Monday, April 19

With Roy Williams’ retirement, college basketball loses an all-time great coach, even if not everyone realizes it

The curious thing about Roy Williams’ head coaching career is that he started at the top and worked his way down, in terms of public perception, even though he gained more success, more respect, and greater wealth every day since the 8th. of July. , 1988.

Williams’ work as head coach at Kansas in his first season was widely applauded, and when he made it to the national championship game of the NCAA Tournament at the end of his third season, he was seen as a rising superstar. And yet somehow, having reached four Final Fours at Kansas and a second national title game, and having moved home to coach the North Carolina Tar Heels, he made it into the game for the title of 2005 against Illinois with a chorus of “Talent against equipment”.

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Her Heels weren’t the “team” in that equation.

Don’t think you didn’t notice. He was too modest to say anything in public, but he had every reason to be upset.

And he was almost certainly offended again in 2012, when he was named the nation’s “most overrated coach” in an anonymous poll of college basketball coaches conducted by staff and posted on its website. Williams had two NCAA championships and seven Final Fours on his résumé at the time, and he still wasn’t even close. He obtained 23 percent of the votes.

Here’s what’s tricky: While Williams hasn’t appreciated those who fired him, he would never want anyone to elevate him above the late Dean Smith, who trained him at Carolina, who hired him to the Tar Heels staff, who recommended the deceased. Bob. Frederick at Kansas who hired Williams in 1988 to coach the Jayhawks even though Roy was, at the time, 0-0. Then we won’t do that.

We’ll let the numbers do that for us: Williams, 70, retired Thursday from the college coach with the most career wins (903), most NCAA championships (three), most NCAA Tournament appearances (30). , victories in the NCAA Tournament (79) and regular season conference championships (18).

To honor Roy’s wishes, we will not take the statement beyond saying that North Carolina has never had a better basketball coach.

Williams’ win total ranks fourth in the game’s history, behind Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun. His nine Final Fours rank fourth, behind Krzyzewski, John Wooden and Smith. His three titles rank fourth, behind Wooden, Krzyzewski and Adolph Rupp and tied with Calhoun and Bob Knight.

You see the names there, the men Williams has kept company with, and it’s jarring that none have been disrespected the way Williams has been, many times, particularly since he returned to Chapel Hill.

The preamble to that 2005 title game is the most obvious example. The “Talent vs. Team” framing was ubiquitous, enough for The Associated Press to mention it in the game story circulated after the Tar Heels’ 75-70 win over the Illini.

It had been a ridiculous construction to say that they were not a suitable team. Williams and his staff worked hard to achieve this. Williams had to convince Marvin Williams, who would become the second pick in the June NBA Draft, to accept a sixth-man spot because he didn’t want to bench a talented and productive senior, Jawad Williams. He had to get volatile wing Rashad McCants to commit to his role on offense and defense, and that was no small feat. He had to build an offense around center Sean May’s overwhelming low-post touchdown, when that focus had rarely been the central feature of his teams in Kansas.

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Williams went on to win two more titles, in 2009 and 2017, with teams that were divergent in style and personality, and reached two more Final Fours that did not result in championships. In 2019, his Tar Heels earned another ACC regular season title and another No. 1 seed, but were eliminated in the Sweet 16 by Auburn. His last game was as the No. 8 seed in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, which the Heels lost by 23 points to Wisconsin.

Williams cried after that game, as he used to do after the last game of a season. Most were defeats, because that’s the nature of the sport, but the champion ends up with a win, and he did it more than most.

“The last game is extremely emotional,” Williams told reporters afterward. “I ‘ve been very lucky; I’ve been in the locker room four times, once as an assistant, three as a head coach, where the last game of the year was very emotional in a good way.

“My club, I didn’t do a very good job. It has been a difficult year. But everyone has had the problems with COVID that we have had. It’s been a tough year of pushing and pulling, pushing and pulling every other day to try and get something done. But how can you get luckier than Roy Williams is coaching basketball? “

You could have been one of us, being able to see him do it. Is that more fortunate? Who will say? Perhaps the end of his career, however, will convince those who didn’t really appreciate him to understand: There goes Roy Williams, damned close to the best that has ever existed in this game.

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