to replace Matt Doherty as coach at North Carolina, Williams played more defense. He repeated that he is fully focused on bringing home an NCAA title. He also refused to state unequivocally that he will remain at Kansas.
Williams turned down an offer to coach at North Carolina three years ago, when the Tar Heels eventually turned to Doherty.
"I think it's a shame that the timing of someone else's scenario raises these questions. But I understand you guys have your job to do, too," Williams said. "My team, my staff, our program, our school, everybody, we have the right to enjoy this week. I think we should have the right to smile and feel good and not have to answer some crazy things."
When asked why he had not removed himself from consideration for the Carolina job - Williams is a Tar Heels graduate and a former longtime assistant to Dean Smith - Williams said, "Before you make every decision in your life, you ought to think about it. And, by God, I'm not going to think one second that's going to take me away from Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich.
"Whether it's media, whether it's college presidents, whether it's anybody in the world, if they have a tough time with that, that's their problem."
The Jayhawks said the speculation surrounding Williams has not affected their preparation for Marquette tonight.
"Basically, we're just focusing on this. You can't think about that stuff," Hinrich said. "When you have such an opportunity, you can't let things you don't have control of weigh on your mind. We're into this. That's the bottom line. We're not thinking about any outside factors."
As for what effect a potential exit by Williams would have on the younger Jayhawks, sophomore point guard Aaron Miles said, "We ain't worried about that right now."
Marquette has drawn plenty of inspiration from the memory of late, legendary coach Al McGuire, who led the then-Warriors to the 1977 national championship, then walked away from the game.
The Golden Eagles also are getting an emotional lift every day working with assistant coach Trey Schwab.
Schwab, 38, is fighting idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a disease that attacks the lungs' air sacs and destroys their ability to process oxygen. He needs a lung transplant. While waiting for that to happen, Schwab must use a portable oxygen tank to send fresh air into his lungs. He goes everywhere with the tank slung over his shoulder.
"Coach Schwab showed us that, even though life can be short, you don't know what cards life is going to deal you," Marquette guard Dwyane Wade said.
"He comes in with a smile every day, comes in to work hard. He's got the oxygen tank. He's in the office when we go in there. He gives us the incentive we need to go to practice, play hard, knowing to just have fun while you're doing it because you don't know how long you're going to be here. He means so much to us."
Player, Coach of Year
"I would whisper to him at practice, 'Player of the Year, Player of the Year,' " Matta said.
Yesterday, West won that award, sharing honors with Kentucky's Tubby Smith, who was voted the Associated Press Coach of the Year.
West received 30 votes from the 72-member national panel that selects the weekly AP Top 25. Texas sophomore guard T.J. Ford was second with 19 votes, followed by senior forward Josh Howard of Wake Forest (10).
West led the Musketeers with 20.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks a game this season. He is the first from Xavier to receive the Adolph Rupp Trophy.
Smith was a runaway winner with 58 votes. Skip Prosser of Wake Forest was second with seven.
"This team played as a great group," said Smith of Kentucky, which finished 32-4.
There is a Texan on every team in the Final Four. Syracuse has junior forward Jeremy McNeil from San Antonio, Marquette has freshman guard Karon Bradley from Katy, and Kansas has sophomore guard Keith Langford from Fort Worth and junior forward Bryant Nash from Carrollton.
The Longhorns have eight players from Texas on their roster. No other state has a representative on every team in the Final Four.
Wire services contributed to this article