By Shawn Krest
Look closely, and you’ll notice something at the NCAA coaches press conferences this week--a little extra bling.
Championship rings may spend most of their lives in trophy cases or safety deposit boxes, but for one week a year, they get dusted off and put on display. Any coach who has any connection to a championship team in his past will wear the ring, making clear the unspoken message to players on the eve of the tournament: “This is what you’re playing for.”
There are 55 individuals who will be participating in this year’s tournament as coaches, assistants or players who own a total of 71 NCAA championship rings. Eighteen of the 68 head coaches in the Big Dance have them. So do 19 players and 18 assistants.
As you might expect, last year’s national champion, Louisville, has the most rings in the field, with 13. Coach Rick Pitino has two, and the Cardinals return two assistants and nine players from last year’s squad. The definition of “player” is a little hazy. It includes Mangok Mathiang, who redshirted last season, and Kevin Ware, who’s redshirting this year. It also includes Logan Baumann, who was a walk-on last year but is serving as team manager this year.
Duke is next in the ring-count rankings. Coach Mike Krzyzewski has four of the Blue Devils’ 10 championship rings. Assistant Steve Wojciechowski has won two as a Duke assistant, in 2001 and 2010. Assistant Nate James was a player on the 2001 team and an assistant in 2010. Jon Scheyer will most likely be wearing the ring he won as a player in 2010, but, since he doesn’t have the title of assistant coach, he’s not included in the team’s total.
Fifth-year senior Andre Dawkins was a freshman on the 2010 team, and reserve Todd Zafirovski was a redshirt that year.
Duke also produced the rings for two other teams in the field. Harvard’s Tommy Amaker was an assistant coach on the 1991 and 1992 National Champion Blue Devils, and Stanford’s Johnny Dawkins was a Duke assistant in 2001.
Kentucky has eight rings remaining from the 2012 champions: John Calipari, all three assistants, and players Jon Hood, Jarrod Polson, Sam Malone and Brian Long.
North Carolina has six rings, which ties Connecticut for next-most. Roy Williams won titles with the Heels in 2005 and 2009 and was an assistant on Dean Smith’s 1982 champions. Steve Robinson was Williams’ assistant for both titles, and CB McGrath was on the staff for one.
UConn has fallen on hard times since its 2011 title, and only head coach Kevin Ollie (then an assistant) and three players remain. Ollie’s staff also includes an assistant and a player (Ricky Moore) from the Huskies’ 1999 title.
The ties between UNC and UConn extend to the Tar Heels’ first game. Carolina faces off with Providence. Head coach Ed Cooley doesn’t have a ring, but assistant Al LaFleur was on John Calhoun’s staff when UConn won the 2011 title.
The basketball blue bloods don’t have a monopoloy on the championship rings. Next on the list is Western Michigan, with four. All of them belong to assistant coach Larry Farmer, who won three as a UCLA player in the early 1970s and one as a Bruins’ assistant in 1975.
Farmer is one of two tournament participants with rings older than Roy Williams’ from 1982. St. Louis coach Jim Crews was a player on the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers, the team Wichita State will be trying to unseat as last undefeated champion. Crews also added a ring as a 1981 Indiana assistant.
Syracuse has three rings, all resulting from its 2003 title. Jim Boeheim remains coach and Mike Hopkins his assistant. Assistant coach Gerry McNamara was a player on that team as well.
The only other ACC representative with a title ring is NC State. It’s not Dereck Whittenburg, who threw the air ball that Lorenzo Charles dunked to give the Wolfpack the 1983 crown. He’s listed as “an assistant to the coach”, not one of the three assistant coaches allowed by the NCAA. Like Scheyer’s position, Whittenburg’s doesn’t make our cut. Instead, head coach Mark Gottfried, an assistant on UCLA’s 1995 national title, has the ring.
The ACC also produced one other ring in the field. Ohio State assistant Dave Dickerson was an assistant on Maryland’s 2002 champions.
The other rings belong to:
Michigan State (head coach Tom Izzo and assistant Mike Garland, 2000 Spartans)
San Diego State (head coach Steve Fisher, 1989 Michigan)
Gonzaga (player Kyle Wiltjer, sitting out this season after transferring from Kentucky, 2012)
Kansas (head coach Bill Self and assistant Kurtis Townsend, 2008 Jayhawks)
Tulsa (head coach Danny Manning, 1988 Kansas player, 2008 assistant)
Florida (head coach Billy Donovan, 2006 and 2007 Gators)
Manhattan (head coach Steve Masiello, an assistant with 1998 Kentucky)
UCLA (head coach Steve Alford, a player on 1987 Indiana)
Memphis (head coach Josh Pastner, a player on 1997 Arizona)