KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Roy Williams is a Tar Heel born and bred. He also has a soft spot in his heart for Kansas from having coached the Jayhawks for 15 seasons.
It’s an emotional conflict that has led to several uncomfortable reunions, thanks to the NCAA’s penchant for matching Williams’ North Carolina basketball team against his former school in its annual postseason tournament.
The last two of those games were held in St. Louis and Kansas City, areas in which fans still haven’t forgiven the Hall of Fame coach for leaving their favorite team for his own alma mater.
So it’s understandable why Williams probably wasn’t the happiest of campers when saw this year’s brackets and the potential for yet another meeting between the Tar Heels and Jayhawks.
In Kansas City, no less. With UNC as the higher seed.
His angst turned out to be premature — and unnecessary — when fifth-seeded Auburn routed No. 4 Kansas in the second round of the NCAA’s Midwest Region last week.
That won’t make the Tar Heels’ task any easier when they take on the SEC tournament champion Tigers in today’s Sweet 16 matchup at Sprint Center. But regardless of the outcome their mere presence on the opposite side of the court has already made Williams’ latest trip “home” much more enjoyable that it might otherwise have been.
“It’s been harder the times that I’ve come back here, because we played Kansas,” Williams said at a press conference on Thursday. “That’s been really, really difficult for me. Coming back and playing Kansas here, then the next year in St. Louis, those kind of things aren’t pleasant because of my feeling for that school and a lot of people.”
Williams got a chance to meet and spent time with some of “those people” in between preparing his team to play its most important game of the season.
Among them were some of his former players — at both schools — his son Scott and several friends “that are really, really important to me.
“I enjoy that part of it,” he said.
As for the other part of the trip, Williams won’t look back on it as fondly unless his team brings home two more victories and earns the fifth Final Four trip of his tenure at UNC.
According to his players, their coach has shown no signs of distraction since his arrival in Kansas City.
“He’s so focused, you really can’t tell,” Cameron Johnson said when asked if he’d noticed anything different from Williams this week. “On the way over here from the hotel, he’s telling stories about when he had to travel all around the world to get home and back for Christmas. So he’s pretty much himself right now. He’s a good old coach.”