NEW ORLEANS – UNC, Duke, Kansas and Villanova battled over the weekend as the best of the best in college hoops. UNC and Kansas emerged as the winners, and they'll face off tonight in the men's college basketball championship in New Orleans.
The two storied teams will go head-to-head in one of the most anticipated NCAA championship games in years, eighth-seeded North Carolina is taking on top-ranked Kansas. The last time these two teams met in the finals led to a triple-overtime thriller.
The four teams from this year's Final Four represented some of college basketball's most historically prestigious programs. CBN Sports had a chance to talk with players and coaches about their love of basketball and their faith in Christ.
A knee injury just one year ago forced Villanova's starting point guard Collin Gillespie to the sidelines. This year he led the Wildcats back to the Final Four and is thankful he had the opportunity.
"I don't take anything for granted. Missing all that was really hard and it really puts a lot into perspective. You're super grateful for every day that you get, and you know that it goes by like that so…" Gillespie said. "And just kind of having that faith and that there is a bigger plan. It's kind of already written for me and there's ups and downs throughout life and that's just part of life, but if you keep that faith, then anything is possible for you."
Kansas' backcourt duo Joe Yesufu and Jalen Coleman-Lands have been key to the Jayhawks' success. Both credit the foundation passed on from their mothers, and with the championship game in view, they're playing for something bigger.
"My family was always around the church and I'm just grateful that she told me to believe in Him. It's definitely a blessing being here, you know without Him we wouldn't be where we are today. And just being in the Final Four, not a lot of people have gotten to this point," Yesufu told us. "I try to spread His word through this game. It's bigger than basketball. That's the way I look at it."
Coleman-Lands said, "It's rooted in my family, but throughout my life I've experienced, I have my own personal testimonies. My faith is the reason why I'm here today. It's molded me into the man I am today. Being able to use this platform to spread His Word. Being able to have an opportunity to still play is an opportunity for us to continue doing what God has given us the talents to do, which is to play and use our talents for the greater good."
Duke's Mark Williams is seen as one of the Blue Devils' three potential top-10 picks in the upcoming NBA draft. This season his teammate A.J. Griffin started a team Bible study, and Williams has been encouraged through their bond of faith.
"A.J starting that, it was really huge for us. We have a little group chat. Always talk, always send verses. But for me, faith is really important, you know? I pray before every game," Williams said.
This season, Tar Heels starting guard Leaky Black has battled injuries and even anxiety. He's found stability and calm in his relationship with God.
"I feel like faith has helped me like my whole career," Black said. "You know, it hasn't been all sunshine and rainbows throughout my whole career here, but just keeping my faith has allowed me to get to this point and I'm grateful for it."
Leaky also credits his relationship with Coach Hubert Davis. In just his first season as the North Carolina head coach, Davis led the team to an improbable run, as an eight seed, to win over rival Duke in the Final Four. Because of his faith, Coach Davis is an irreplaceable leader on and off the court.
"You know, having a coach like that you know it makes the tough times easier to get through because it gives you something to look forward to at the end, you always stay positive, you always keep your faith," Black said. "It's just always something you can just hang your hat on when things get hard and I'm a believer too of that."
Coach Davis said, "The foundation of who I am is my relationship with Jesus, and so whether it's coaching, whether it's my marriage, whether it's my three kids, decision making, everything is filtered through my faith and so I can't do anything without it. It's not me sharing it. It's me being me. That's how I roll every day and that's just who I am."
Who is Jesus? Is he really God’s Son? And what does Jesus have to do with Heaven? Your questions are answered here.