At some point Thursday or Friday, after North Carolina’s open practice at FedEx Forum and before the Tar Heels face Butler on Friday, Roy Williams will walk out to the Mississippi River and do what he always does in Memphis, or St. Louis, or New Orleans.
He’ll spit in it. Again. For luck. Famously.
“I got a little more famous for spitting than anything I’ve ever done in my life,” Williams said.
Williams’ salivary superstition has become cliché, given how often the Tar Heels have ended up on the banks of the Mississippi in his tenure – including an NCAA title in St. Louis in 2005 and a regional title in Memphis in 2009 en route to his second national title at North Carolina.
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He had less luck in St. Louis in 2012, where Kendall Marshall’s injured wrist and a Kansas home crowd combined to bounce the Tar Heels one game short of the Final Four – which coincidentally enough was in New Orleans that year. That’s where the whole thing started when Williams was an assistant to Dean Smith in 1982 and he says a guy came up to him on the street and told him it was good luck to spit in the river.
“I can be coached,” Williams said. “So I spit in the Mississippi River and I came back and everybody was laughing at me. We beat Houston, the next morning, I got 10 or 12 Carolina people who just came back from the river. That was ’82. I guess it was ’93 we were back down there – no, ’93 we were in St. Louis in the regionals (with Kansas), I made the whole team go do it.”
That worked to get Williams’ team to the Final Four, but he ran up against Smith’s New Orleans mojo in the semifinals as his mentor won his second national title there. Since 1982, North Carolina is 10-2 in the NCAA tournament on the banks of the river (and 79-26 elsewhere). Williams, as a head coach, is 13-4 next to the Mississippi (and 59-20 elsewhere).
The superstition is limited to the mighty Mississippi. Williams said he did not spit in the East River while in New York for the ACC tournament, although he did walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Nor did he spit in the Reedy River in Greenville, S.C., even though it ran right past the team hotel during the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
But he will again this week, expecting, and expectorating, a little luck for the Tar Heels in Memphis this weekend.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock
UNC vs. Butler
NCAA tournament Sweet 16
When: 7:10 p.m., Friday
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, Tenn.