The hoopla was just too much. Minnesota coach Clem Haskins had to get his team out of town as quickly as possible. So, Haskins whisked his players away from Minneapolis on Wednesday to Indianapolis, where the din of the Final Four is just now building.
"We needed to get out of town," Haskins said. "Our kids at Minnesota, it's unbelievable. The phones in the dormitories. They got bands playing outside the dorms, people patting them on the backs. They're really excited that we're in the Final Four. But in order to compete with a team like Kentucky (the Golden Gophers' semifinal opponent), you're really forced to be focused. If not, you're going to be in big trouble. We got out of town to get back to basics and concentrate on basketball."
THE OTHER SIDE: If Kentucky coach Rick Pitino had his choice, he would not bring his team into Indianapolis until Friday, the day before the game.
"It's all a matter of what you're conditioned to," Pitino said.
THE THINKING MAN: North Carolina star sophomore Antawn Jamison doesn't want to think about the possibility of bolting for the NBA until after the Final Four, but he said that's easier said than done.
"I know the opportunity is there for me, and it's a great opportunity, but if I'm thinking about that right now, it's going to hurt the way I'm playing basketball right now," he said. "I'm not going to lie to you. It's been in the back of my mind, and I've been thinking about it a whole lot."
Jamison said NBA players have told him these are the best years of his life, and he says this season is one of the "happiest years of my whole life" and he's having fun as a student-athlete. His plan is to sit down with Tar Heels coach Dean Smith after the season to discuss his options.
SMITH WON'T QUIT: Smith dismissed rumors he may retire if the Tar Heels win the national title.
"If you win something, will you quit?" he said. "No. Okay. You like what you're doing? So it has no bearing."
Smith admitted that his much-publicized pursuit of Adolph Rupp's record for career wins wore on him and at one time he considered getting out so the "so-called record" wouldn't take away from his team. Friends and former players convinced him not to leave for that reason.
"My contract runs through 2001, and I take each year as it comes," he said. "You wait and see how excited you are in August."
_ BRIAN LANDMAN, TIMES WIRES