There has been an ocean of water under Williams' "career bridge" since then. Yet he has still found a parallel between now and his first experience as a new coach about to embark on his first game.
"I'm not nervous," he said. "I've never been nervous before a game – I'm too busy. I'm sure I'll have cold chills when I walk out of that tunnel, but I always said while I was at Lawrence, if I didn't have cold chills before a game I would quit the next day."
Quality wins late last year and the hiring of Williams has catapulted into the Top 10 a team that ultimately finished 19-16, 6-10 ACC, and is made up of essentially the same personnel. Williams has spent a good deal of the preseason trying to get a rope on the expectations for this season that have been swirling out of control since his acceptance of the UNC head coaching position on April 14.
The character and hunger of his inherited team has impressed Williams, but there are also major concerns and areas that still need substantial improvement.
"I like that the kids are accepting of the things that we're trying to do," Williams said. "We've struggled taking it from a drill scenario to a five-on-five situation during a game. We got a little bit better during the exhibition games, but I'm still a little concerned about that.
"It's a pretty simple game. We've got to stop turning the ball over so we can get some quality shots that are better than those of the other team and get more of them. Getting quality shots, that's the biggest thing."
And that does not necessarily include three-pointers either. Williams philosophy on the chucking up the long ball mirrors that of his mentor Dean Smith. The Tar Heels will attempt to work their scoring from the inside out, not only to insure a higher percentage shot, but also to draw fouls.
Last season, Carolina shot just 43.6 percent from the floor, while averaging over 23 attempts from beyond the arc. Look for the overall shooting numbers to increase, as the 3-point shot becomes less of an emphasis.
"I don't believe in shooting a lot of 3's, unless the guys can really, really shoot," Williams said. "I like balance, and I like to get the ball inside to guys because they can get fouled and at the end of the game you have a chance to go up against somebody other than the other team's best five.
"Jackie [Manuel] may surprise me and shoot 11 of them on Saturday, but I don't think so."
Another major concern will be the durability of a team that at the present time can only play about eight players with any Division I experience at all, and one of them – David Noel – will miss at least the first month of the season with a broken thumb. For that reason, Williams is trying to hasten the potential for contribution from freshmen Justin Bohlander – an invited walk-on – and Reyshawn Terry. Both have looked impressive in practice and the exhibition games, with the 6-foot-8 Bohlander showing signs he might be able to provide the Tar Heels with another serviceable body in the post.
Carolina could also get another boost if sophomore Byron Sanders can show improvement.
"We'll see what happens," Williams said. "Justin Bohlander has been a pleasant surprise. We need him to keep focused and not lose focus. A lot of times freshmen can have impressive practice sessions, but as soon as they get in a game, they get hit by a different animal.
"The same thing with Reyshawn; Byron's been through it before. It's tougher because we don't have a lot of great competition in our practices."
The other item of prominence that Williams has stressed is an up-tempo style of play. However with Noel out early and Sean May and Rashad McCants recovering from injury, Williams has had to scale back some of the conditioning aspects of practice.
"We've been in between a rock and a hard place," Williams said. "I would like to push them even more than I have, but we're unable to do that.
"I've had guys that could just run all day, and most of them were on teams with depth. So I didn't care if I had guys flopping around like a dead fish when I ran them and see if I would stop blowing the whistle and feel sorry for them. But [at UNC], I haven't had anybody flop around at all since the conditioning program started earlier this year."
On a scheduling note, Williams announced that the Tar Heels have plans to play Texas, Southern Cal, Santa Clara and Butler next year, in addition to participation in the Maui Invitational. He also said that he is hoping to add another game to play on the way to Maui. Carolina expects to add Arizona to the schedule for the 2005-06 season.
Inside Carolina will have a full preview of the Old Dominion game on Friday.