- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2002

Roy Williams has become a fixture in Lawrence during 14 years as Kansas coach. But blended with that Jayhawk-blue blood is a blue of another shade a Carolina hue.

Coaching at North Carolina from long-time assistants like Bill Guthridge to current coach Matt Doherty is an experience that has a strong presence.

Of course, the man who stands as the grandfather of Tar Heels basketball, Dean Smith, holds it all together. Williams still talks with the legendary coach regularly and had a conversation with him yesterday as Williams prepares his team to play Maryland on Saturday in the NCAA tournament's Final Four.

In speaking with reporters this week, Williams recalled fondly the 10 seasons he spent as a player and an assistant coach under Smith, the memories he had and the lessons he learned. He played just one season at North Carolina, as a walk-on to the freshman team in 1969, but often he would sit in on Smith's practice sessions taking notes, which he still has today.

Williams said yesterday everything he uses in coaching is derived from Smith, Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton and former South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler.

He had his chance to return to North Carolina when Guthridge retired in July, 2000. It seemed logical for Williams, a native of Spruce Pine, N.C., to return to his alma mater and essentially inherit the program (save for three seasons under Guthridge) from the great coach who had tutored him. Williams agreed to talk to North Carolina but turned down the opportunity and stayed at Kansas, breaking the hearts of Tar Heel fans everywhere.

"I hope I'm always considered part of the Carolina family," Williams said yesterday. "I know fans were not as happy when I decided to stay [at Kansas], but time heals all wounds."

Ironically, when the Kansas job opened in 1988, the name of a namesake was tossed around current Maryland coach Gary Williams, who had just finished his second season at Ohio State.

"I didn't come very close" to going to Kansas, Gary Williams said. "I had just gone to Ohio State and was there [two years]. It wasn't a serious consideration. I was flattered they called and wanted to talk. That's about it."

There are similarities between the two Williamses who will match strategy tomorrow. Both arrived at their current schools in the late 1980s and had NCAA sanctions imposed almost immediately because of infractions that had occurred under the previous staffs.

Kansas won the 1988 NCAA championship under Larry Brown, who left soon after to coach the San Antonio Spurs. Roy Williams was hired in July, and just weeks later, the school was hit with sanctions for its improper role in recruiting Vincent Askew a year earlier. Kansas was banned from postseason play in 1988-89 and had lost a scholarship.

For NCAA violations that occurred under Bob Wade, Maryland had it much worse, getting banned from two NCAA tournaments, banned from television for one season and the loss of two scholarships.

So while Roy Williams had an easier recovery the Jayhawks made the 1991 NCAA title game, losing to Duke Gary Williams had a much tougher time getting his program back on its feet, which he did in five seasons.

"I hadn't really thought of the idea when we got to our schools and not knowing anything about the probation when they were hit," Roy Williams said, "but it's two programs that have a lot of tradition. … I think both of us were a little surprised about what happened right after we first got there."

The Williamses are friends and have played golf together. This weekend they'll be gunning for each other to reach the championship game and the right to vie for a prize neither has achieved despite their combined 25-plus seasons of success an NCAA championship.

"Gary is a guy that I have a tremendous amount of respect for and always have," Roy said. "I love the intensity that he coaches with. In the Maryland area, [dry cleaners] charge him a great deal because as much as that boy sweats, he leaves some big time damage there."

Roy Williams showed he still carries much of what he learned from Smith yesterday when talking about winning a national championship. Smith, college basketball's all-time winningest coach, won his first national title in 1982 his 21st season.

"I'll never forget in 1982 I wanted to win the national championship at North Carolina just for Coach Smith to shut everybody up," Williams said. "I told Coach Smith how happy I was for him.

"He's so much more intelligent than I am and everything else, but he said, 'You know, I'm not really any better coach than I was 2½ hours ago.'"

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