CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – No. 9 North Carolina played the final 14:35 of Tuesday’s 68-65 win over Boston College without its Hall of Fame head coach, who had to be helped off the court and to the locker room following a vertigo-related collapse on the sideline.
“Basically what I want to do is just tell you I’m alive and kicking,” Roy Williams told reporters following the game. “I’m not well, mentally. I’ve had some vertigo attacks over the last 17 or 18 years. This is the first time I’ve really had one during the game.”
Williams suffers from benign positional vertigo, which is a sensation of dizziness or tilting. The 65-year-old had previously told the story of playing catcher in Babe Ruth baseball during his youth, and while standing up after a pitch to attempt a pickoff at second base, he became dizzy and later had trouble sleeping that night.
On Tuesday, Williams argued a call entering the first media timeout of the second half before turning to his bench for the huddle and collapsing into a seated position. His left hand immediately went to his forehead. Athletic trainer Doug Halverson and a member of security helped Williams to the locker room.
“When Isaiah [Hicks] was driving down, I thought Isaiah had gotten fouled and I said something to the referee,” Williams said. “I didn’t respond correctly to his response because I sort of swirled around. When I whirled around, that’s when it hit. When I say benign positional vertigo, that’s exactly what it is.
“Every attack that I’ve had is when I jerk my head quickly and the little – I call them rocks because my head’s full of rocks – rocks in my middle ear, one of the pebbles gets out of the train, out of alignment. It bounces around in your inner ear and that’s what causes the imbalance. Our trainer had two of the pills that I take when something like that happens, and I did. I was able to throw up a little bit. I thought I’d throw up really a lot because that’s usually what happens.”
Williams said his condition has been treated at Lawrence Memorial in Kansas, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. and UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, N.C.
“I don’t know that the doctors really care that much about me,” Williams said. “I just think they don’t want me to die on their watch.”
The 13th-year UNC head coach said he made the decision that he was going to return to the sideline if his team had lost, but had planned to stay out of the way if his players rallied to win. He watched the final 45 seconds from courtside, 40-50 feet away from the bench.
UNC trailed 49-40 with 16:32 to play, and trailed by five when Williams left the sideline. Assistant coach Steve Robinson stepped in and helped the Tar Heels take their first lead of the game at 57-56 with 3:55 to play.
“I couldn’t be happier for my team,” Williams said. “I couldn’t be happier for Steve. Twenty-eight years ago, we had a two-hour meeting and I decided I was going to hire him… He’s like a brother to me and he coached his buns off tonight. My kids played their rear end off.”
Williams congratulated Boston College following the game and apologized to Eagles head coach Jim Christian for being a distraction before making his way to UNC’s postgame press conference alongside Robinson.
“I’ll be fine,” Williams said. “I’m not dead yet.”