With 14 and 11 points thus far from Ty Hansbrough and Ty Lawson respectively, North Carolina has a 49-40 halftime lead over Villanova, and look a pretty fair bet to advance to Monday’s NCAA championship tilt with Michigan State (82-73 winners against UConn earlier today). At the moment, it’s hard to argue with the Tar Heels’ preperation, even if AOL Sports’ Jay Mariotti takes exception to Roy Williams’ insistence of “I’m not gonna tell my guys they got to stay in the room and watch Bill Cosby reruns for four days.”
All assertions of purity officially vanished the other night. That’s when North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson, maybe the most important player left in the tournament, wandered into one of downtown Detroit’s three casinos and won $250 playing craps for an hour. I realize Lawson did nothing illegal because he’s 21. I realize he’s technically not violating any NCAA rules. Yet I wonder with considerable alarm why he was in a casino when the poisonous bane of college sports always has been gambling, specifically point-shaving. The NCAA fears such scandals like nothing else, to the point of regularly issuing stern warnings to athletes, asking past point-shaving violators to speak to teams and coining a slogan — “Don’t Bet On It ” — that sums up its sweeping anti-gambling stance.
Apparently, no one told North Carolina coach Roy Williams, who has been in the sport forever and really should know better. He gave his team a 1:30 a.m. curfew — not the smartest plan, either, in a troubled city that isn’t exactly Charlottesville, Va. — and didn’t warn his players about the casinos. Seems Williams doesn’t have much of a handle on his team; Lawson, for one, says he gambles in casinos often and added that his UNC teammates previously joined him for a gambling adventure in Reno, Nev., where the Tar Heels didn’t fare as well as they did in winning the South Regional last weekend.
“We got in last night, and Coach gave us a curfew of 1:30,” Lawson revealed Thursday. “I went over to Greektown and won about $250. So I already had my time there. It’s probably the last time I go there before the games start.”
Probably, he said.
“The only time I lost was in Reno; that’s when everybody on the team lost,” Lawson continued. “It’s the only place I lost. The other five or six times I did gamble, I won at least $500.”
As for Williams, he hopped on his elitist horse Friday, choosing to mock anyone who didn’t see Lawson’s wagering as harmless fun. Never mind, of course, that the Carolina program is supposed to represent all things classy. When pushed into a corner, Williams simply reinvents the mission statement.
“Didn’t talk about it before we came,” he said of the casinos. “We had two of our guys go to the casino, Ty Lawson and Marc Campbell. I talked to them. They’re both old enough; it is legal. I find it humorous that somebody would want to ask. It’s strange, if we don’t want those kids doing it, don’t put the Final Four in a city where the casino is 500 yards from our front door. And they’ve got a great buffet in there. I mean, come on.”
“A 21-year-old point guard playing for a national title should not be gambling in a casino in a Final Four city,” protests Mariotti, perhaps forgetting one of the greatest Tar Heels of them all had no problem blowing off steam in Atlantic City in the midst of an NBA playoff series. In all seriousness, there’s no teling what can happen to a student-athlete who runs up a serious gambling debt, and I’d hope Lawson could pledge publicly to cease further wagers until Tuesday. Excepting an internet bet on Carolina to win, of course.