UNCs Williams savors friendships more than career milestones

Roy Williams earned the 800th win of his Hall of Fame career on Monday when his Tar Heels beat Syracuse 85-68 at the Smith Center

Bob Donnan—USA Today Sports
Jan 16

CHAPEL HILL — Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim welcomed Roy Williams into an exclusive college basketball club Monday. And in doing so, he praised his North Carolina counterpart as one of the “very best to have ever coached in college.”He’s not wrong and the proof is in the win column, as Williams joined Boeheim as one of the few coaches in NCAA history with 800 career victories.Boeheim also called Williams a “good friend,” a statement he qualified by saying that “coaches don’t have many good friends, so we have to be friendly with [other] coaches.”That might be the case for Boeheim, who is famous for his sometimes salty personality, but Williams is a much different story. That became evident in the aftermath of his 800th career victory, an 85-68 win against Boeheim’s Orange on Monday,In fact, the Hall of Fame coach had friends coming out of the woodwork to help him celebrate his latest milestone.Among them were his old high school coach Buddy Baldwin, Los Angeles Lakers general manager and former Tar Heel Mitch Kupchak and Patrick Ritchey, one of his first recruits at Kansas in 1989. Those that couldn’t make it to Chapel Hill, including some of Williams’ favorite players, recorded messages as part of a montage shown on the Smith Center video board.It was an outpouring of love and respect that meant much more to the typically emotional Williams than the accomplishment itself.”When I look back, whenever it is that I stop, I’ll feel good about that,” Williams said about his impressive win total. “But the statements of the Jacque Vaughns, the Raef Lafrentzes, the Danny Greens and the Marcus Paiges, I’ll remember those statements a lot more than the numbers.”Williams is the 11th college coach to reach the 800-win mark and only the ninth to accomplish the feat entirely at the Division I level. Neighboring rival Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight, Dean Smith, Jim Calhoun, Jim Phelan, Adolph Rupp, Eddie Sutton, Rollie Massimino, Bob Huggins and Boeheim are the others.Now in his 29th season, with a career record of 800-212, Williams is the fastest to reach the milestone by four years. That, he said, is a tribute to his players — especially the current group that has added the last 17 victories to his total.”You know the junk that’s been going on,” Williams said of the on-going NCAA investigation into academic irregularities at UNC. “I’ve taken a lot of it personally and I was not involved. If it wasn’t for the kids and the way they’ve made me feel and made me enjoy coaching and life everyday … that’s a special thing.”Williams said he intentionally avoided the subject of his impending achievement in 48 hours between win No. 799 against Florida State on Saturday and Monday’s quick turnaround game against Syracuse.”I was afraid it might make them feel even a little more stressed,” he said.He need not have worried.The Tar Heels didn’t play as though they were stressed against the Orange, but they certainly appreciated their coach looking out for them.”Coach is never about himself, he’s always about everyone,” star guard Joel Berry said. “He said that he was glad to have a great group of guys like us help him reach his milestone. But he was more happy about us reaching our 17th win, because it’s about what we’re doing right now.”That doesn’t mean this year’s Tar Heels aren’t excited about the place they’ve now earned in the storied history of both their coach and their program.”It means a lot to me to be a part of that,” Berry said. “I’ve always wanted to come here, so this will be a part of that legacy and a part of what coach is doing.”In addition to all the personal tributes both live and recorded during Monday’s postgame ceremony. Williams was presented with several mementoes to commemorate the occasion. The most impressive was a customized pair of silver Air Jordan shoes in a custom box, featuring Michael Jordan’s signature.Though the coach downplayed the fuss that was made over him, referring to it as “foolishness,” junior forward Justin Jackson said that Williams deserves every bit of adulation that comes his way.”Just the amount of time and work that he put into his career, not many people see it,” Jackson said. “So for him to be celebrated like that for his 800th win, that’s a lot of wins. I’m happy to see him like that and proud to be coached by him.”