Roy Williams is still good enough to do whatever he wants.
We all know the Hall of Fame’s more than humble track record, from almost poverty to star status as an undersized athlete. “A peasant from the mountains of North Carolina and probably still am,” Williams thought.
He was a high school coach, hired by Dean Smith and stayed for 10 years before Smith helped him get the job at Kansas. He started as a head coach at age 38 (11 years later than Mike Krzyzewski) and became the fastest to 900 wins in college basketball history.
And in his 33rd season, 18th at UNC, Ol’ Roy is as natural as the kid who learned to love golf by mowing the grass on the course and caddying for his high school coach. Yes, he sure is stubborn but sticks to what he learned from Smith and other mentors and it still works at 70.
He claims he and Gonzaga’s Mark Few are the only remaining coaches who play against two big men all the time. The wide spread, screen and roll attack has become the rage and is difficult to defend against, but so has stopping two bigs that dominate paint and glass. And this is the season for that.
When the NCAA Tournament is played in a half-empty stadium with poor sightlines and cavernous backdrops, shooting from inside will yield a higher percentage than shooting from 3 points. And no team in America has a better quartet of greats than the Williams Tar Heels.
And in recruiting, his chances are improving all the time. They still make them the size and weight of Armando Bacot and Day’Ron Sharpe. With low-post bangers becoming less of a priority for most programs, these kids will see Carolina as a better opportunity to play. Twice as good, in fact.
In advertising, Williams follows Smith in choosing charities (and now social media messaging) over using Amex ads as recruiting tools or the Aflac duck to line their pockets. When you see it in a car ad, it’s fundraising. His Ol ‘Roy Dunkin’ Donut debuts this weekend50 cents of each Boston Creme with Blue Frosting sold to UNC Children’s Hospital and a statewide food bank.
He and Wanda don’t live in a mansion, and his vacations are usually around the beach with his grandkids or his goal of playing the 100 most famous golf courses in the world. So, with an annual income of more than $4 million, the Williams can afford to donate the more than 3.5 million dollars returned to their alma mater during the pandemic. Wanda suggested that a small portion of the money be used to endow the 13th man on the basketball team’s scholarship because, in her heart, that’s how Roy sees himself.
It tells the story of Smith yelling at him for pledging $5,000 to build the new basketball arena when he barely made it as a part-time assistant coach. “Coach, they give you about seven years to pay it back,” he told his boss, who shot back, “You still don’t have to give your full salary!”
Williams is tough on his players in training and sometimes the media, but he usually takes most of the blame after his team stinks of him. It was refreshing to see the role reversal after the Tar Heels spanked Duke on Senior nightwhen Coach K said he did a lousy job preparing his team and Roy beat him in that regard as well.
UNC has done an incredible job on the courts and fields during the pandemic, and currently has the No. 1 ranked teams in men’s tennis, women’s tennis, women’s lacrosse, and men’s lacrosse. Field hockey is the defending two-time national champion and will go for a third straight time in May to Karen Shelton Stadium, named after the UNC Hall of Fame coach. Women’s football has been a perennial powerhouse for decades under fellow HoFer Anson Dorrance.
Athletic director Bubba Cunningham talks about the strength of Carolina’s expansive program through the lens of his coaches and is determined not to cut any of the 28 varsity teams due to the COVID crisis. He has maintained what is arguably the best sports program in the country.
Who knows what college sports will look like on the other side, but at this rate, 2021-22 could be the best year a D1 school has ever had? Mack Brown’s football team will be a legitimate contender for the Hall of Fame’s second national championship, and depending on who stays and comes, Ol’ Roy could be in a good position to make a serious run at his fourth NCAA title.
Of course his young Tar Heels missed the last four minutes of their comeback against Florida Statefought their way out of the ACC Tournament and will have a tough draw regardless of their seeding on Selection Sunday.
But in the long run, the light at the end of the tunnel has a bluish reflection.
Photo via Mike Olivella/ACC Media.
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