Luke DeCock

Roy Williams earns 3rd title, more respect – DeCock

All the doctors and lawyers and plumbers on Facebook, there’s nothing they can say to Roy Williams now. Think he ought to call a timeout more often? Might want to keep that to yourself for a while.

With his third national title in 14 years at North Carolina, if Williams hasn’t won over the vocal portion of fans who like to nitpick his every move and pin the blame for every loss on his coaching style, in-game tactics, substitution patterns or, yes, his belief that calling a timeout often does more harm than good … well, at a certain point those fans will just have to admit they’re wrong.

After Monday’s 71-65 win over Gonzaga, Williams has won more national titles at North Carolina than Dean Smith did.

Let that sink in for a second.

Only John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski and Adolph Rupp have ever won more.

Let that sink in for a second.

“I’m very lucky,” Williams said on the floor Monday night, before ascending the ladder to cut down the net. “They try to say that’s more than coach Smith. I’m not Dean Smith. I never have been, I never will be. He was so much better. But I’ve had teams that have taken me and presented me the greatest gift a coach can have, which is to see the looks on your guys’ faces when they’ve accomplished this. Kennedy Meeks hugging me. Isaiah Hicks hugging me. There’s nothing better than that.”

There may always be a segment of the North Carolina fan base that will never fully accept Williams – because he’s not Smith, because he said no in 2000, because he’s from the mountains and they’re from Charlotte and Raleigh and Greensboro. There’s clearly something visceral there, because it continued to persist even after the first two NCAA titles.

Last year was a rebuttal to those critics, who said he’d lost it, couldn’t land big recruits, couldn’t keep up with Duke. If Williams was feisty a year ago during the NCAA tournament, sticking it to the critics in seats both cheap and expensive after ending the Tar Heels’ five-year hiatus from the Final Four, This year had a more relaxed feel.

He ranted, of course – about timeouts late in the season, about the president’s Twitter persona, about the NCAA investigation that continues to hang over the program, the “junk” as he always calls it – but he also seemed to let a lot of what happened this postseason roll off his back, more than usual.

This two-year run, with only one real top-tier NBA prospect this season and only one key player likely to leave early for the draft – Justin Jackson, imminently – was a testament to Williams’ vision for the program, something that gets lost amid the in-game criticism and post-game second-guessing.

After the game, top recruit Kevin Knox – expected to choose from among North Carolina, Duke and Kentucky – tweeted excitement over the Tar Heels’ victory, which suggests that Williams’ drought recruiting elite talent may soon be over.

By the end, Williams became the first coach to win three titles at his alma mater. Only Wooden and Krzyzewski have played for the title more often. There are a lot of ways in which Williams is dwarfed by Smith and his legacy, but there are some very tangible ways in which Williams’ on-court success has exceeded his mentor’s. Even before Monday’s victory, assistant coach Hubert Davis said Williams was the best coach he’s been around, a group that includes Smith. That’s an amazing statement to make, one even Williams can’t really process.

“I don’t think Roy Williams should ever be put in the same sentence with Dean Smith, I really don’t,” Williams said. “I think Coach was the best there’s ever been on the court. And he was an even better person. And so it’s a little staggering.”

As he walked away from North Carolina, off to take over a program of his own at UNC Wilmington, C.B. McGrath, a longtime vocal defender of Roy Williams who as an assistant coach had to pick his spots to speak up, had one message as he exited.

“Call me anytime,” McGrath said. “I can say anything I want. Nobody can stop me from defending him now.”

Just when McGrath is in a position to stand up for Williams whenever he wants, Williams has never needed defending less.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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