CHAPEL HILL — There was an upset on the court at Smith Center on Saturday. But it had nothing to do with the basketball game between North Carolina and rival NC State.
The biggest surprise of the afternoon came at halftime of the Tar Heels’ 100-80 rout of the Wolfpack, during a ceremony celebrating newly retired Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams.
Williams is a famously sentimental man who has been known to get misty-eyed when he starts talking about his love for the Tar Heels and his players.
Surprisingly, though, the waterworks stayed mostly dry as he watched a banner honoring him raised to the rafters along with other UNC legends, including his mentor Dean Smith.
“I loved being your coach,” Williams told the crowd from the court that bears his name. “North Carolina basketball isn’t about one person and it’s definitely not been about one coach. It’s about our players and our teams.”
Williams, who stepped away last April after 18 seasons and three national championships at UNC, was reluctant to participate in a ceremony like Saturday’s because of the attention it placed on him rather than the current team.
But he was talked into doing it by the Tar Heels’ special events manager Kaye Chase, who told him that the program and its fans “needed some closure.”
Sadly, Chase wasn’t able to attend the game because of a death in her family earlier this week.
In addition to the halftime festivities, video testimonials from former players and athletic director Bubba Cunningham were played during timeouts.
And true to form, Williams had a comment about that, too.
“I’m sorry that you have to watch all those commercials during every daggum break,” he joked.
It’s not a coincidence that UNC chose to honor Williams during this particular game. No team, not even Duke, stirred the Hall of Fame coach’s passion more than State. His record against the Wolfpack was 32-4.
And even though this Tar Heels team was carrying on that tradition with a 29-point halftime lead, Williams wasn’t ready to give State a break in his retirement.
“I hope in the second half, you’ll get even louder and cheer harder,” he told the crowd. “Let’s beat these guys in red a helluva lot harder.”