By C.J. Matson
ST. LOUIS — On Thursday morning, North Carolina coach Roy Williams went for a stroll around St. Louis. A guy approached him and chanted, “Rock Chalk Jayhawk”. Roy’s response: “Go KU”.
It has been nine seasons since Roy Williams left Kansas for North Carolina, his alma mater.
Some Kansas followers are over Roy’s decision and some aren’t over it.
Even though it has been nine years since Williams bolted for Chapel Hill and Bill Self succeeded him in Lawrence, the magnificent sequence of events remains fresh in people’s minds and is the dominant storyline going into Sunday’s Elite Eight matchup.
Williams loves both the University of North Carolina and the University of Kansas. His first chancellor at North Carolina told him that it wasn’t immoral to love two institutions.
“It was 15 years of my life that I felt like that I gave my heart and my body and my soul, and the people were wonderful to me,” Williams said of his time at Kansas. “It will always be the positive memories, and for that 15 years, Kansas was my favorite basketball program of all-time. My second favorite program was North Carolina, and now my favorite basketball program of all-time is North Carolina, and my second is Kansas.”
Williams said the passion that the people at Kansas show for basketball is unmatched.
Self said he would love to schedule a home-and-home series against North Carolina, but when Williams was asked if would consider scheduling a home-and-home series against Kansas, Williams gave an emphatic one-word answer: No.
Because of his love for Kansas, he doesn’t feel comfortable coaching against the Jayhawks. Williams said it was difficult for him to deal with what he called “junk” that was coming from both Kansas and North Carolina over the years, and it would be too emotional for him.
“When somebody says Bob Davis to me, it makes me smile,” Williams said of the legendary Jayhawks play-by-play announcer. “And when somebody says Allen Fieldhouse to me, that’s exactly what I think about; all those positive thoughts. I don’t want to go in there as a coach of the opposing team.”
Back in 1991, Kansas beat North Carolina in the Final Four. North Carolina coach Dean Smith, who was formerly Williams’s mentor, was ejected from the game. Williams said he would never forget that moment because he felt so bad for him at the end. He was also mad because he thought Smith’s ejection took away a great victory for his team.
In 1993, Kansas played North Carolina again in the Final Four. This time the Tar Heels beat the Jayhawks. When the game concluded and time expired, Williams stared at his victorious mentor. Smith clapped his hands jubilantly, but when he walked toward Williams to shake his hand, he had the same look on his face that Roy had in 1991. For Dean, beating Roy took away the thrill of victory, just like it did for Roy when he beat Dean in 1991.
“I don’t think it will ever feel good for me regardless of the outcome,” Williams said of coaching against Kansas. “I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable with it.”
Williams and his Tar Heels face the Jayhawks Sunday for the right to advance to the Final Four in New Orleans. It will be the second time Williams coaches against Kansas. The previous time Williams coached against Kansas as a North Carolina coach was when the Jayhawks annihilated the Tar Heels in the 2008 Final Four 84-66.
Roy told Dean, also a former Kansas player, that they would be the only two people that knew what they had at Kansas and North Carolina. Dean then said to Roy that he was right. He said the people at North Carolina don’t realize what we had at Kansas, and the people at Kansas don’t realize what we had at North Carolina.