I never played for Roy Williams. Heck, I had probably one good year of playing basketball in middle school when I was on a team that went undefeated and won a championship. Even at 29 years old, I still brag about it! However, I call Roy “Coach” anyway.
Many of you know that I’m an alumnus of N.C. State. However, my family was split pretty evenly down the middle between UNC and Duke growing up. Thank God I chose UNC, sorry Dukies. I grew up bleeding Carolina Blue, since I was raised by my mother and her mother, who was a UNC alumnae. I’ve taken many a stroll down Franklin Street. Been there once for a UNC/Duke game – the Heels lost, so I never came back during those games. Sat up and watched anxiously during each of the three most recent NCAA Championships won by the program. And been to countless send-offs, awards banquets, games, and other events.
The news broke Thursday, oddly enough on my birthday, that Coach Williams was announcing his retirement from the game and the program he so dearly cherished. The mountain of accolades speaks for itself, but Coach Williams didn’t really focus on that. Much like his mentor and fellow Tar Heel legend, Dean Smith. Many years of following Carolina Basketball and Coach Williams have yielded some pretty cool stories. Two in particular came to mind when reflecting on Coach Williams.
The first, in 2009 when the Heels won the NCAA Championship. After a “Late Night with Roy” event to kick off the following season, Coach Williams exited the office area located on the side of the Smith Center to a crowd of adoring fans, just wanting an autograph from a hall of fame coach. A 12-year-old me was in that crowd. Upon coming outside, Coach Williams warned the crowd not to point markers at him because “I’ve ruined so many daggum suits on people pointing markers at me.” I abided by his request and got an autograph on the 2009 NCAA Championship hat which, of course, I still have today.
Fast forward 10 years later and the same place where I got the autograph from Coach Williams. It’s after a game on a beautiful day in Chapel Hill. One cool thing about Carolina Basketball games, fans could always hang outside afterward for a chance to meet some of their favorite players and coaches. I decided to stick around that day to possibly meet a couple of the players on the team, but never did I think about getting a photo opportunity that I will now cherish for the rest of my life.
As I sat there, Coach Williams’ longtime security guy came outside with an announcement. A proclamation, of sorts. Fans could begin lining up, one line for autographs from Coach Williams and the other photos with him. Coach Williams had changed quite a bit from the whole “marker ruining his daggum suit” thing. Apparently, he began doing this after every game, weather and schedule permitting.
In a moment that seemed like a flash, I was able to get a picture with Coach Williams. Albeit a quick meeting that ended with a little pat on the back from coach when it was over, he is still right up there as my favorite people I’ve met. I will never forget that moment I had and seeing the looks of sheer joy on people’s faces after snagging that autograph or photo.
Like the game of basketball, life is full of seasons. We all knew the time would come for Coach Williams to move on and for someone else to take his place. While we don’t know who “someone” is yet, that will be a conversation for a later date. For now, we all should celebrate what Coach Roy Williams has contributed not just to the University of Kansas, the University of North Carolina, or their respective basketball programs. But to the game of basketball itself.
From the victories (fourth-most in NCAA history), to the national titles (three at UNC and the most by a program in 18 seasons), to the crazy dances and a shoe game that was the envy of every sneakerhead out there. Regardless of where your rooting interests lie, I think we can all agree that there will never be a coach – a person – like Roy Williams. Enjoy your well earned retirement, coach!