Williams and former UNC head coach Dean Smith spoke to reporters Wednesday afternoon about the enshrinement of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2007 in Springfield, Mass. The fifth-year North Carolina head coach emphasized the role his student-athletes played in his accomplishments at every opportunity during the press conference.
"It's a game about the players," Williams said. "A Hall of Fame coach is a guy who's had great players. I'm not being humble, I'm just being truthful. Coach Smith taught me that the players are the most important thing."
Williams expects 85 to 100 of his closest friends and family to be in attendance Friday evening, including 23 former players.
Tar Heel greats Larry Brown and Billy Cunningham joined Smith in creating a video presentation about the current head coach' success, but Williams plans to use his speech to thank and praise Smith and his high school basketball coach Buddy Baldwin, with a special emphasis on his mother, who passed away in 1992.
"The three most influential people in my life were my mother – who was my hero, there's no question about that – Coach Baldwin and Coach Smith," Williams said. "My mother will not be there, but she will be there in a lot ways, too."
Williams' collegiate coaching numbers have been staggering – a 524-131 record, with five Final Four appearances and six National Coach of the Year honors. In 19 seasons of coaching at both Kansas and North Carolina, Williams has posted a 252-24 mark on his home floor.
And possibly most impressive of all, he won the 2005 National Championship at UNC and is fifth all-time with 45 NCAA Tournaments victories.
But even though those statistics and achievements have led to monster shoe deals and high-profile contracts, Williams insists that he has stayed grounded and focused on what truly drives him – his players.
"It's never been about money for me," Williams said. "It's always been about the game, and the kids, even though they're older kids now. And then the other thing is [that] I love winning. Each and every year presents a different challenge for you. After we won the national championship and lost the top seven scorers – that team was fun to coach."
Smith agrees with his star pupil in that regard.
"That isn't why you're in coaching – to be in the Hall of Fame," Smith said. "You want your players to be in there, and we've had a few to do that."
The friendship between the two Hall of Famers has continued to grow since Williams returned home to North Carolina in 2003, and he has enjoyed having his mentor around to offer suggestions both on the basketball court and on the golf course.
"He would write me some notes, but he was hesitant to give them to me," Williams said. "And I'd say ‘Well, coach I'd like to see them,' and he'd say ‘Well, I'd hate to suggest something and it didn't work.' And I said ‘I think you know me well enough that if I'm not comfortable with it I wouldn't do it.'"
Williams offered an example of how important his players are to him, relaying a story that transpired last fall.
"I had a player in the office, and Jennifer comes in and says ‘Former President [George] Bush is on the line for you,'" Williams said. "And I said ‘Well, tell him I'll have to call him back' because I halfway thought it was one of my wacko friends. When I finished with the player, I went back out and said ‘Who really was it?' and she said ‘It really was [President Bush]."
The enshrinement will be televised live Friday night on ESPN Classic at 7:30 p.m. The induction ceremony will feature Williams, Phil Jackson, who led the Lakers and Bulls to a record nine NBA titles, the 1966 NCAA Champions from Texas Western, four-time WNBA Championship coach Van Chancellor, referee Mendy Rudolph and international coaches Pedro Ferrandiz and Mirko Novosel.