ROY WILLIAMS: “We're ecstatic to be able to play on Monday night. Last night was a weird game. One of you guys, I don't see the person that asked it in here, asked Kennedy if he had ever been in a game like that. And Kennedy said, yeah, I've played a lot of basketball. I looked down and thought, I've coached for 44 dadgum years, I've never seen anything like that. We missed four free throws in the last six seconds.
“But we're ecstatic. We got by a very, very good Oregon team. We're ecstatic to be here and getting ready to play what I think has been the best college basketball team all year long and a great friend of mine in Mark Few.”
Wondering if this might be a bit of a throwback low post matchup with Kennedy Meeks and Przemek Karnowski?
ROY WILLIAMS: “A very big low post matchup. You know, it's strange, and Mark and I were talking about it a few minutes ago, that all year long we've had to send our big guys out on the court to play against all those screen and pop guys that want to shoot 3-point shots and how comfortable when you have to tell Kennedy and Karnowski that you don't have to do it that this game.
“Most of us play most of the time with two post players and enjoy getting the ball inside, enjoy shooting 3-point shots, but also have the first option of going inside. In that sense, it will be something we haven't done a lot of this year. But he's a big fellow. I just shook his hand a few minutes ago, and he just engulfed mine and I've been around some big guys before, but he's a big dude. Really gifted, really gifted in how he passes the ball, too.”
You talked about your friendship with Mark Few. Reading one of your quotes and you said something to the effect you were nervous for him because you knew how good of a team he had. Does that at all sort of reference the idea that you've had some very good teams or points in your career where you had those very good teams and you can sort of relate to the idea of maybe the pressure or what it's like to have to respond to having those good teams?
ROY WILLIAMS: “I think probably so. The only difference is I was really lucky because my third year as a coach we played the national championship game. I thought it's supposed to be like that way a lot. But two years ago, two or three years ago, Mark, I think, was the No. 1 seed at that point. And we had some discussions, and I thought maybe that the pressure had got to his kids.
“And so to be able to do that what he did all year this year and then to turn around and come through down the clutch in big games, whether it was West Virginia or South Carolina last night, for sure it's got to be a comfortable feeling for him. But I would say that that probably had a lot to do with it. But more so just because I really genuinely like him as a guy. I mean, we've had some fun together.”
Typically in major infractions cases that last this long, by the time they get done some of the only people left to bear the brunt of the penalties have nothing to do with them. How concerned are you that innocent players, coaches may have to some day suffer some of this stuff?
ROY WILLIAMS: “Not a lot. And the reason I say that is because my firm belief that we did nothing wrong. Okay. And that's just the best way to put it. Were there some mistakes made? You're darned right there were. Were there some things I wish hadn't happened? You're darned right. But there were no allegations against men's basketball.
“So I've sort of hung my hat on that part, and I know we did nothing wrong. And I find it hard to believe that it could go that far. Do I believe again that our institution, there were some mistakes, you're darned right I do. I'm very mad, sad, ticked off, any way you want to put all that terminology about it, embarrassed and all those things, too.
“But we've received a tremendous amount of hurt already over the last three years. And I don't see Jeff in here, but last night he asked me if I thought it was any benefit from having to go through this junk. And I just had a difficult time understanding that, because for three years it's been very difficult to recruit and do a lot of other things.”
Can you describe what it has been like? I'm assuming that people use that against you in recruiting. And how do you deal with that. And more specifically what do you tell the players who are coming in basically on faith?
ROY WILLIAMS: “That's exactly -- the thing I was most proud of is that Joel, Justin and Theo all committed to us during their junior year. Right then is when things started coming out. They stuck with us. They trusted me. That was one of the most satisfying things I've ever had. And maybe I'm not as good or we're not as good, but in the first 10 years we recruited 26 McDonald's All-Americans in our first 10 years. And the last three I think we got one. I don't think I got that dumb that quickly. So it was the doubt that people could put in -- some of them directly, some of them indirectly. But still bringing up the doubt was something that was hard to deal with.
“And I had one dad say, we're just going to wait until the spring and it will be over with by then, and then we'll know exactly what it was. That was two years ago. We still don't know what it is.”
You've trusted Isaiah Hicks enough to put him on the court when you had to defend a shot for a national championship. But obviously he hasn't played what he's capable of doing in the tournament. How are you handling him? What's not going right for him right now?
ROY WILLIAMS: “I would say I'm not handling him very well because I'm not changing it so far. Last night, I really thought he was going to have a good game, really felt that he would have a good game. And the first shot was blocked and the second one he was sort of wide open and missed that. And then he tried to rush everything a little bit. And it sort of snowballed on him.
“But the game before that, I think he played 20 minutes and had zero rebounds. So it's a tough time for him as an individual. I keep trying to tell him I believe in him, I trust him. I'm going to keep putting you out there. Said many times I'm not the smartest, but I'm not the dumbest guy. So if I keep putting you out there I must have more confidence in you than you have in yourself. So hopefully things will change Monday night.”
Do you have a favorite Kennedy Meeks story to sum up what the relationship's been like with him over the years?
ROY WILLIAMS: “It's been love and hate. And said it with tongue in cheek kind of thing. Because I've been on him really hard. I really have. I probably say I've been on Kennedy and Brice harder than any players I've ever coached. I'd say Brice number one and Kennedy number two. I pushed him last night, took him out for three or four minutes, didn't like one thing he was doing. But keep pushing him, keep pushing him, keep pushing him. I can't say that I've got one story, because he's just a lovable, big teddy bear.
“I have a great deal of respect for when he got there and lost 50, 60 pounds, whatever it was, because that has to be extremely difficult. But when I went for my home visit there were 18 people in the home visit, not counting me and Hubert. And I saw that kind of family. And that's the kind of youngster that I really love. And he keeps coming back, keeps coming back, keeps coming back, and I keep pushing him, keep pushing him. And hopefully at the end we'll both look back on it and think it's been a great partnership.”
We heard this on your teleconference, but we have to get it on video. We talked with Mark Few about it -- Memphis, Mark Few, playing craps and cops. Please fill in the blanks.
ROY WILLIAMS: “This is a good story. I'm -- I'm not embarrassed. I loved it to be honest with you. But it's something that probably -- I'll give you this, my high school basketball coach got me coaching, got me on the golf course and helped teach me how to shoot craps. My wife thinks he's 0-for-3. He's here with us.
“And we're in the Sweet 16, 2009, we're going to play Gonzaga in Memphis. And we won two to get there. They win two. So I call him Monday. I said, when are you going in? He said Wednesday. I said, me too. I said, what time do you put your guys to bed? He said midnight. I said me too. I said where are you staying. He said Holiday Inn. I said we're at the Peabody right across the street.
“I said don't give me an answer -- Mark used this terminology, he thinks the statute of limitations should be over with by now -- so I said, don't give me an answer for 24 hours, but I want to take my staff down to Tunica and shoot craps, and go down there after midnight, stay two or three hours. I just want to see if you can bring your staff and go with us. He said I'm in. I said, no, think about it for 24 hours.
“I'm an older guy, I've been around a while. Somebody might say something negative. He said no, I'm in. I said no I'll call you tomorrow. I called him the next day and he answered the phone and said, Gamblers Anonymous. (Laughter). And it's probably not something you want to be saying, but he said, all right, we're in. NCAA had those courtesy cars. And the tournament's doing a lot better now since 2009. We had these little small little vehicles. So I got, I think I had five guys in my little car. One is sitting on the console. I think he had six in his.
“We met in the parking lot. We drove to Tunica. We played two or three hours, shot craps. We both lost. We get back in the car and heading back to Memphis. It's about 3:00 in the morning. I get pulled over. And I wasn't really -- I was speeding, but it was like two or three miles, and I was really surprised. And I realized I had the NCAA logo thing on the side of the car.
“And the guy comes up and he said, Coach, and he said, I wondered if somebody had stolen a car or something like that. So we talked a couple of seconds. I said if I could bribe you I'll give you $100 if you'll stop Mark Few. He's about 15 minutes behind me. The next day I came running into their shoot-around and got the equipment manager, called him over. I said, did you guys get stopped last night. He said no. And just ruined my day. But that's the story. But I think coaches should be able to have fun with each other and he's a good guy.”
Just wanted to ask you, how well do you think this team stacks up against Gonzaga?
ROY WILLIAMS: “You know, it's funny, Pat's question was sort of the whole thought process -- they're very similar to us. They play two post players. They've got three players on the perimeter. Any of the three of them can be the point. They believe in running. They believe in getting the ball inside. They change their defenses a little but not much. They're mostly a man to man team. So we're very similar.
“They have more size than anybody we played all year long. Florida State was big, long, but maybe not truly as much size and coming off the bench too, other than Ojo. So our big guys are going to be challenged a lot different way than they have been before.
“I think that he's done a better job coaching and their team has done consistently a better job throughout the entire season than anybody else. They're 37-1, is that correct? I know they only had one loss. And everybody said, well, they played in this league. You know, they played Florida. Florida was pretty good and they beat Florida. They played Arizona. Arizona is pretty good. They beat them. They played Iowa State. Iowa State is pretty good and they beat them. I mean, basically everybody that's stepped up in front of them they've beaten.
“And in the tournament they got some very good teams, West Virginia and then turn around and get South Carolina. I have a tremendous amount of respect and maybe even some fear because I want to see how our guys are going to react playing against some other big guys like that.”
I think the general public, not the basketball public, but the general public views this game when you look at the historic backgrounds of both these schools as a David versus Goliath matchup. I'm sure you understand why. Can you talk about the respect you have for what Gonzaga has done? I mean from 20 -- North Carolina was winning championships 20 years ago; Gonzaga was pretty much beginning, putting the seeds in?
ROY WILLIAMS: “No, I think you're exactly right that that may be the way it's perceived, David and Goliath. But when you start watching them, it's not that much difference. And I really believe -- I'm not trying to blow my opponent up, I believe throughout the course of the season they did a better job than anybody.
“People can have that thought process. If you look at short-term history, it is pretty valid. But I remember, gosh, I can't remember what year it was, it was a long time ago, mid 90s, and may have been when Monson was coaching there -- and he's a loony tune as well. I just saw him outside.
“But their team was really, really good. We played them in Allen Fieldhouse one night. And they were sensational. We've played Mark's team twice, played them in the Preseason NIT and they beat us, and played them in the Sweet 16, and we beat them. And I have a great deal of both, respect and fear because I think they're really good.”
You meet a lot of coaches over your career, have relationships with them. Why do you think you connected with Mark? He talked so warmly of you as well?
ROY WILLIAMS: “It's different the way you perceive it. Until the last couple of years I was, I thought of myself as a young coach. The last couple of years, I haven't really felt that way. But Mark told the story, the first time I heard about it, about the first Nike coaches trip that he went on and all these, quote, legends or whatever, icons, I think, is the word he used, Boeheim, Krzyzewski, Williams.
“And he said that Wanda and I just got he and Marcy and sort of I embraced him. And I had a very good friend that coached with me, Mark Turgeon, that knew Mark Few and said great things about him. And Jerry Green was on the staff at Oregon at that time. So to me, I had the recommendation already, and I like people. I tried to start everybody out in the middle. You can go either direction. And we've played poker together. We've played golf together. We've gambled together. We go eat together sometimes in Vegas at the places.
“So that started it, just because I genuinely liked him. And then the times we played them, I didn't even tell him this, I meant to this morning -- we were playing them in the Preseason NIT. And for some reason, I got seven or eight guys wear headbands out, you know, the white headbands kind of thing. And they kicked our tails. And I went in the locker room afterwards and said, get those headbands off, I'll never see those again the rest of my life, blah, blah, blah. So, no North Carolina players ever worn it. So Mark Few changed our program in some ways. (Laughter). So it is respect.”
You were talking before about the thin margin at the end of the game last night, how crazy that was. And obviously could have turned out differently. Did you have some sense of the devastation of Jordan Bell after the game? I know you're thinking of your team, but going through the line -- do you have a message for a guy on the other team when they take it on their shoulders like that?
ROY WILLIAMS: “A lot of people say I talk too much and most of them are right. But I do try to say something to the other coach, if they win or if I win, either one. And with them last night, it looked like that he was the guy that got beat on the box-out. And I grabbed him, because I watched his game against Kansas and he was phenomenal. And I grabbed him and I said, don't let this one game make you forget what you did to get here.
“But then I read the article in the paper this morning about how hard he was taking it. And you feel badly. Last year, Isaiah Hicks tried to take the blame for Kris Jenkins' shot. It wasn't Isaiah's man. Somebody else didn't pick up what they were supposed to do. So I meant with the press. Last year, I think, was the first time I've ever met with the press after the season was over with just to clear it up that it was not Isaiah's mistake in that game. But he'll have Dana and Dana's staff and his teammates to help him. But it's a tough time for him, yes.”
Kennedy has 17 rebounds against Kentucky and then last night 25 and 14. What does it do for you as a coach to have a guy like that willing to do seemingly whatever it takes, whatever is needed to help the team?
ROY WILLIAMS: “I told him last night he would have had 15 if he would have done what he was supposed to. One time he came down on the break, shot the ball from the free-throw line and has Justin Jackson right over there. And I told him, tell me again, do you think our team does better with you shooting and Justin rebounding or Justin shooting and you rebounding? It's a pretty easy answer.
“But he's really been good, really been good. And we need him to do that. It's a weird game. Guys, we have Theo, 2-for-8; Isaiah, 1-for-12; Joel, 2-for-14. That's three starters and we won. What had to happen was other guys had to more than balance them out, and Kennedy really did some great things, great things.”
Roy, more than the 2005 or 2009 teams, this team has a lot of in-state guys in prominent roles. I'm wondering how that changes the team dynamic having all these Carolina guys, and if some reason that's the result of the investigations maybe making national recruiting a little more difficult?
ROY WILLIAMS: “You know, it's made recruiting more difficult, I know that. But also I love having in-state kids if they're good enough. When I was at Kansas, on a Monday night call-in show, a guy sort of got on me about, you don't have very many Kansas guys; Kansas State's got all of them. This is no disrespect to Kansas State, but we've beaten them 15 straight times.
“So for us, I always would love have instate kids. It's they're acclimated so much easier, their family can see them more often, it's a more enjoyable experience sometimes. Sometimes a guy from California can come to North Carolina and think it's the greatest thing in the world. But it's easier for people to do that from in the state. Again, I try to recruit the best players I can possibly recruit. And I never want to forget the kids in North Carolina or in our area.
“I still remember, oh, gosh, Cornbread Maxwell. Coach Smith is always mad, he'd bring up Cornbread's name anytime somebody talked about: Well, this kid here in such a little town in North Carolina. Coach always said let's go see him. I've tried to do that at Kansas and North Carolina.”
THE MODERATOR: “We're joined by Theo Pinson and Joel Berry II.”
Justin Jackson, we've talked a lot about Kennedy Meeks this afternoon, but Justin Jackson and his impact on the program, how is it quantified -- not just on the court, but what he's meant to this program off the floor and in school and on campus, that sort of thing, from your perspective, Coach, and from his teammates, if possible, as well?
ROY WILLIAMS: “He's been a very good basketball player for a long time. We recruited him. Thought he could be a sensational basketball player. First two years, every time he shot it, you've heard me say before, I thought it was going in but it just didn't go in. And I always tell him I don't like shooters, I like makers. And I think his teammates here would probably have a great deal of respect for how hard he's worked since the season was over last year. He went through the combine.
“He was told the same kind of thing: You need to get a little more athletic. Need to work on your body. You need to be able to shoot the ball and make the shots. And I think he's spent a tremendous amount of time working on that. And now we see the product of all that work.
“And he's a scorer. He's hard to handle. The floater he made the first half last night from the right side was -- I haven't seen many shots like that. And he's the only guy -- I love these two guys up here, but they shoot a floater, my heart jumps out of my throat. He shoots a floater, I get sort of cocky kind of thing. But the work he's put in and then the kind of person he is, because these two guys here are on him all the time. And he's sort of their dummy because they pick on him all the time. But he handles it pretty well.”
THEO PINSON: “Justin has put in so much work this summer. And even before that he was putting in a lot of work, just a lot of shots didn't go in for him. But he kept at it, putting in work. And got in the weight room with Jonas a lot this summer. And I mean, I think the biggest thing is he showed the younger guys, even the upperclassmen, if you put in the work you see what can happen: Player of the Year, ACC, best conference in the nation. I mean that just shows for itself.”
JOEL BERRY II: “Yeah, I say the same thing. He spent a lot of hours in the gym. And as you can see on the court, I mean, he's doing what he is supposed to do. And that's just from the work that he put in. And I have the utmost respect for him just because he just put in all the time. And that's what you have to do if you want to be that kind of player that he is.
“And as you can see, he's a big-time player for us. And you know, the first two years he didn't have all the opportunities that he would have liked. And now being an upperclassman on the team, he has more freedom and more opportunities, and he's taking advantage of them.”
Maybe you will be treated by recalling a criticism from however many years ago about K-State, but you have that great timeout discussion a couple of weeks back, too. Am I crazy here, are you letting criticism roll off your back a little more now, are you at peace more with that, or are you still combative?
ROY WILLIAMS: “Depends on what kind of mood I'm in, I guess. But I made the statement, and you may have read it at the press conference: Two easiest jobs in the world is a basketball coach and a golf course superintendent, because everybody that plays the golf course, they say: Why did he do that? Or why did he do this? And they couldn't tell the grass from a grain of sand.
“And that's the way I feel like it is in basketball. Everybody's got a better idea. But I think, to me, this last one got to be so humorous. I mean, it was really -- for 29 years, you think I should change just because you guys want me to change? And we won a couple of games in there. But the criticism about the no timeout in the Duke game, it was -- to me, that was sort of humorous, to be honest with you.”
Joel, how did the ankles respond, and how do they feel today, and do you feel like they'll be better or worse tomorrow than they were yesterday?
JOEL BERRY: “I actually feel better. I woke up this morning and didn't have any stiffness. That was my biggest worry. And I was able to get right up out of bed and just walk normally.”
THEO PINSON: “He tripped over a game controller, though.”
JOEL BERRY: “They're feeling pretty good. And we have all day to rest, and I know we have practice and everything, but we got the rest of the day to be able to do some rehab. And we already started this morning. So anything that I do will just help a little bit more.”
ROY WILLIAMS: “Theo, you know he's talking about, ‘We've got practice.’ He knows I'm going to hold him out of a lot of stuff today.”
THEO PINSON: “I’ve got to practice.”
ROY WILLIAMS: “Theo has practice. Joel's got to be out there standing -- not going to be standing beside me, I'm not standing under the basket anymore.”
THEO PINSON: “We don't even know if we want him walking right now, the way he's acting.”
ROY WILLIAMS: “Not going to be hit by the basketball anymore. That was last week.”
Even within your line of work and your level of your line of work, those sequence of events you went through, say 363 nights ago in Houston was a really rare experience. And I'm wondering if you have a description of what maybe the tangle of what you feel during the next few hours, the next 24 hours after that is like?
ROY WILLIAMS: “You know, it's really hard to explain. Sometimes -- when Marcus made that shot, said let's get a stop, we get into overtime. I didn't say we would win, I said let's get a stop and get into overtime. But I really felt like that was going to be Marcus Paige's defining moment. And he had hundreds of them.
“And then when Kris [Jenkins] goes down and makes that shot, as soon as he let it go, I knew it was going in. I didn't even keep looking. And so for me it was one of the most difficult things to handle as a coach, to have something snatched, an opportunity -- we weren't going to win the game if it didn't go in, we still had to beat them in overtime.
“But to have the opportunity to try to play a few more minutes and have it snatched away. And then I've told these guys this before, too, in the locker room was the most -- it was the most difficult time I've ever had as a coach because I felt so inadequate. What was I going to say to my guys? And that's the part that -- that was really hard. But since that time I haven't watched the game. I probably never will watch the game.
“And I've tried to coach this team. And we met at my house, I think, August 22nd and we -- they, not we -- they had just done the 12-minute run. And Wanda had dessert for them. I told them -- I was looking around in my living room -- that I thought I had in front of me the kind of guys that could win a national championship. And so I've tried to focus on that, our dreams and our goals.
“And not as much that we've got to make up for something. Because last year's over with. Kris Jenkins, Villanova got a wonderful experience. It was very difficult for us. But I really tried to concentrate on coaching this team. And I really have not gone to bed every night thinking about that game. I've gone to bed every night trying to think how I could coach this team to the best of my ability.”
You've been criticized for being a little superstitious. And you actually had the hat that Shea Rush made for you last weekend. Did that hat travel with you? And for the players, have any of Roy's superstitions or some of those playful things rubbed off on you guys and Theo, you always dance first in the circle. So is that kind of a superstition for you all?
ROY WILLIAMS: “Some way, I don't know how, but the hat did find its way to Phoenix here. It's with me on this trip. And as we were talking here earlier, I've been criticized for everything from no timeouts to superstitions, to get emotional at press conferences. I've been doing it a long time. So I'm okay. I'm fairly superstitious. But these are not two clean guys up here. They have some superstitious stuff with them.”
THEO PINSON: “I wore my hat, too.”
ROY WILLIAMS: “Joel would wear his, but his big old head, he can't get it on there.”
THEO PINSON: “I always dance first but I think that's my time. I'll always go first. Nothing else, really.”
ROY WILLIAMS: “Got any superstitions, Joel?”
JOEL BERRY: “No, not really. Mine is just I always, for some reason, put my left shoe on before my right shoe. That's the only thing I got.”
ROY WILLIAMS: “Really? What about your sock?”
JOEL BERRY: “No, my sock, I just put it on randomly. But my shoes –“
ROY WILLIAMS: “Started worrying me. I always put my left sock on first and my left shoe on first. And I thought, Jiminy Christmas, this is getting deep. This press conference is disintegrating fast. Quickly.”
You were involved in a game last weekend where afterwards one of the refs was subject to some pretty nasty stuff online. You probably heard about that. Obviously no one is expecting anyone to agree with the refs 100 percent of the time. But do you think over the years the vitriol they face has gotten worse? If so, why?
ROY WILLIAMS: “My own personal opinion is there's different ways to do it now with social media. Anybody can say anything they want at any time. There were some calls -- I've held a grudge since 1981 against a referee. So I know what they feel like. But it's a shame that it got to the extent that it did. That's not healthy. It's not right. It's not humane. And it shouldn't go that far.
“We're playing a game, whether we try to admit it or not -- I'm one of the worst, because sometimes I call it, this is my life -- but we are playing a game. We are providing entertainment. And for it to go to that extent to a very good referee who has had a very good career, that was pretty harsh.”
I asked Mark Few what North Carolina had as far as a clear advantage going into this game with this matchup. Both teams matching up very well, size and athleticism. And he immediately said, "Coaching." Obviously with your experience and this being his first time, but my question is, what is more important when it comes to a big game like this for the national championship? Is it going to be the coaching, or is it going to be the test of the will of your players and who gets those 50/50 balls and who wants it more?
ROY WILLIAMS: “I'm so surprised, I thought he was going to say rebounding. I was going to say coaching is not it, that kind of thing. But I knew he had said that. But Mark does a great job with his team. He's so thorough and so organized. I think that we do a good job. And I say "we" because I've got such a magnificent staff, it's not just Roy Williams. I've got such a magnificent staff.
“I think what's going to be the outcome of the game tomorrow night is who plays the best. And if we make fewer mistakes and make a few more shots and they make a few more mistakes and make a few less shots, I think that will be the difference. I think experience takes care of some of this stuff. But when the game starts, you know, nobody cares how long these guys had to sit at a press conference.
“Nobody cares how many cameras are in there watching Theo dance in the locker room. When the game starts, my guys have got to play against his guys. And that's the bottom line. And we've played some teams before that I thought we could win nine out of ten. But the national championship game, it's only one. This is not one of those teams. We were fortunate, in 2005, I thought Illinois was better than we were; if we would have played a ten-game series, they would have won more. But you only have to win once.
“So I've tried my best to get our kids to be relaxed, be focused -- which some people think is hard to do, but I don't -- be relaxed and focused and play the best you can play and see what happens.”