CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Real friends. How many of them?
For North Carolina head coach Roy Williams, three of those friends will be coaching opposing teams at the Final Four in Houston.
“It’s always difficult to play a friend,” Williams said at a press conference Tuesday. “I’ve adopted something that I sort of liked: I try not to ever look at the other coach during the game.”
Williams has spent plenty of time off the court with his counterparts this weekend: Villanova’s Jay Wright, Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim.
“Jay Wright, I got a note from Jay during the season this year,” Williams said. “He and his wife have been awfully nice to me and Wanda.”
Boeheim and Kruger both occupy space in golf foursomes with Williams, among other things. <p>
“Lon Kruger and I play a lot of golf together,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “Lon comes and meets me at Pinehurst every year, right before school starts, and we play golf. Jimmy Boeheim and I have played a lot of golf together, we’ve been on the board of directors together, we’re on the Coaches vs. Cancer board together."
Saturday’s matchup won’t be the first Final Four showdown between Williams and Boeheim. Syracuse defeated Williams’s final team at Kansas for the national championship in 2003.
“I remember going and saying, ‘I’m very, very happy for you. I’m sad for the team, Jimmy, but I’m happy for you,’” Williams said. “And he said, ‘You’re going to get one soon.’”
Williams said that the two haven’t spoken about that outcome in the years since.
“We usually talk about rules that we don’t like, or officials that we don’t like, bets we’re going to make on the golf course or something like that,” Williams said. “But we haven’t talked about that game.”
How do you think Marcus Paige handled the lowest points of his shooting slump?
“I think he handled it better than possibly any player I’ve ever seen. Not only was it bothering him, he’s very, very much analytical-minded about how he’s playing and what his value is. He sees his values everywhere, but we need the ball to go in the basket. It’s called a scoreboard. But I think he handled it better than anybody I’ve ever seen, and he believed in what the staff was telling him about how he could still help us and what he was doing to help us. It was tougher on him than anybody. He’s a perfectionist in about everything he does, so when the ball’s not going in the basket, it was bothering him greatly. He did a great job of hiding it from his teammates, but we had some conversations and I told him to just keep playing. I still have confidence in him. Every time he goes up to shoot the ball, I think it’s going in, so that’s a pretty good feeling to have as a coach.”
You’ve mentioned Joel James’s journey and how impressed you’ve been by that. Have you ever recruited another kid who started playing basketball so late?
“Nothing jumps right out at me. This is a kid who said his first organized basketball game was when he was a 10th-grader. You’ve heard the story before, everybody, we’re trying to help out Joel and I asked him, I said, ‘Do you want me to coach you and tell everybody else to shut the blankity-blank up and leave you alone?’ He said, ‘Yes!’ I asked Dexter (Strickland), I said, ‘When did you start playing basketball?’ He said, ‘Six years old.’ I asked J.P. (Tokoto), he said five or something like that, I don’t know if I’d get it exactly right. I said this guy started when he was a sophomore in high school, leave him alone, let me coach him. But I don’t know of anybody else that I’ve ever coached that had that kind of limitation about when he started playing.”
Where do you come up with terms like “blankity-blank,” or “dadgum,”or “Jiminy Christmas?” Where did you learn to talk like this?
“When I grew up, there was a lot of foul language. When I became a high school player, my coach never did that. When I first went to Kansas, I told them to give me seven curse words a year. And pretty much, I stuck to that the first couple of years. Then, at Kansas State, they started calling me Mr. Perfect. So the first press conference I went to after that, I said A-S-S to somebody, just to show them I wasn’t perfect. I think I overreacted and went too much in that direction, but Jiminy Christmas and guaran-daggum-team you and all that stuff, I don’t know where it came from. It’s just Mayberry RFD I guess, I don’t know.
“I like to think that I have a pretty good vocabulary, but I told a high school coaching friend of mine one time, I said it gets so irritating, and when I get irritated I start cursing more. And I said I wish I didn’t do that, and he said, ‘Don’t worry about it. Sometimes, that’s the language that the players understand the most.’ I told him, I said, ‘Man, I don’t know that I’d agree with that.’ So I went back and asked and said something to two of my guys on my team. And they said, ‘Oh yeah, coach, we do understand that.’
“It’s the language that we hear all the time. It’s still not an excuse for us. Sometimes, I just screw it up and say things that I wish I hadn’t said, but I do believe in talking properly, and I do believe in not cursing. Sometimes, it just happens and I let it go. I don’t think it’s the biggest sin I have. I’m sure I’ve got a lot worse things I do than that, but right now I just wish my throat felt well enough to curse you guys and get my blankity-blank out of here.”
Why do you think playing inside-out is the best way to play?
“It’s very easy. Watch our Providence game. Where were Providence’s two best players? They were sitting on the bench at the end of the game. That’s all it is. I’ve said forever, and I think it might even be true here, I just didn’t know enough about their team, I’ve never seen a team that shot 35 threes in a game in a National Championship with the possible exception of Connecticut. Everybody’s always had somebody inside that you could play. My reason for always playing inside-out is because at the end of the game, I don’t want to be playing against the other team’s five best players. Providence, Kris Dunn sat out nine minutes of the first half and Bentil fouled out with seven minutes to go in the game. 100 years ago, we played Bobby Huggins’ Cincinnati team, and they had Danny Fortson, who was just kicking our rear end. But then, all of a sudden, he stopped kicking our rear end, because he was sitting on the bench in foul trouble, and we won the game. But it’s not just (inside-out), I like the way you said it because I go inside first, but I do want a good balance. I’d like to shoot 3s better than we’ve shot it, and I want to go to the free throw line more than the other team and have good balance.”