Archive for Sunday, November 24, 2002

UNC matchup difficult for Williams

KU coach not looking forward to facing alma mater

November 24, 2002


Like all true, sky blue University of North Carolina graduates, Roy Williams has memorized the refrain of the school's alma mater, "Hark the Sound of Tar Heel Voices."

'''Tar Heel born, Tar Heel bred, when I die I'm Tar Heel dead.' There's something to that," Kansas University's 15th-year basketball coach and 1972 UNC grad said after his Jayhawks' 105-66 rout of UNC Greensboro on Friday at Allen Fieldhouse. The victory propelled KU into Wednesday night's Preseason NIT semifinal matchup against Williams' alma mater.

"I love that place. I don't think anybody loves that basketball program like I love it."

For that reason, Williams said, "North Carolina is harder to play than anybody else because I have those feelings. My entire life I dreamed of playing there and dreamed of coaching there. It's not just Matt Doherty. It's North Carolina."

Doherty, a former Williams assistant, is in his third year as head coach at UNC.

There's no doubt Williams sorely wants to defeat North Carolina in Wednesday's 8:30 p.m. game at New York's Madison Square Garden :quot; for the sake of his players.

He's staying

It's been well chronicled that on July 7, 2000, Williams declined an offer to coach at North Carolina because of loyalty to KU players past and present.

"The biggest reason for staying was for 12 years at Kansas I tried to build what North Carolina had talked about :quot; family and loyalty," Williams said. "It boiled down to the fact if I left, those kids could have felt I hadn't been truthful with them. The loyalty to my current players and past players ... that was the biggest reason for staying.

KU coach Roy Williams, right, instructs guard Aaron Miles. Williams
will face his alma mater Wednesday when the Jayhawks play North
Carolina in the Preseason NIT semifinals at New York.

KU coach Roy Williams, right, instructs guard Aaron Miles. Williams will face his alma mater Wednesday when the Jayhawks play North Carolina in the Preseason NIT semifinals at New York.

"That won out over my dream. It was just too difficult to leave my players."

Aside from his own family members, the person who matters most to Williams - former UNC coaching legend and Kansas grad Dean Smith - graciously accepted Williams' decision. Some others are hoping Carolina pounds the Jayhawks into submission Wednesday.

In the book, "Different Shade of Blue," the author says Smith "once he got over the initial shock, almost immediately forgave Williams for staying at Kansas. Others didn't."

The book says Bill Guthridge, the person Doherty eventually replaced, said Guthridge was "not disappointed, but ticked."

Williams has never discussed specifics of who in Carolina is upset with him and who isn't, but recognizes while most Carolina supporters wish him well, others remain miffed.

"I'm sure there is (resentment)," Williams said. "I've tried not to look back. I've tried to focus on Kansas people hopefully being happy I stayed here, that kind of thing. It was not an easy decision. Part of it since then hasn't been pleasant. It's the only reason I didn't want to play 'em in New York (because) I've got to answer all those questions again. It is the hard part.

"Coach Smith has been phenomenal to me. It's impossible for me to have more respect for any single person in the entire civilized world than I have for coach Smith. The way he's treated me since that ... he knew because he knew what we had at Kansas. Larry Brown (ex-Jayhawk coach and UNC grad) knew. He said he was one of the few people who knew the problem I was going through.

"People at Kansas don't understand what they have at North Carolina and people at North Carolina don't understand what we have at Kansas. It's something I disappointed some people. It's hard for me to handle, but we've got to go on."

Smith's classy reaction to Williams' decision has definitely smoothed some hard feelings in Chapel Hill.

"Roy knew and I knew that I wanted what was best for Wanda (Williams' wife) and Roy and I'd accept his decision either way," Smith said at a recent dinner in Kansas City, Mo., honoring Williams. "I was disappointed though. It demonstrated my weak recruiting efforts," he quipped.

"With Roy it is all about loyalty and caring about the people he coaches. He's a fabulous coach, the best in America," added Smith who went 1-1 versus his pupil, Carolina beating KU in the 1993 Final Four, KU stopping the Heels in the '91 Final Four.

Still a Jayhawk

Williams will never forget the phone call he made to Smith declining his job offer.

"It was the single most difficult phone call and conversation I've ever had," Williams said. "Coach had flattered me (by) how hard he recruited me and wanted me to come back and take over a program he'd built into one of the powers, if not the greatest power, in college basketball.

"I wouldn't be where I am today without coach Smith, coach Guthridge and Eddie Fogler, the knowledge they showed me and the guidance they gave me. Coach Smith continues to guide me ... to call him and tell him I was not coming it was very emotional and very difficult."

Williams, who has a 390-93 record at KU, several years ago began to feel he'd put his stamp on the KU program.

"I did consider we've got a new practice facility, new offices ... that I raised money for helping build some of the things. I did have a feeling of possession of the Kansas program. I guess that's something you get," Williams said.

"I really did not think too much about any legacy. I think you've got to be successful a long, long, time before you can think in those terms."

He's successful in the eyes of his players.

"I had an unusual phone call the morning I made the decision (to stay at KU) from a youngster I coached in high school 24 years ago," Williams said. "He works in North Carolina. He said whatever decision I made is never going to change the feelings of my former players. They were concerned about me.

"Again the relationship with my players is the most important factor in the decision."

A monumental decision that pleased the Jayhawk faithful.

"I am a Jayhawk," Williams said. "That isn't going to change."

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