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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Williams one of the best in college athletics

by Wally Hall | April 2, 2021 at 2:50 a.m.

"Is this an April Fool's joke?" was the first thought after reading the headline that North Carolina's Roy Williams was retiring.

Read a little further and got a little more skeptical. He's a youthful 70 and has 903 wins.

There was a time when yours truly had April 1st columns that were about leaving to become a missionary, Nolan Richardson taking over for Rick Pitino at Kentucky and other fun things.

The Richardson column ran during the Final Four a day before Pitino and Kentucky won the national championship.

That column caused a stir at UK because a guy in Little Rock faxed it to the athletic department, but he deleted the last line -- April Fool.

Anyway, giving a little thought to Williams and the way college athletics is today it made more sense.

For instance, the transfer portal.

Numerous emails were received yesterday morning asking if there was more to the story about Desi Sills transferring from the University of Arkansas.

No, he said he wanted to go somewhere he wouldn't be held back. That he is a certified (bucket).

That's what he believes, and so he became one of more than 1,000 who have put their name in the portal looking for greener grasses.

For Williams, the transfer portal is new school in an old-school mentality.

When the one-and-done exploded on the college scene after freshman Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA national basketball championship, Williams initially ignored it.

Like the majority of the coaches -- John Calipari not being one of those -- Williams resisted it, but finally relented for a season, had some success but said he wouldn't do it again because it didn't give him enough time to invest in players' lives.

There are coaches who care more about winning and making money than they do their players, but Williams wasn't one of those.

He was a guy who tried college basketball a year before becoming statistician for Dean Smith. He attended every practice, taking notes.

Williams coached high school basketball (and golf) for five years before getting on the North Carolina staff with Smith, and 10 years later he made the jump from top assistant to head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks.

For his news conference, he bought a new suit. The coat sleeves were 2 inches too long, but he didn't notice. He was too excited. That was 33 years ago.

In his 15 seasons at Kansas, the Jayhawks were 418-101 (80.5%) and made the NCAA Tournament every year but his first.

When the North Carolina job opened, he was in the midst of leading the Jayhawks to the national championship game, his third Final Four and second consecutive.

On April 7, the Jayhawks lost to Carmelo and Syracuse 81-78. He was asked several times after the game about North Carolina and finally said, "I could give a s* about North Carolina right now."

At that point, he wanted to be with his players in the locker room.

One week later, he accepted the job at North Carolina, which was coming off three unpredictable seasons under former Tar Heel Matt Doherty.

In a matter of weeks, the fan base embraced Williams as he brought the legendary Smith back into the limelight after a three-year absence.

Williams would lead the Tar Heels to three national championships and post a 485-163 record in 18 seasons.

In the toughest basketball conference in the country, he won nine ACC championships and had a conference record of 219-94. He took the Tar Heels to the NCAA Tournament every year but one, not including last season when the tournament was canceled.

Roy Williams is going out on his terms, a winner on and off the court.


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