Kansas City, Mo. Some of the heavy hitters in college basketball history came to honor 15th-year Kansas University men's basketball Roy Williams on Sunday night.
Big names like Dean Smith; Jo Jo White; Ted Owens; Dave Robisch; Bud Stallworth; eight members of KU's 1952 title team, including B.H. Born; three members of the '88 title team, including Kevin Pritchard; plus former Williams assistants Matt Doherty and Jerry Green; and many, many more gathered at the Downtown Marriott for the Jewish Community Center of Kansas City's annual fund-raiser.
Missouri coach Norm Stewart also was on hand to praise Williams, and there were video tributes from ESPN's Dick Vitale, plus Jayhawks-in-the-NBA Jacque Vaughn, Raef LaFrentz, Scot Pollard, Paul Pierce and Drew Gooden were shown on several big-screen TVs in the banquet hall.
"I am flattered. I am humbled, but it's a misnomer. This is not a night to honor Roy Williams, but a night to honor Kansas basketball. I'm just the coach honored to be sitting in that head coach's office right now," Williams said.
The 1952 and '88 title teams indeed were honored Sunday, but the guest of honor was Williams, who accepted a massive trophy for "outstanding achievements in college basketball coaching" at the conclusion of the banquet.
"The No. 1 coach in America today is Roy Williams," former North Carolina coaching legend Smith said. "That is without a doubt. Even in 1991 when he beat us (in the Final Four), he was No. 1 to me.
"He is the best coach in the country in winning percentage. It's not even close."
Williams' winning percentage of .807 is well ahead of Cincinnati's Bob Huggins 744) and Utah's Rick Majerus (.740). But that does not tell the whole story of Roy Williams.
"In the last few years he's been offered more jobs than Norm (Stewart) and I put together in our careers," Smith said. "Jerry West offered Roy $3.5 million a year for five years to coach the Lakers and Roy laughed because he likes college so much. He didn't laugh a few years ago when I said, 'Coach, would you like to come back to Chapel Hill (to coach alma mater, North Carolina)?'
"He thought about it, and did what was best for his family knowing I'd accept his decision either way. I was disappointed. It demonstrates my weak recruiting efforts all those years," Smith quipped.
Williams was touched by Smith's remarks.
"Coach Smith said I am the best coach in America. I'm not, but the best coach who ever lived is sitting right there," Williams said, pointing to Smith.
Smith, by the way, attended Sunday afternoon's KU practice before heading to the banquet.
"Hopefully, we'll win a lot of games in the future. If you saw today's practice you wouldn't think we'd win many," Williams said. "It was tough for me to even come here tonight after that practice, but coach Smith said he saw some good things so that gives me hope."
Here are some comments from those who attended Sunday's festivities:
Matt Doherty, who worked around his University of North Carolina practice schedule to honor his boss of seven years:
"I've said many times coach Williams is a better person than a coach. He's been a big brother to me. I'd say 'father figure,' but I don't want to age him. I have more gray hairs than coach Williams. It's great to be part of the Jayhawk family," he added. "Coach Williams brought me to Lawrence and guided me through seven seasons preparing me to be a head coach."
Ted Owens, KU head coach from 1964 to '83, now in the capital management business in Tulsa, Okla.: "Coaching at Kansas is one of the great experiences I ever had in my life. Kansas is such a wonderful institution. I'm grateful to have been part of that for 23 years. As far as Roy. He is simply the best."
Jo Jo White, KU guard from 1966 to '69, now director of special events/community relations and representative basketball operations of the Boston Celtics: "From a 17 year old kid through 21 years of age ... Kansas was a big part of my growth process. All of the things instilled in me through the coaches I had were things I was able to pass to my kids. Things I learned at Kansas were invaluable to me.
"I can't be more impressed with Roy Williams. He is a teacher. He is dedicated. He is responsible. Our young kids should be happy to have such a great coach."
Bud Stallworth, player from 1970 to '72, now assistant director of budget and support services for KU's design and construction management department: "With the tradition we have there is something always going on with Kansas basketball This is yet another celebration of Kansas basketball. For me personally it was such a big part of my life, giving me an opportunity to do things growing up you only dreamed about doing, trying to win a national championship, being an All American and playing professional ball."
Mike Maddox, member of KU's 1988 title team and 1990-91 team that reached the NCAA title team: "This is a great tribute, wonderful, a neat evening. We are proud of the '88 team and it's a tribute to all of Kansas basketball."
Jerry Waugh, assistant coach from 1957 to '60 and player from 1947 to '51: "It's a wonderful gathering, but makes me wonder: 'Why do you want to come out and see such old has-beens?''' Waugh quipped. "This is a chance to see wonderful people and remember wonderful times."
Jerry Green, coach on Williams' original KU staff: "Roy Williams has gone local to national to international status."
Norm Stewart, former Missouri coaching legend: "Roy Williams ... there is no one I admire and respect more than you no one. I admire everything about University of Kansas basketball but this man here did more to cement the relationship between two great universities."