The Tar Heels won the national championship in both of those seasons. But while the devastating loss haunts them, Williams and his team will have to do the same as their predecessors and move on.
Two days after the game, Williams organized a team meeting, with the intent of acquitting junior Isaiah Hicks for his part in the game’s final play — a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Kris Jenkins.
After the game, Hicks blamed himself, saying he didn’t defend Jenkins’ shot as well as he could have. But Williams disagreed.
“That shot was against North Carolina’s team ...” he said. “But I read these comments about, ‘I should have gotten up here, he was my guy.’ But Isaiah, it was not his man. But he was willing to take that responsibility.”
Following the meeting, Williams hit the recruiting trail. He saw three prospects on Thursday and one on Friday, and he’ll make more visits this weekend.
UNC currently boasts three four-star recruits in the Class of 2016. And despite losing seniors Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige and Joel James, the Tar Heels return a veteran nucleus.
But Williams still isn’t sure if all of those players are coming back.
In January, the NCAA made a rule change that allows underclassmen to evaluate their NBA draft status while also maintaining their eligibility. Williams has scheduled meetings with his players, and he expects a definitive answer about their futures next week.
“I think that some of our guys will try to go to the (draft) combine, will declare and not hire an agent, and see how they play in the combine,” he said. “And I have no problem with that. If I were the father of some of our players, I’d get them to do the same thing.”
And while having his players return might not ease the pain, Williams will remember this season for more than how it finished.
“I love this team. When I look back on it, I’ll think of that ...” Williams said. “This team, they will talk for the rest of their lives about making it to the Final Four in 2016.”