He is 68 years old now, a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, so as Kentucky gets ready to play North Carolina on Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago, a refresher course on UNC Coach Roy Williams:
The post-game handshake
No one does the post-game handshake like Roy Williams. There are no post-game flybys, a la a Tom Crean or a Jim Boeheim, for Ol’ Roy. He grabs the opposing coach’s hand, leans in and appears to do most of the talking. Williams has something to say and, dadgummit, he’s going to say it.
Some might think the ritual is fake. Some might think it’s corny. Some might wonder what the other coach is thinking while Williams has his hand in a vice grip while delivering the post-game message. Roy doesn’t seem to care what people think. Never has, never will. The post-game handshake is one of his things. He keeps on doing it. Corny or not.
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No one does post-game tears like Roy Williams. This goes back to his days as the head coach at Kansas. Whenever his Jayhawks were bounced from the NCAA Tournament, their season complete, Williams couldn’t help but get all choked up. He has followed that pattern at North Carolina.
Take last season, a supposed down campaign for the Heels, coming off the NCAA title in 2017. Williams had endured a season clouded by an NCAA investigation into the school’s scandal concerning athletes taking fake or substandard classes. Then North Carolina was unceremoniously bounced by Texas A&M 85-65 in the second round of the Big Dance. This wasn’t an NCAA finals loss or a Final Four loss or even an Elite Eight loss. This was a round-of-32 loss. Didn’t matter.
“I’m not ashamed to say I love these kids,” said Williams in the postgame press conference. “If you only had any idea how much fun they have been for me. Three of the last four years have been very difficult, and those kids were my salvation. They really were.”
We were in the press room in 2017, partaking of the pregame meal before the South Region title game of the NCAA Tournament between Kentucky and North Carolina when the conversation turned to how, on the recruiting trail, Roy Williams just wasn’t getting it done. Not enough five-star recruits. Kentucky and Duke were the new recruiting kings. Carolina was close, but no cigar.
Then the Heels went out and beat the Cats 75-73 to reach the Final Four where North Carolina won it all and gave Williams his third national championship.
Not that the description of Williams’ recruiting was baseless, mind you. Guess when, according to 247Sports, Carolina last boasted a top-five national signing class? That would be 2012. The Heels ranked fifth. Since then: 15th in 2013; 10th in 2014; 70th in 2015; 14th in 2016; 19th in 2017 and 14th last year.
Doesn’t matter. Carolina has won 24 or more games in each of those years. It won two ACC titles. In the past 14 years, Williams has won three national championships. No other coach has captured as many national titles over that time span. Not Mike Krzyzewski (two). Not Jay Wright (two). Can you win three national titles and be underrated?
North Carolina enters Saturday 8-2 on the season. The Heels are fresh off a 103-90 romp over visiting and fourth-ranked Gonzaga. That brought Williams’ record to 850-229 as a head coach. He’s 432-128 at North Carolina. He’s surely headed to his 29th NCAA Tournament. Only John Wooden (10), Krzyzewski (five) and Adolph Rupp (four) have won more than Bob Knight (three), Jim Calhoun (three) and Williams.
Since 1986, North Carolina basketball has played its games in the Dean E. Smith Student Activities Center. As of August 24, 2018, however, the Tar Heels have played their games on the Roy Williams Court at the Smith Center.
That’s because few have done winning like Roy Williams.