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UNC coach Roy Williams regains mobility after knee surgery

North Carolina coach Roy Williams on his recovery from knee surgery

Video: Roy Williams discusses his health and his recovery from knee replacement surgery during the Tar Heels’ “Media Day” on Tuesday, October 11, 2016 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.
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Video: Roy Williams discusses his health and his recovery from knee replacement surgery during the Tar Heels’ “Media Day” on Tuesday, October 11, 2016 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Roy Williams hasn’t yet experienced one of those moments that has made him wish he’d had knee replacement surgery years earlier – the process hasn’t been that rewarding for him, yet, he said recently. And yet, he said, “it does feel better,” little by little.

Williams, who is entering his 14th season as North Carolina’s coach, underwent surgery to replace his right knee on May 27. He elected to go through the surgery after a season of pain and discomfort, which often forced him to limp or, worse in Williams’ mind, to seek refuge by sitting down.

Before last season, he said, he’d never sat down on a basketball court, not “one time.”

“And last year I was sitting down about every 15 or 20 minutes for, as Marcus (Paige) said, for 30 seconds at a time,” said Williams, 66. “And so far this year, I haven’t sat down except during water break. And it does feel better, and it’s been a long process.”

It’s early yet. UNC began practicing earlier this month. The Tar Heels held their annual “Late Night with Roy” preseason event on Friday. The season begins on Nov. 11 at Tulane.

For Williams, the rehabilitation from knee surgery has been one long exercise in patience. He’d heard stories about people playing golf relatively quickly after similar surgeries. He’d heard stories about people who wished they’d undergone similar surgeries years earlier.

“I haven’t been on that boat yet,” Williams said. “But it is better, and it’s enabling me to do my job a lot more fine.”

Nate Britt, the UNC senior guard, said Williams “is actually moving a lot better” now compared to last season. Back then, Williams’ knee problems forced him to sit down more than he ever had during games, and during practices.

Williams wasn’t nearly as mobile as he prefers to be. His knee problems – he has considered replacement surgery on his left one, too – changed his exercise habits.

“It was kind of weird, but coach does a good job of hiding how much pain he’s in,” Britt said.

These days, Britt said, “I don’t think I’ve seen him sit one time yet.” So that part of it, at least, is back to normal for Williams. He’s standing through the duration of practices, moving around with more ease than he did a season ago.

The recovery continues, though. Williams, an avid golfer, began playing again on Aug. 11.

“Played 36, just one day,” he said, and he said his game “stunk” after so much time off.

And so not everything is like it was. Still, Williams said, his knee continues to become “a little bit better and a little bit better.”

At times during games last season the pain forced Williams to retreat to the bench. Once, he stomped his feet to make a point during a game, and he grimaced immediately after. He had to sit down.

In practices, there hasn’t been any sitting for Williams. The limp that was a part of his walk throughout last season is mostly gone now, only faintly visible. Yet in some ways the recovery continues.

“It’s been a long process,” he said.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams talks about discussing knee replacement surgery with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski on Tuesday April 12, 2016 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.

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