Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – On the left side of Roy Williams’s office desk is a drawer full of random pieces of paper, a notebook or two and an old Rolodex that once belonged to Dean Smith.
That drawer is reserved for one purpose: UNC’s thoughts for the day.
Listen long enough and closely enough to player interviews over the years and decades and you will inevitably hear a thought for the day enter the discussion. Following an emotional Senior Night win over Syracuse on Feb. 29, Marcus Paige shared that day’s thought, one that spoke to the challenges this senior class trio had endured during their careers:
Persistence prevails when all else fails.
Smith, Williams’s mentor, coached boys to become men first and foremost, letting basketball filter in around the edges. As such, the thoughts for the day are not only plentiful, but rarely about basketball.
“I’ve got thousands of them,” Williams said on Tuesday. “I really do.”
The thought for the day was a Smith staple. At the top of every practice plan, Smith included an offensive and defensive emphasis of the day, followed by the thought for the day. When Williams was still a student, UNC assistant coach John Lotz gave him a copy of “Thoughts for a Chalkboard,” a 25-page book filled with inspirational quotes from Vince Lombardi, Arnold Palmer and various other people in the sports world.
“Coach Lotz gave me a lot of those when I first got out and was a high school coach,” Williams said. “And every year I’d get some more from him. And then it sort of got out at Kansas that I was doing that and so I got more and more and more.”
And so the assortment of papers and notebooks filled up during his years as an assistant in Chapel Hill and as a head coach in Lawrence, although the Rolodex did not join the collection until Williams returned home in 2003.
“Coach Smith, when I came back here, he had on a Rolodex some thoughts for the day,” Williams said. “And I asked him if I could have that, and he said, ‘I wanted to give it to you, but I just wanted you to find it,’ because he had just left it at the desk…
“I liked it because Coach Smith always put down the date when he used that thought for the day, and so I’ve continued doing that as well.”
To hear UNC sports information director Steve Kirschner tell it, flipping through Smith’s Rolodex was like flipping through UNC basketball history. Matching quotes and the dates attached with the games they applied to shed a unique perspective and added depth to the phrases. Some were used only once in a given season, while others were used more than a dozen times.
UNC included a thought for the day in Smith’s memorial program after his passing in February 2015:
Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.
Nothing speaks to the power of those thoughts for the day better than the wide range of former Tar Heels that still cling to the messages.
For Jawad Williams, a member of UNC’s 2005 national championship team, two thoughts come to mind:
Be led by your dreams, not pushed by your problems.
Everyone has the will to win. Champions have the will to prepare to win.
Bobby Frasor, a member of UNC’s 2009 national championship team, offered a pair of thoughts of the day that resonated with him:
It's amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.
If you want to leave your footprints in the sands of time, you better wear your work boots.
Dewey Burke, who played on the '05-06 and ’06-07 teams and is now a basketball analyst for Inside Carolina, reeled off a long list of the quotes, including this gem that Williams has repeated time and time again:
The man at the top of the mountain did not fall there.
Prior to UNC’s Elite Eight win over Notre Dame on Sunday, Williams provided his team with a thought for the day that dated back nearly 40 years to his time as a head coach at Charles D. Owen High in Black Mountain, N.C.
We didn’t come this far, just to come this far.
That particular quote came courtesy of Porky Spencer, a kid that played for Williams. It’s a thought of the day that found its way into that packed drawer on the left side of his desk, and it ended up being shared by Marcus Paige in the huddle after Notre Dame had retaken the lead midway through the second half.
There’s value in words that travel through time.