UNC-Asheville to face Longhorns

Published 6:26 am Friday, March 21, 2003

By By BEN WALKER, AP Sports Writer
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Rick Barnes had big plans. At 23, he wanted to be a basketball coach someday at a Division I school.
Too bad for him, he was too busy packing boxes at United Parcel Service and substitute teaching and working at his dad's mill to pursue it. That is, until Eddie Biedenbach gave Barnes a chance -- albeit after making him wait 12 hours for an interview.
Almost 25 years since their days together at Davidson, they'll meet up Friday in the NCAA tournament when Barnes leads top-seeded Texas against Biedenbach and North Carolina Asheville in the South Regional.
Kidded Biedenbach: ''If I'd known he was going to go to Texas, I wouldn't have hired him.''
Clearly, the Bulldogs (15-16) are in for a tough test. They're the only team in the tournament with a losing record, even after beating Texas Southern 92-84 in overtime in Tuesday night's play-in game.
No 16th-seeded team has ever won a game in the tournament. Still, Asheville players did not sound daunted -- well, not much -- about taking on deep, talented Texas (22-6).
Later at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center, eighth-seeded LSU takes on No. 9 Purdue.
At night in the East Regional, coach Rick Pitino and No. 4 Louisville play No. 13 Austin Peay, followed by No. 5 Mississippi State against No. 12 Butler.
Barnes is making his 11th appearance in the NCAA tournament, including trips with Providence and Clemson. Way back, though, there was no guarantee he'd ever make it in without buying a ticket.
Barnes was fresh out of college, juggling three jobs and working as an assistant at North Carolina Academy when a friend set him up to talk with Biedenbach, then the head man at Davidson.
To hear Barnes tell it, he was supposed to meet with Biedenbach at 8 a.m., and he arrived on campus an hour early.
An hour went by. Then another, and then a few more. No sign of Biedenbach.
About 8 p.m. -- and again, this is Barnes' version -- Biedenbach came out to talk to him. They hit it off right away, and Biedenbach offered him a job as a volunteer coach.
Barnes stayed two seasons at Davidson, working at a lumber yard and measuring houses for another company to make ends meet, before leaving to coach at George Mason.
Along the way, they've stayed close friends. Barnes, now 48, was pulling for his 57-year-old mentor while watching this week's play-in game.
The two coaches got to visit for a couple of minutes at the arena after their teams practiced Friday.
The former colleagues also saw each other Dec. 28, 2000, when Asheville played at Texas. The Bulldogs were routed 74-43.
The 6-foot-11 McGonagil remembered bumping into Longhorns' big man Chris Owens, now playing in the NBA for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Texas enters the tournament as a top seed for the first time. The Longhorns heard a lot of criticism about that spot after losing to Texas Tech in the Big 12 tournament.
They'll have plenty of support at the Civic Center. The arena is sold out, with a lot of Texas fans planning to attend.
Of course, a lot of tickets sold early when local fans thought Alabama would be playing in Birmingham. But the Crimson Tide, ranked No. 1 early this season, stumbled in the second half and wound up in the East, playing in Boston.
Instead, Southeastern Conference fans will get to see LSU and Mississippi State.