San Antonio It was just three years ago that North Carolina's basketball team snipped down the nets in celebration of its fourth national championship.
Might as well have been a decade.
Only one player remains from that 2005 team - reserve point guard Quentin Thomas. Needless to say, he's a different cat now. Though he's still a backup, Thomas has gone from a seldom-used freshman to an important, reliable leader for the Tar Heels as they take on Kansas in the Final Four on Saturday in San Antonio.
"As far as advice, I've given none, really," Thomas, a senior, told the Winston-Salem Journal. "Everybody pretty much has gotten all of that throughout the season from coach (Roy) Williams in what it takes to get to the Final Four and be a national-championship team."
Williams has been to four Final Fours in the last seven years - including 2002 and 2003 while at Kansas. But Thomas might be selling his value to the team a little short.
"Quentin is a wonderful leader," Williams said. "He's not a guy who's going to jump up and stand up on the bandwagon and tell everyone to come over here. But he's been a wonderful leader the entire time, especially down the stretch this year."
Down the stretch is where Thomas finally made his impact on the floor. When starting point guard Ty Lawson went down with an ankle injury, Thomas stepped up and became the glue that kept North Carolina (36-2) in place.
Lawson went down at Florida State on Feb. 3 and didn't return until March 1. In that time, North Carolina went 6-1 with Thomas averaging 7.4 points, 6.6 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game.
"He became a leader," Williams said, "with his play AND with his words."
Certainly it wasn't going to be enough to supplant Lawson, a gifted point guard projected to go high in the NBA Draft whenever he comes out.
But Thomas still is productive with Lawson back. Thomas has averaged 11 minutes per game in UNC's four NCAA Tournament victories, and has compiled 16 assists to just one turnover in that time.
With that, the point guard position has depth. Back when the Tar Heels won it all in 2005, it was point guard Raymond Felton's team or bust. Now, Lawson can get a breather thanks to Thomas' emergence.
"Ty is a wonderful player," Williams said, "but Q has really given us some more security there."
Of course the Kansas-North Carolina matchup is a storyline drenched in connections, none stronger than Williams' 15-year stay in Lawrence before heading to Chapel Hill.
Thomas has his link, too - coming out of high school in Oakland, Calif., he was recruited by Williams at Kansas, then by Williams at North Carolina as new KU coach Bill Self continued recruiting him to Kansas. He ended up visiting both schools and picked the Tar Heels.
It paid off right away with a national championship his freshman year at UNC. In pursuit of another title as a senior, Thomas is doing his part - and realizing that his part is as important as ever now.
"It would be a great feeling for me to leave as a senior with another national championship," Thomas told the Fayetteville Observer. "That would be like the end of a storybook."
So, just how would you capture the euphoria of victory - or, god forbid, the agony of defeat - in just a few words?As the Jayhawks get ready for their big game against North Carolina in the Final Four, we're giving everyone a chance to submit their suggested headlines for Sunday morning's paper.Some advice: Be clever, descriptive and, of course, concise. Remember: Your optimistic words just might end up being prophetic.For now, we'll stick with taking ideas for the national semifinal, the one pitting Bill Self and the No. 1-seeded Jayhawks against Roy Williams and his No. 1-seeded Tar Heels.Show off your headlines by going to www2.ljworld.com/headline and leaving your suggestion in the comments.