Twenty-eight years after his first game as a college head coach, Roy Williams will coach his 1,000th game on Wednesday night when North Carolina plays at Indiana.
“That's a lot of games,” Williams said on Tuesday and, as he noted, that total doesn't include the five years he spent as a high school head coach, and the eight years he spent as the coach of the Tar Heels' junior varsity team.
“So I had eight years there where I had no record that meant anything, except to me,” Williams said.
Days before this season began – his 29th as a Division I head coach – Williams sat down for an extended interview. That interview was the basis of this profile of Williams, and about how he has changed and how he hasn't approaching his 1,000th game.
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Part I of the interview with Williams is right here. And Part II begins where we left off …
Andrew Carter: The NCAA investigation at UNC is ongoing but when it comes to recruiting, do you feel like you're on the other side of it?
Roy Williams: You know, it's strange, because the (high school) senior class is still asking about it and the junior class is not saying a word, because they just realize that it's going to be over with, and the people that have used this in the negative recruiting aren't saying it to the juniors. Maybe they'll be saying it to the seniors next year, if it's not over. But I'm hoping it'll be over with in my lifetime. I'm hopeful.
AC: But are you hearing about it less, overall, with this senior class?
RW: Yes. Because people do see the light at the end of the tunnel. There is information out there, there is the notice of allegations, there is information on that. So people are able to look and see it.
AC: Has the NCAA case been the main factor in recent years in not signing the so-called best of the best high school players, those like Brandon Ingram?
RW: Well, you never know. But Brandon made a great decision. I mean, it worked out pretty well for Brandon Ingram, too. And I'm not saying that it didn't, by any means. Because it worked out pretty doggone well for him. But it's been harmful, there's no question. And just with what's happened. I'm not going to sit up here and cry about it and all this kind of stuff, or make excuses. We're going to recruit, and we're going to work hard and see what happens. … Yeah, it's been harmful. The sensationalism, the negative recruiting and everything. But, we did play the last Monday night. And even before that, Marcus Paige's first three years, we won 75 games. Most programs would take 75 games in three years. So we did OK.
AC: Has it caused you to alter the way you recruit, in terms of identifying prospects earlier or making offers earlier?
RW: Just work as hard as we possibly can and make decisions and if you think you've got a chance (to sign someone), stay. If you don't think you've got a chance, get out, and go somewhere else. But I think we've worked even harder, and we're going to keep doing that.
AC: Does UNC – does any program, really – still have the same cachet among top prospects as always or has recruiting become almost entirely about which program offers the best path to the NBA?
RW: Well, the culture's changed, there's no question. North Carolina and Duke, Kentucky, Kansas are still the elite. But no, the culture has changed. And you used to deal with the high school and the high school coach and now sometimes you very seldom see those people because the out of high school season play is probably more dominant in most cases than their high school seasons. So it's changed there. There's more people involved. But you can still find great, great kids. But you do have to understand that some people's motivation is not the same as it used to be. And the NBA is just too big a monster out there. It's too much money. It would change anybody and everybody. When I see a kid whose family is just concerned about him getting an education and hopefully he might be able to play basketball for a living but he's going to get an education, too – you can still find those, but you can find some that that's not a goal for them. And that's OK.
This is America. People go to journalism school to get a job. … But people come to play basketball to help them get a job later on, too. So that's the way it's always been. It's just that there's more people involved, in my opinion. More on the periphery, more things involved, whether it's summer or summer leagues and coaches, or shoe companies or whatever – there's just so many more people involved than it used to be. So in some ways it's not as pleasant. It's not as wholesome, I guess I should say. But the bottom line is, still, why do you go to college? You go to college to improve yourself to get a better job. And if those guys can get a better job playing for one school as opposed to playing for another school, then I can understand why they want to do those things. But is driven by the NBA.
AC: Given how the recruiting culture has changed, do you still enjoy that part of the job as much as you used to?
RW: I still love getting in there and talking to the people face to face. I don't enjoy the travel, but I never have. I've always just said, well you've got to do that, you've got to get there. I think I try to go recruit as much or probably more than any other head coach, actually be on the road to go somewhere during the course of the season. I went two years in a row that every day I gave the team a day off, I went recruiting. And did that two years in a row. So I still enjoy the part of promoting, trying to sell the University of North Carolina. I still enjoy going in and sitting down face to face and talking to the people, the families. All the other things make it harder to enjoy other parts of it. Why someone makes a decision now compared to why someone made a decision several years ago.
AC: You guys proved last year you don't need one and done talent to have a national championship-caliber team and yet it still comes up as to why you don't have it--
RW: We try to have it. The people that Calipari recruited, I tried to recruit the same guys. And it's just that it's been harder to get right now during this time period. But people don't believe this – it was published by the ACC. Since my first year here, we've had more guys leave early for the NBA than any other school in the league. But that's not promoted out there, it's not talked about out there. But it's the facts. We've had more guys leave early than any other team in the ACC since I got here. And everybody tries to act like that I handcuff them, and keep them here, and that kind of thing. But it's just something you have to fight in recruiting.
AC: Does that bother you – the notion that you 'handcuff' players?
RW: Yeah, it bothers me.
AC: How do you fight it?
RW: Tell them the truth. It's pretty simple. Here's the facts. But you've got to address it is what you have to do.
AC: Some of your biggest supporters might say you don't receive the respect you deserve compared to some of the game's other Hall of Fame coaches; C.B. McGrath, one of your assistants, went on Twitter last spring to defend you; sometimes these 'best coaches' lists you see have you ranked relatively low, based on what you've accomplished – does the perceived lack of respect, if it exists, bother you?
RW: Any time somebody says something negative about you it bothers you a little bit. But it's very little. Because there's a publication that I get, and it ranks coaches. And I've been as high as one or two and I've been as low as six or seven. For the last 20 years. And when I read that I say, OK, now does this help me get a raise? Does this help me get a prospect? Does this make me really important? Does this make me make any more birdies this spring in golf? And I have yet to make a birdie because somebody ranked me really high. And I've yet to miss a birdie because somebody ranked me really low. Because I really don't. I don't care. I don't read all that stuff. And I've had some people, whether it's C.B. or anybody else, always try to come to my defense and I say, It's OK, it's OK. I'm doing what I want to do. And we've been pretty successful. My teams have taken care of me.
AC: It's an NBA rule, I know, but if you could change the one-and-done early entry rule, would you and if so, how?
RW: You know, it's a terrible question because there's no answer that fits everybody. There's no perfect answer, not by me or anybody else. But what we have is not a perfect answer, because I really believe LeBron James made the right decision. I really believe Marvin Williams made the right decision. Marvin wanted to stay and play college basketball. Tyler Hansbrough did stay and play college basketball. So what happened to both those kids was fine. But there's no perfect rule. LeBron was good. Somebody else that tried it and was gone out of the league in two years later, it probably wasn't good for. I think they do gain some things by the college experience, I do think they gain some things by maturing, physically and mentally. But no, I think Kevin Garnett, LeBron and those guys did all right by their decision – that's what was right for them. And then some parts of my body think kids ought to be able to go right out of high school. And for a few people, that is the right thing. For other people, they should stay in college for a year. For other people, they maybe should stay in college for two years. So I've never gotten married to one thing because I know there's no perfect answer.
AC: In your experience, what has been the best early-entry rule in your years as a head coach?
RW: I think what we have now is close. But, again, there's some people like a LeBron that there's no reason for LeBron to have to go to college. Again, it goes back to you go to college to better yourself, to get a better job to make more money, in every area. So if somebody can do that without going to college, you've got to congratulate them.
AC: I wanted to ask you about the health of college basketball, the interest in the sport. Last year for your home opener, you guys are the No. 1 team in the county and there were 7,000 empty seats at the Smith Center. What's your read on the health of college basketball and whether or not interest might be slipping?
RW: You know, we've created this monster and allowed this monster called TV to broadcast so many games. People have decisions to make. I mean, I had somebody come up to me and sort of ask me why I was leaving the football game with 10 minutes to play on Saturday (when UNC played against Georgia Tech). I said because I want to. We're up 40-20. And I've got things I've got to do. And I'm here to support them, and if it was 20-20 I wouldn't have left. But it was 40-20, with 11 minutes and 20 seconds to play when I walked out of my seat. And I think everybody else should be able to do that, too. The guy who was my best friend growing up, best man in my wedding, hasn't been to a game since my first year here. He said, 'Why should I do that when I can walk 17 steps from my recliner to my bed, and I can watch the replays, I can use the remote, I can do all kinds of stuff?’ And so it's what it is. We're still in the top 10 in the country in attendance every year, probably top five, probably.
I think there's more apathy for coming and putting your tail in the seats, because you want watch it on TV. And also there's so many other things going on, I mean Friday night – it was a beautiful day Friday. Saturday was one of the prettiest days I've ever seen. I wouldn't have minded being at Wrightsville Beach. So when you come, I want people to come, there's no question. I didn't like the looks of it when I walked out there the other night (for an exhibition game), but it's what it is. … but I'd like the people to be there, but they get to make decisions, and I think that game was even on TV. But no, it's big-big games, people will come to because they want to see the game but they also want to be part of an event. And other games, they may choose not to, may watch it. Our arena is too big. I've said that forever. It's just too big. It was a fantastic decision, thought process at the time. But I wish it were 15,000 or something like that. You know, some of the smaller arenas always have a packed house but if they had 21,750 seats, they wouldn't have a packed house.
And with that it was time. Williams had another appointment to keep, one to pick out some new suits. A practice was ahead, and the start of the season, too.