No, Johnson was not a member of that squad. As his future teammates Kenny Williams and Luke Maye were basking in the ultimate glory of winning a national title on that day, he was in the process of requesting his release from Pittsburgh before transferring to UNC later in the summer.
Yet even though he was not on the team, he’s seen the video many times before. Usually it’s when he catches Williams, his roommate, watching a replay of the game.
“He’ll just have it on his iPad, or have it on the TV or something, he’ll just watch it randomly, just when he feels like watching it," Johnson said. "So you know they really enjoyed that moment.”
So there he sat in the trainer’s room at the Smith Center weeks before, watching the second half of a game he admits he’s memorized, in part. Maybe not the whole thing, but certainly the final sequences of the contest.
“Maybe like the last four minutes memorized, like Isaiah’s layup, Kennedy’s block and Justin’s run out, Williams-Goss rolling his ankle,” Johnson said.
Johnson uses the video as motivation. It’s a way for him to see the title he wants so much, one that’s so close and one that is just a few games away.
Williams, meanwhile, watches it as a reminder of the greatness his team achieved. It’s a look back at one of the most special moments of his life, a moment that he wants to re-create.
The guard, then a sophomore, was unable to play that day. He was not able to play in any of UNC’s final 14 games down the stretch that season due to a right knee injury.
This year, it’s different. This season, Williams is one of the leaders of the team and he forms one-third of a veteran triumvirate hoping to lead UNC back to national glory.
Even though he was not on the court that day, he’s only thought once about how the feeling would be different to step on the court and play on the game’s biggest stage. That day was Thursday, one day before UNC’s first-round matchup against Iona to open the NCAA Tournament.
“I wondered if it would feel different because I’m actually playing now and not injured but, that’s it," Williams said. "That’s the only thought I’ve had about it.”
Seventh Woods, who was a first-year at the time UNC won the national championship, was one of two current players to set foot on the floor that night in April. Yet, unlike Williams, he had not gone back and re-watched the film. That is, until the week of the 2019 ACC Tournament.
He watched it all the way through for the first time. As the game played on, he noticed he felt the same way that he did on that day in early April. He felt like he was there at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. He had the same chills, the same butterflies he had on that day. The excitement was there. All the raw emotion of winning the title returned to him in that moment.
And now, he wants those teammates who weren’t on that same stage, such as Johnson, to experience that same feeling with him this season.
“It’s a dream come true for everybody and I just want everybody on this team to feel that feeling that we felt in 2017,” Woods said.
Just as it had for Johnson and Williams, re-watching the game served as motivation for Woods. It gave him that extra bit of thrill, watching the game in its entirety from Theo Pinson’s dunk to open up the scoring, to Pinson hurling the ball toward the sky as the final buzzer sounded.
Although assistant coach Steve Robinson admits he doesn’t watch the game much due to the busy nature of his full-time commitment as Roy Williams’ right-hand man, he said he’s watched some of it in the off-season, and he appreciates the fact that his players go back and re-watch it.
“It's good for them,” Robinson said. “Those guys are the last of the Mohicans, so to speak. They’re still in here in the program. They’ve had that success and hopefully they can be the ones that help guide and move our other guys into that kind of direction to understand the commitment, the effort, the passion. Everything you have to have, the luck that you have to have, in order to play in those kind of games.”
Watching the game has certainly served as that kind of motivation. For Johnson, it reminded him of the glory he’s still chasing, his quest to be among the immortals of the college basketball world. For Williams, it’s a constant reminder of one of the greatest days of his life. For Woods, it served as a way to return to that day when his team completed it’s redemption tour.
So as UNC approaches its Sweet 16 matchup on Friday against Auburn, there’s no doubt that every player — whether it be Williams, Woods or Johnson — will be thinking about their attempt to reach the pinnacle of the college basketball world and achieve ultimate glory.
“You have such a big-time opportunity and it can take you so high that the coaches say to us all the time, ‘There’s nothing like winning a national championship,’” Johnson said. “Just the fact that we are in a position to do something so big, it’s exciting.”
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