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JUST LIKE DAD, MAY FLOWERS INTO A STAR

A few days before the season began, North Carolina coach Roy Williams assembled his players to talk about goals. He had a clear destination in mind. To illustrate, Williams went over the sites and dates for the NCAA Tournament, leading up to college basketball's final, climactic Monday.

"Coach," Sean May said with a grin, "April 4th is going to be a special day."

May didn't let on at the time, but when Williams pointed out the date, May realized the national championship game fell on his birthday.

So tonight against Illinois, on his 21st birthday, May has a chance to celebrate on his sport's biggest stage and etch his name in Final Four history. At last, he has an opportunity to equal the legacy of his father, Scott, who led an unbeaten Indiana team to the 1976 title and was named National Player of the Year.

May grew up in Bloomington, Ind., in the afterglow of his dad's glory. Rarely did a day go by without someone mentioning that '76 team, the last men's Division I team to go through a season unbeaten. Everyone wanted to know if he would follow his father to Indiana and play for Bobby Knight.

"It was tough growing up in Bloomington," said May, a 6-foot-9 junior. "Every time I'm referenced, it's as 'Scott May's son.' That's one reason why I got away from Indiana."

In fact, he probably would have gone to Indiana if Knight's temper hadn't gotten him run out in 2000. Scott May, who has a strong influence over his son, did not see eye-to-eye with Knight's successor, Mike Davis. So Sean went with North Carolina and coach Matt Doherty.

Things did not go smoothly. May broke his foot 11 games into his freshman season and Carolina failed to reach the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row -- after making it 27 straight times. Doherty was fired. Williams took over and got the Tar Heels to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year.

May had a solid sophomore season, leading the ACC in rebounding. Still, he felt unfulfilled. He had gotten worn down late in games and struggled to finish around the basket. He met with Williams, who told him he needed to get his body in better shape.

May took the advice to heart. He cut out the pizza and cookies. He adopted a rigorous workout program. He played on the USA 20-and-under team that won gold at the Americas World Championship. He trimmed 10 pounds, to 260, and came back determined to dominate.

He has done just that. The deeper the season went, the stronger he became. He had eight straight double-doubles down the stretch.

In the NCAA Tournament, May has averaged 21.6 points and 10.8 rebounds, shooting 62.7 percent from the floor. In Saturday's win over Michigan State, he had 18 of his 22 points after halftime. He grabbed the moment in his vise-like hands and took the game over.

"I just want to be known as a player who has good court savvy and understands the game of basketball," May said.

May gets a lot of his court sense from his dad. Scott didn't push him when he was younger. He didn't think Sean was committed to hoops. Once he realized the boy was serious, Scott worked him out three times a week and showed him tapes of NBA and college players to show him the right way to play.

The kid learned his lessons well. If he wants a refresher, there's always The Tape. One Christmas, Scott gave Sean a tape of Indiana's win over Michigan in the 1976 national title game. Sean brought it to St. Louis. He planned to show it to his teammates Sunday night so they could see that Indiana team celebrate.

May would love to celebrate a title of his own tonight, and maybe a Final Four MVP award. Somebody remember to bring a cake.

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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