Welcome Guest. Login/Signup.
ACC Sports Journal Logo

Williams Discovers A Special Situation

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

  January 5, 2004 CHAPEL HILL — One day after dropping a 61-56 nail-biter at Kentucky, which drew the ire of first-year coach Roy Williams, the 8-2 North Carolina basketball team assembled for a previously scheduled Sunday afternoon session at the Smith Center. At the time, UNC fans were upset about the Heels' 1-2 record against the three strongest opponents (Illinois, Wake Forest, Kentucky) on the early season schedule and concerned about a remaining slate that included non-league contests versus Miami and Connecticut and 15 more games against a suddenly imposing ACC. When they heard Williams' comments after the Kentucky game, many even wondered how much had changed behind the scenes since the Heels' controversy-filled offseason coaching change, which followed Matt Doherty's complete alienation from most of his players. “I'm frustrated,” Williams said. “I've been spoiled rotten for the last several years (at Kansas). Coaching has been an easy gig, but right now I'm as frustrated as I've ever been in my life. … We didn't look like a very well-coached team out there today. That's very hard for a coach to say, but I didn't feel like we were very well-coached today, and that's my responsibility.” Message. “It's not talent, it's not that we can't play, it's not that we're not capable. It's just that once we really decide, ‘OK, I'm going to do this for the good of the team, I'm going to pass up this shot, I'm going to stop this guy for the team,' then we'll be great. Until we get that, we'll never see how great this team can be.” Message. The next day at the Smith Center? The team meeting didn't involve any yelling or screaming, and Williams even avoided use of the term “frickin',” which automatically becomes one of his favorite words any time he reaches a point of extreme frustration. (He's very good at avoiding the alternative term, which uses many of the same letters.) Instead, the UNC players and coaches gathered for a previously scheduled hoops session … with about 100 Special Olympians from throughout the state. For two hours, at least, everyone associated with the Carolina basketball program was smiling. Message. Williams' post-Kentucky tirade and the Special Olympics experience had at least two things in common: They were filled with meaning, and both messages were intended for the UNC players more than anyone else. Some might suggest the two events had another thing in common — thoughtful planning — but Williams, who is emotional if nothing else, never has been as good as his mentor (Dean Smith) at sending subliminal messages through carefully selected and artfully delivered words. Williams more likely was speaking from the heart at Kentucky, just as he was thinking with his heart when he called North Carolina-based Special Olympics representatives (not the other way around) soon after accepting the UNC job. He made similar events a tradition while at Kansas. During the Tar Heels' 8-2 start this season, Williams often became frustrated with his new team's approach to the game. Like Doherty, he didn't understand why some players had such a hard time implementing lessons from practice on game days. Williams also has complained that the Heels often lack the necessary respect for the importance of attention to detail in some practices and game situations. Most importantly, he has suggested that a starting lineup full of prep All-Americans — Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, Jawad Williams and Sean May — doesn't have the consistent, passionate, aggressive, take-no-prisoners attitude it needs to maximize its obviously staggering potential. Reserves Sending More Messages Against Kentucky, during key stretches of a very close game, Williams utilized walk-on guard Damien Price (four minutes), walk-on guard Jesse Holley (two), walk-on forward Justin Bohlander (four), freshman forward Reyshawn Terry (four) and little-used forward Byron Sanders (six) with various combinations. At one point, regulars David Noel and Jackie Manuel — two players who have elevated their games from last year and have worked very hard at the defensive end — joined Sanders, Holley and Terry in another odd lineup. To many who saw it happen, it wasn't a stretch to suggest that sending another wake-up call to his stars was more important to Williams than winning the game. Message. “I love those kids (who came off the bench),” Williams said. “There's not a single one of those kids that was highly recruited. What they did is they tried to pay attention to detail. … I was extremely proud of a lot of guys that normally don't play many minutes for us. They came in and kept us in the game for a long time, when some of the other players who get all the accolades weren't playing very well.” Message. It's not difficult to imagine Williams using the Special Olympics experience to illustrate, especially to McCants, that UNC basketball players have plenty of reasons to be happy and thankful and no reason to walk around every day as if the weight of the world was on their shoulders. Have fun. Play hard. Live each day, each game, to its fullest. Don't take what you have for granted. Maximize the many gifts you've been given. Go after what you want. Don't wait for it to come to you. “It's not supposed to be easy,” Williams said after the Kentucky game. “Sometimes we act like things are supposed to be given to us. We don't want to just hope we're going to win, we want to make something happen. I get tired of hoping the other team is going to screw it up. It's the most frustrating thing I've ever been around, hoping somebody's going to screw it up. That's what we're supposed to do, make something happen.” That's an important message, too. Whether or not the Tar Heels are listening, and to what extent they're willing to embrace their new coach's methods, likely will go a long way toward determining the course of their season. Doherty is gone. Williams is here to stay. He's not leaving, he won't get fired, and he's not about to change his ways for anyone. “He was upset with us (at Kentucky),” May said. “We just weren't playing, so he put in the reserves and they stopped the bleeding until we went back out there. We need to come together as a team. Right now we have too many individuals, and we need unity. That's the reason we lost today.” The bad news for the Tar Heels was that they failed their two biggest tests of the season through early January. The good news was that both of their losses were to top-10 opponents, in games that very easily could have gone either way. If they can get on the same page with their coach, they may become a team nobody wants to play. Then, it won't take a visit from the Special Olympics to leave everyone smiling.