Gonzaga coach Mark Few and North Carolina counterpart Roy Williams have shot craps together, played cards and hung out at Nike-sponsored coaching clinics.
They exchange phone calls and texts. On one of Few’s son’s birthdays, Few phoned Williams to make sure he had the rules down for a particular card game.
The mutual respect runs deep for their on-court coaching success and probably deeper for the way they conduct their everyday lives.
“I consider Mark one of my best friends,” Williams said Monday during a Final Four coaches conference call. “I was probably more stressed about Mark (making a Final Four) because he’s had such great teams and come so close. It was so satisfying for Gonzaga to get there.”
The two even decided to spend some time together a few days before their respective teams met in the 2009 NCAA Sweet 16 in Memphis. Williams called Few and found out both teams were arriving Wednesday night. They made certain their players were punctual for bed check.
Williams hatched the idea of the head coaches and a handful of staffers from each school going to a casino in nearby Tunica, Mississippi.
“We went down and we both lost money but it worked out,” Williams said. “We’re coming back and I get pulled over by a patrolman. I guess I didn’t realize I had the NCAA courtesy car with logos all over it. The patrolman says, ‘It’s just surprising to see that car on the road this time of night, just slow down a bit.’
“I told him, ‘I appreciate it and that Mark Few from Gonzaga is about 10 minutes behind me. Can you pull him over and scare him to death like you did with me?’ ”
Few was on the conference call earlier so there was no confirmation on the outcome of Williams’ prank. The Tar Heels broke the speed limit during the game, winning 98-77, en route to claiming the national championship.
“I consider him a mentor,” said Few, whose Zags take on South Carolina on Saturday, followed by North Carolina versus Oregon. “I’ll always remember when I was a young head coach and getting invited on these exclusive Nike coaches basketball trips and you hear some of the iconic figures in the game.
“Roy and (wife) Wanda welcomed me and Marcy in and made us feel as important as anybody. He’s always been like that with me and even my assistant coaches.”
All four Final Four coaches have some sort of connection, which is pretty standard among veteran coaches. South Carolina’s Frank Martin called Few “one of the great guys in the business.” When Williams was at Kansas, Oregon’s Dana Altman was a Kansas State assistant coach and later the head coach.
Williams and Martin recruited PJ Dozier, who eventually chose the Gamecocks.
Williams has a decided edge, 9-0, over Few, Altman and Martin in Final Four appearances as a head coach.
“This is (Przemek) Karnowski’s fifth NCAA tournament but everything is going to get ratcheted up 300 percent with the media, the demands,” Few said. “The general distraction meter is going through the roof. Obviously Carolina kids have dealt with it and managed it great if you look at how they performed last year at the Final Four.
“But when the buzzer goes off after warm-ups, all four teams have shown they’re ferocious competitors and really focused on the task at hand. It’s going to be about who plays the best for those 40 minutes.”
Altman sought advice from his former K-State boss Lon Kruger and ex-Stanford coach Mike Montgomery.
“What to avoid, embrace because it’s a new experience for our coaching staff and we want to try to help them as much as possible,” Altman said. “Hopefully it’ll be similar to the last two weeks where we just went into a four-team tournament. This is a bigger stage, the guys are aware of it.”
It’s the biggest stage, and Few is thrilled his biggest fans, parents Norm and Barbara, are making the trip.
“Just organized their travel to get to Phoenix,” Few said. “They were with us in San Jose (last weekend), that was really cool and special. It’s not as easy traveling, my dad kind of busted up his ankles but he still wants to do it.”
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