CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – For the first time in more than 25 years of coaching, North Carolina head coach Roy Williams was left speechless.
Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beater to lift Villanova over UNC in the 2016 national title game stunned Williams, his players and the Tar Heel faithful.
“In 29 years as a head coach I never had that feeling of ‘I am worthless’, because I didn’t know what to say,” Williams said on his radio show on Monday. “I didn’t say anything that could erase the hurt that they had at that moment.”
The shot, which is already in the annals of college basketball history, was the end to the dream season that Williams was building with his veteran group.
“Put yourself in my shoes,” Williams said. “We win the regular season, we win the conference tournament, we go to the national championship and Marcus Paige makes one of the most difficult shots I’ve ever seen – willed the ball into the hole. Then Kris Jenkins makes a big time shot. You’ve got to congratulate the other team. We didn’t play it perfectly but we played it pretty doggone well. Four out of the five guys did what they were supposed to do.
“It’s not a game where I feel like we lost. It’s a game where Kris made a big time shot and they won.”
Williams said the shot has been a driving force to will the Tar Heels through the offseason, especially for the three returning players that were on the court for it – senior forward Isaiah Hicks, junior wing Justin Jackson and junior point guard Joel Berry.
“It’s what I talked to them about,” he said. “It was the most inadequate feeling I’ve ever had as a coach. We talked about them using it as fuel through the offseason and I think they did.”
As for the 66-year old coach, he didn’t need any extra motivation this offseason and left the play in the past.
“I didn’t need any fuel, I really didn’t,” he said. “Roy Williams does not need any fuel. The day that I start needing fuel is the day that I get on the first tee and stay there.”
What did you like from your team’s performance against UNC Pembroke last week?
“I really believe that we did some good things. We showed them seven-and-a-half minutes of tape and probably 60 to 70 percent of them were good things. We messed it up a little bit, too, but we showed some good things and things they’ve taken from practice into the game. We’ve got to do a better job on our closeouts and needless to say we’ve got to do a better job on our box outs…. We didn’t get many rebounds but we shot 71 percent in the first half and maybe 65 percent for the whole game. I think we took some things from that that will be helpful for us.”
Your team was 10 of 20 from three. Do you think you can be more consistent from the outside this season?
“I think we will be. Everybody can have some bad shooting nights but I think we will shoot the ball better. We’ve shown that in practice, we showed it at Memphis, showed it in the exhibition game. Joel Berry has really gotten to shooting the ball really well. Justin Jackson has worked hard on his shot and Theo (Pinson) has worked hard on his. Kenny Williams last year was just stressing out by not being able to make a shot and I think finally made one in the NCAA Tournament, but he missed his first shot against Memphis and then made three in a row. The other night in the exhibition game he went two for four.”
Can freshman Seventh Woods play at the two-guard this year or do you want him to focus solely on the point guard position?
“Mostly, now I’m not saying it won’t happen, but mostly Seventh will play at the point because Joel has been here three years. If he goes in with Joel, then Joel can slide in at the two. Nate, who’s been here three years, this is year four for him, so he can play the one or two. For a freshman, the most difficult position to learn is the point guard spot so I think we would just add too much to Seventh’s plate if we added the two guard with the point guard spot as well.”
Where will you miss Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson the most going into this particular season?
“Only in any day that ends in ‘Y’. Marcus was a big-time player, period. The best defender we had for four years but a big-time player that could take and make big time shots. If we had gotten the Villanova game into overtime and won the game, I told Michael (Jordan) that your shot against Georgetown would have been the second-most famous shot in North Carolina history. Doing it on the court, he was one of the two or three greatest leaders I’ve had in my 29-years as a head coach… You miss his leadership every day… Brice, if you think of Brice, who scored more points than any player in the ACC last year? You think of Brice. Who got more rebounds than anybody in the ACC last year? It was Brice with 23. Who had more blocked shots than anybody in the ACC? It was Brice with eight. That’s in a 15-team league.”
Do you have a desired number of possessions that you hope you have per game and do you consider an offensive rebound the start of a new possession?
“Yeah, we consider an offensive rebound as the start of another possession. Really, the game of basketball is you get the ball, I get the ball, et cetera, so the only way is for me to get offensive rebounds and to stop you from getting offensive rebounds. I’d love to have 90 to 100 possessions every game, but I don’t want to tell our team that that’s the only goal, because sometimes the other team is pretty good and if it’s a 50 or 60 or 70 possession game I don’t want our guys to panic… I’d like as many possessions as we can possibly get.”
What has Isaiah Hicks done to try and limit his fouls?
“Well try to keep his hands right. A big guy should never make a foul below his waist. So we’ve got to keep his hands up. Also to be ready early. If the ball comes down on one side of the court and Isaiah’s guarding on the right block he’s not going to stay over there all day. At some point before the sun goes down he’s going to come to the ball. Be ready early for him to make the cut. If Isaiah played defense early it would keep him out of the catch-up game.”