Roy Williams explains rooting interest in championship game

Roy Williams, who coached basketball at Kansas for 15 seasons and North Carolina for 18 more, is hoping for an epic NCAA men’s title game between the Jayhawks and Tar Heels on Monday night at Caesars Superdome.

“There is only one negative for me — that is my two favorite teams are playing each other,” he said of the KU-UNC matchup, set for an 8:20 pm tipoff.

“That’s hard. But it is easy for me to say it this way: I am not pulling for Kansas to lose. I am just pulling for North Carolina to play great. I never pull for Kansas to lose. That will never happen, but at the end of the game, somebody has to lose. It can’t change. That’s the truth,” he added in a Sunday afternoon phone interview with The Star.

Williams, who is a devoted UNC fan in his first year of retirement after coaching the Heels to three national titles, reports he will be sitting in the midst of the Carolina cheering section Monday night, as he did for the second half of KU’s 81- 65 Final Four semifinal victory over Villanova and the entirety of North Carolina’s 81-77 win over Duke on Saturday in the dome.

That would be natural because he directed the Tar Heels to three national titles in his 18 seasons and is close to virtually everybody on the current UNC team and athletic department.

“Everybody on the North Carolina bench I recruited except for Brady (Manek),” Williams said. “Everybody on the staff at North Carolina either assisted me or played for me. Jackie Manuel (UNC director of player development) was on that 2005 team (that won NCAA title). Sean May (assistant) was MVP of our ’05 (NCAA title) team. Brad Frederick (UNC assistant) … his father (Bob) hired me (at KU). I’ve known the family forever.”

He said he always wants KU to fare well “because of Wayne Simien, Kirk Hinrich, Jeff Boschee, Jacque Vaughn, Paul Pierce (members of his teams) but I didn’t coach those guys (current Jayhawks).”

Williams was able to hustle from a National Association of Basketball Coaches event to get to Caesars Superdome in time for the final half of the Nova-KU game when things got interesting. Villanova cut a 19-point first-half deficit to six points before KU again stretched out its lead.

“Last night, Villanova … I thought they played their tails off. That was a big-time game. Kansas was too good for them. Every time Villanova made a run, Kansas just did it again,” Williams said.

“I thought our game against Duke may have been as good a college basketball game as I’ve ever seen, very exciting and very emotional. I thought the two games were great.”

Williams has seen KU play in person twice this season. He attended KU’s 62-61 victory over Iowa State on Jan. 11 in Allen Fieldhouse.

“I said all along they may be as good defensively as anybody in the country. They may be the best defensive team in the country,” Williams said of KU. “Remy Martin coming back gives them something they didn’t have early. He’s like a transfusion for them.

“(Ochai) Agbaji is as good a player as there is in college basketball. When (David) McCormack plays the way he did last night (25 points, nine rebounds vs. Nova) … Wilson (11 points, 12 rebounds) and the rest of those guys just played fantastic.

“I think it’s a really, really, really good basketball team. In my opinion, the two teams that are playing the best basketball of the year are the ones that are playing (Monday night). I think we (Heels) have been at this level the past three weeks, Kansas also.”

KU enters the title game as the Midwest Regional’s No. 1 seed; Carolina was the 8 seed in the East.

“Numbers mean nothing because the last part of the season we started playing better and better and better. We got better,” Williams said. “We had a surprising loss at home to Pittsburgh (76-67 Feb. 16). Other than that, Virginia Tech played great to beat us in the (ACC) tournament (72-59 on March 11).

“We went into Cameron Indoor Stadium for the most highly publicized game in the history of college basketball and killed it in the second half.”

North Carolina defeated Duke, 94-81, on March 5 in the last home game coached by Blue Devils legend Mike Krzyzewski.

We were 8 (seed). I thought we had a chance to be 6. It makes no difference. The two best teams in the country are playing right now,” Williams said.

He provided evidence for that point.

“Yes they (these two) are playing the best right now. Gonzaga I thought was the best all year. Even before the loss (to Arkansas in NCAAs), they struggled the game before the loss (in 82-78 win over Memphis),” Williams said. “Mark (Few) is one of my best friends. I think Kansas and North Carolina are playing better than anybody else,” Williams said.

He was willing to provide analysis on KU and UNC.

“KU… you’ve got to make sure you are doing something with Agbaji. You can’t let McCormack get going inside. You have to hope you get him in foul trouble because they are a different team without him,” Williams said.

“Remy Martin … you are looking at Kansas now that is a lot different (in winning 10 straight games; UNC has won five in a row) than they were earlier in the year. With us, Armando (Bacot) is a load inside. He is a rebounding machine. We have so many good three-point shooters. We are really good,” he stressed of the Heels. “Yes we had some early losses. We’ve got all the pieces. Hubert Davis (coach) has done a fantastic job putting those pieces together playing the way you are supposed to play.”

Williams has been approached by some KU fans in New Orleans over the past few days.

“They’ve been really good. I told ’em all the first night I was here, ‘I hope to see you on Monday night,”’ Williams said.

Williams said he had a great time during his trip to Lawrence for the Iowa State game this season. It was his first time in Allen Fieldhouse since he coached at KU.

“I love the way I was treated there,” Williams said. “I loved everything about it. It’s the first time in my life I watched the entire Rock Chalk Chant. Kansas is dear to my heart and always will be a place I love, but these are the guys I coached, where I went to school, where Wanda (wife) went to school and kids went to school.”

Asked if he had a prediction on the final score, Williams said: “No. I just hope it’s a great game. I hope it’s a final people are talking about just like they talked about our game against Duke the other night.”

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Gary Bedore covers all aspects of Kansas basketball for The Star — the current team as well as former players and coaches and recruiting. He attended KU and was born and raised in Chicago, as well as Lisle, Ill.


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