CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – On Nov. 25, 1988, Roy Williams coached his first game as a head coach when his Kansas Jayhawks played Alaska-Anchorage. On Wednesday, 28 years later, Williams will coach the 1,000th game of his career.
If the career benchmark moment wasn’t big enough, Williams’s 1,000th game will take place at Assembly Hall, where his third-ranked Tar Heels will play No. 13 Indiana in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
The 66-year-old Williams takes pride in the accomplishment, but acknowledges that he’s been a part of many more games during his career.
“It’s a lot of games,” Williams said at his press conference on Tuesday. “I’ve actually coached a lot more than that because of five years in high school and eight years coaching the JV team and the varsity as an assistant. So I had eight years there where I had no record that meant anything except to me. We were mediocre, average, a little bit above some years but 1,000 games as a head coach at the Division I level is a lot of games.”
For Williams, just like in the 999 games prior, he won’t let the moment of Game 1,000 get to him. It’s just another matchup on the schedule, according to the two-time national championship winning coach.
“It’s something I am proud of, but I don’t spend any time thinking about it,” he said. “Sunday’s game is going to be 1,001, and I’ll be happy to get to 1,001 and 1,002 and on like that. I’ve been very fortunate to have good health because I didn’t start until 38, and that’s fairly late for a lot of coaches, really, but I loved what I was doing with Coach Smith, and Coach Guthridge and Coach Fogler, so I was in no hurry and turned down some opportunities or it would have happened before. I made pretty good choices, too.”
Coach, you’ve gone a combined 66-7 against Kansas State and N.C. State, the rival schools. Is that an indication of the value you place in rivalry games like that?
“I get fired up for both of those schools, there’s no question about that, but I haven’t made any baskets or blocked any shots yet either so I think over the long term we’ve had better players. That’s just being honest, I’m not trying to put anybody down. I do get a little fired up to play rivalry games. I used to get riled up to play Georgia Tech, too, and they beat us three-in-a-row one year, so I remember that as well. I’m very proud of those records, as well. I hope we can maintain it for another ten years and I’ll be happy.”
Your offense feels a little more free-flowing, have you changed anything to do that?
“Not fundamentally or for our foundation, no. It depends, if you watch the Hawaii game and you thought that was free-flowing then I need to sell you something because that was the worst freaking offense I’d ever seen. Wisconsin took us out of a lot of stuff. So it depends from game to game. We’ll tweak everything a little bit and change some things. I’m not running the same things for Luke Maye that I tried to run for Brice Johnson. The veterans are all way ahead.”
Is this team picking up defensively what you want to do quicker than many of your other teams?
“They’re doing okay but you think about it, too, the starting five all played here last year. The first sub is Nate (Britt) so that means the first six guys. Then if it’s a big substitute it’s Tony (Bradley), so Tony’s the only one it’s new to. So I think that every year the veterans get better at doing something, and I still have the same beliefs. We change some drills, but not a lot. I see a high school team practice and I changed the way we did a close-out drill just because of the way I say it in a high school. My defensive philosophy hasn’t changed a lot.”
How battle-tested is your team right now?
“We’ve had two true road games at Tulane and at Hawaii and that’s not what we want to face tomorrow night, to say the least. One good thing is we’ve played seven games and only two in our building. So after tomorrow night our first eight games and only two have been at home, so I like that part that we’ve been tested not with our crowd getting us going. But playing Indiana at Indiana and they’re having the reunion or celebration of the ‘81 national championship so they’re bringing those guys back, it’ll be a different animal. They’re a team that’s played great basketball, I’ve seen two of their games – one on tape and one I just watched because I wanted to watch part of it. When they played Kansas that was a war and we haven’t had any battles like that. I think we’ll have to see if we get something there.”
Do you feel like Kennedy (Meeks) is starting to turn a corner?
“Kennedy’s last game was the best that he’s played, in my opinion, since he’s been here for a total game. His defensive rating was good, he rebounded, he scored inside, he made one bad decision on a length-of-the-court pass, but I thought he played really well… For Kennedy I don’t know what to expect from the first half of practice to the second half. I did congratulate him because I’ve been on his case pretty hard because I need him to be a better player. He had one stretch in the last game last year and the first game this year where he’s 5-19 or 5-20 or something like that.”
Do you think it’s been a mental thing for Kennedy, health, or it just being his senior year?
“It’s early, but think about this: If I was going to try and get in anybody’s brain and try to figure out what in the dickens they were thinking it wouldn’t be Kennedy’s. Let's get something straight here. My best friend is the weirdest dude I’ve ever been around and he said, ‘People try to figure me out and they’re only going to mess their own brain up.’ I’m definitely not going to try and figure out what Kennedy’s thinking. In his last game, he was something else. He needs to be that tomorrow night and Sunday and then we’ll really have something.”
Where do you stand on the ACC-Big Ten Challenge?
“Oh it’s part of a bigger picture. When they say we went from 16 to 18 games, that’s not true. We went from 17 to 19 and now when they say we’re going from 18 to 20 we’re going from 19 to 21. That’s what it is. They’re not going to get rid of it, it’s their highest rated series. I keep thinking I want the regular season to mean more. I could not imagine right now what I’d be thinking if I was a Penn State football coach… When TV or other people decide who gets to play, I don’t like that. I’d like to play 16 conference games and keep playing three or four national opponents, but you keep adding all the conference games. No way in Hades I’m going to keep playing Kentucky, Connecticut, Arizona, UCLA because it’s just silly… It’s great for TV but I think in the long term it’s taken away some big matchups.”