The Carolina connection is strong within the Charlotte Hornets and this season the doors will swing both ways. North Carolina head coach Roy Williams is thrilled for both.
With an owner in Michael Jordan who perhaps is the greatest Tar Heel of all-time and a team that resides not only in the biggest city in the state but is also nestled in the heart of basketball country, the Charlotte Hornets were bound to feel the influence from the University of North Carolina.
The Tar Heels, a popular draw whenever the school appears in Charlotte, have three former players--including two starters--on this season’s team. Marvin Williams and P.J. Hairston, along with reserve Tyler Hansbrough, all played for Williams during their time in Chapel Hill, with Williams and Hansbrough winning national titles at UNC.
A former Bobcat, Sean May, has also returned to his alma mater to work alongside Williams and his staff as he seeks to take the next step in his basketball journey following his retirement as a player.
May, the 13th overall selection of the 2005 NBA Draft, played three seasons with Charlotte but his professional career saw the 6-foot-9 forward saddled with injuries. He spent his final season in the NBA with the Sacramento Kings before playing in Europe for five years.
After deciding to end his professional career, May hoped to continue working in the game but was unsure of what aspect he would find most appealing. In his new job as assistant to the director of player development, he will get to try his hand at several features within the industry in hopes of finding a suitable path for the future.
“He wants to eventually get into coaching,” Williams said. “I think this is a great way to give him a feel for what coaching is about. He is going to work with our Ram’s Club in spring and early summer, with all the Ram’s Club meetings, because I like a basketball player involved with that group.
“He is going to do a lot of things for [UNC basketball SID] Steve [Kirschner] and for Learfield in the broadcast and things from the media side of it. He is going to watch very closely what we do as coaches.”
While May is unclear where his path will take him in basketball in the coming years, Williams is equally certain that the Most Outstanding Player of the 2005 NCAA Tournament will succeed whatever he decides to do.
“He is one of the smartest players, if not the smartest player, I’ve ever coached,” Williams said. “When he played, I never asked him a question that he didn’t know the correct answer to. So this is basically giving him and up close, internship kind of situation for him to decide whether he really wants to get into coaching or move more into the media-aspect of it or more into the administrative aspect of it.”
One of May’s teammates on the 2005 championship squad was Marvin Williams--now a starter for the Hornets in his second season in Charlotte. Selected second overall by Atlanta in 2005, it would seem that leaving after winning a national title with the possibility of being a top pick would be an easy choice to make. His college coach remembers how Williams wavered due to his love for his school.
“Marvin Williams didn’t want to go,” the second-winningest coach in both Kansas and UNC history said. “I said, ‘Son, you’ve got to go. You are going to be the first or second pick in the draft.'"
Williams has not strayed too far away during his professional career. He graduated from North Carolina in 2014, a fact that his coach is pleased with most of all.
“Marvin Williams, I would coach a million of him,” Williams said. “I would be the happiest guy in the world. In my opinion--I don’t know if it has been verified yet--I think Marvin Williams is the only one-and-done [college player] to ever go back and get his degree. I am proud of that.”
Four years after winning his first national title, Williams repeated the feat in 2009 with a talent-laden squad that featured six current NBA players but was led by Tyler Hansbrough.
The ACC’s all-time leading scorer and the 2008 National Player of the Year is in his first season with Charlotte after spending the last two years with Toronto. Hansbrough, the 13th selection of the 2009 NBA draft by Indiana, spent his first four seasons with the Pacers and brings energy along with stability off the bench for the Hornets.
Hansbrough received his first action of the season in Charlotte’s win over Chicago Tuesday after not appearing in the team’s first three games. Williams feels that Hansbrough’s impact will not be immediately measurable or will be necessarily seen by the viewing public.
“His impact is not going to be seen the first game, the second game or the tenth game,” Williams said. “His impact will be seen throughout the course of the whole season and every day in practice. He is contagious with the things he does.”
P.J. Hairston had his finest game of the early season against the Bulls in Charlotte’s 25-point win. This came after the club informed him it would not it would not pick up the team option on his contract following this year.
Hornets general manager Rich Cho stated that he wanted to see more consistency from Hairston on and off the court. The 6-foot-5 wing player has had brushes with the law both in college and as a pro.
After North Carolina elected not to seek his reinstatement, Hairston moved on to the NBA Developmental League where he excelled. His professional career, while in the early stages, has been spotty. Williams believes in Hairston and feels he has the attributes that eventually help him flourish in the coming years.
“I think P.J. has a wonderful ability to score and he is much better defensively than people gave him credit for in college,” Williams said. “I think he has the right parts of the game and evidently coach Clifford likes what he has been doing and feels he is going to give his team the best chance to win. That’s what I think it should be. I am happy for him.
“He definitely has the skillset to succeed in the NBA. He has the ability to shoot the ball. That thing they hang from the ceiling or plaster to the wall is called a ‘scoreboard’ and it not a ‘draw charge-board’ or a ‘dive on the floor-board.”'
Overall, Williams is happiest that with three former Tar Heels in Charlotte it gives him a chance to keep up with several of his former pupils in one setting. He attended the home opener Sunday against Atlanta and plans to keep in touch with what the Hornets are doing throughout the season as best as his job will allow.
“Right now, I am a parent,” Williams said. “I just look at it to see how many minutes and how many shots they took. That is the way I look at it right now. I like having them here in Charlotte. It is easier for me to see them three kids at once and all three of those kids mean a great deal to me.”