Roy Williams and a few North Carolina players – Theo Pinson, Luke Maye and Justin Jackson – greeted reporters on Tuesday for a pre-Final Four press conference. Some quick news, notes and quotes from the gathering …
▪ No, Roy Williams had not yet watched anything on Oregon.
But he has by now. Williams was asked on Tuesday about his early impressions of Oregon, UNC’s opponent in the late national semifinal on Saturday in Glendale, Ariz. Williams’ answer: “I haven’t seen ’em. And don’t laugh. Every game I’ve ever coached, I start watching them the day before. I worry about North Carolina.”
Those of us who regularly cover Williams know that he usually doesn’t begin closely studying an opponent until the day before a game. That changes, slightly, in the NCAA tournament. Sometimes Williams will begin watching tape of an opponent two days before a game. For Oregon, Williams planned to start watching film of the Ducks on Tuesday night, during the flight to Phoenix.
Know who has watched a lot of Oregon film? Hubert Davis. The UNC assistant coach has watched the Ducks “play 88 games,” Williams said. “I pay him that exorbitant salary so he can tell ’em what the crap to do in practice.”
▪ There’s some history between Williams and Oregon coach Dana Altman.
Altman is in his seventh season at Oregon. His first major conference job, though, came at Kansas State, where he coached for four seasons from 1990 to 94. Altman then coached twice per season, at least, against Williams when Williams was at Kansas.
During those four seasons, Williams and Altman played each other nine times (once in the Big 8 tournament – a Kansas State victory in 1993), with Williams’ Kansas teams winning seven of those games. He still remembers losing against Kansas State, at home, in 1994.
“I’m drawing a blank,” Williams said. “(Kansas State) had a little guard that turned around right inside the free throw line and shot and beat us at Allen Field House one time.”
Here’s how Williams described the characteristics of an Altman-coached team:
“I know that they’re going to play extremely hard. I know that they’re going to be unselfish. And I know that the best shooters are going to take the most shots. And I think that’s what I remember about Dana’s teams. But it’s, again, nobody believes me – I haven’t watched any of their games yet.
“That’s just who I am and I what I do.”
▪ What will be the most popular question this week?
Williams guesses it’ll be this: How much will your Final Four experience help you this weekend?
“You guys help me – let’s keep score of how many times I answer that question, OK,” he said. “ … That will be the most often-asked question.”
We’ll keep this short, because I might write more on this later. The short answer is that Williams doesn’t think Final Four experience matters all that much.
“We’ll be better with all the B.S. that’s going on,” he said. “We’ll be better in the press conference, because we know what’s going on. But when the game starts, then it makes no difference. I really believe that.”
▪ An interesting hypothetical: Is UNC here now without what happened then?
Jared Fialko, a reporter with WRAL, posed an interesting question to Williams and the players on Tuesday. It went something like this: If UNC’s season didn’t end in such misery and heartbreak a season ago, would the Tar Heels be back in this position, headed to another Final Four? After all, the way last season ended has driven this team all year long.
Williams offered a thoughtful answer.
“You know, I was on the staff here in ’81 when we lost the national championship game, we went back in ’82 and won it. … 2008, I was coaching on the team and we lost and we went back in 2009 and won it. But there’s probably a lot of times there that that didn’t happen, either. But I think our kids really used it a great deal as motivation during the off-season.
“Once we started practice, you know, you’re putting together a team then, and I’d make reference to it periodically, I mean two or three times throughout the whole year, about what’s the most fun you’ve ever had, just to remind them, because everybody said it was the run to the national championship game last year.”
▪ Is it Uber or, uh ... Yoober?
In continuing his answer, Williams said that if the Tar Heels weren’t focused against Oregon on Saturday, their stay in Arizona would be a short one. So short, in fact, that they’d be seeking some easy transportation out of Glendale, Ariz.
“My biggest fear,” Williams said, “is that everyone’s going to talk and those guys are going to talk about national championship game last year,” Williams said. “If we don’t beat freakin’ Oregon, we’re out there in a Yoober trying to get our butts back to Chapel Hill. And so we’ve got to focus on Oregon, is what we have to focus on, and they will hear that a heck of a lot from me.”
Williams paused amid the snickers.
“Is it yoober or Uber?” he asked of the taxi-like service users access on their phones.
He was told the correct pronunciation: Uber … with an “ew” sound at the beginning.
“I’ve got no hope with that,” he said.
(Sidenote: Can you imagine Williams bringing up the Uber app on his phone, under any circumstances? I can’t, either. Sidenote II: This reminds of the time, during my days covering Florida State, when Bobby Bowden called the Internet “the eBay.”)
▪ On the ending.
Last season has stayed with UNC’s players enough that they refer to it often. Their text message group is called “redemption.” They often discuss how the ending motivated them, inspired them entering this season. How much has it stayed with Williams, though?
“None. None,” he said. “It was crazy, it broke my heart and all those kinds of things. But I went back to work. …
“The day that I have to find something else to motivate me to do my job, I’ll feel like I’m not doing my job,” Williams said. “It’s a fresh year. One of the great things about college, it turns over so much. It’s a new team, a new season. If you would have told me that Marcus and Brice were going to come back and Joel was going to come back, then I would use it as even more of motivation.”
▪ The weirdest thing about Luke Maye.
Theo Pinson was asked to share something weird or strange about Luke Maye, who continues to be the man of the hour, and the man of many hours, after making The Shot against Kentucky. Pinson thought about it for a second and said the weirdest thing about Luke Maye is how hungry he can be sometimes. Pinson said he once saw Maye consume three Five Guys cheeseburgers in one sitting.
“Double patty,” Pinson said, telling the tale with a wide-eyed expression that conveyed a mix of admiration, fear and concern. So there you go: The weirdest thing Pinson could think of about Maye. Apparently, he can eat.
▪ The differences between this team and the one last year.
The Tar Heels were close last year. They’re close this year. They got along extremely well last year. They get along extremely well this year. There are some differences, though, and Williams tried to describe them.
“Last year Marcus was really serious,” Williams said of Marcus Paige. “Brice was really quiet, or Brice was really pouting, or whatever it was that he was doing when I was screaming at him and everything. But it was a more serious-minded team.”
Williams told a story. It was early last season. The Tar Heels had gone through a bit of lull. There was a lack of focus in practice. Paige, the leader that he was, told his teammates to knock it off – that they needed to listen to Williams.
According to Williams, Paige said: “I’ve never won a ring. Nobody in this room has ever won a ring.”
The statement, Williams said, hit him “like a sledgehammer.” Paige had that presence, that serious presence, that commanded respect. The leaders on this team are Joel Berry and Justin Jackson and seniors Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Nate Britt. But it’s different.
“The seriousness of Marcus is gone, the quietness of Brice is gone,” Williams said. “Now it’s Theo and Joel and those guys, and I mean, it’s comedy express out there half the time. So they’re closer together because they’re all idiots. And me with them, I guess. So it’s my kind of team.”
The team left for Phoenix not long after the news conference ended, and departed for the airport at around 7 p.m. Joel Berry was not wearing any walking boots while he walked to the bus. Some of the guys, though, did wear their fedoras that Shea Rush made.
Team NandO will be making its way to Phoenix on Wednesday night. The charter is gassing up, and being filled with our preferred accoutrements. See you in the desert …