Tag Archives: Roy Williams

Williams wraps up the season

CHAPEL HILL — When Roy Williams called a press conference Tuesday afternoon, he wanted to wrap up a few loose ends, and he wanted to set the record straight.

“Steve (Kirschner) thinks I’m wacko for agreeing to do this,” Williams said. “One of the reasons I wanted to do it was to bring closure to it. The other reason is we had a team meeting on Wednesday of last week, and I didn’t jump on him, but I disagreed with Isaiah. He took way too much responsibility for that shot. That shot was against North Carolina’s team.”

On April 4, a buzzer-beating shot by Kris Jenkins handed North Carolina a 3-point loss in the national championship, and on April 6, Williams wanted to talk about it with his team.

In the aftermath of the loss, Isaiah Hicks told reporters in the locker room that it was his fault Jenkins hit the shot, that he didn’t close out fast enough or defend the shot effectively.

But, Williams said, that wasn’t the case, and he called the team meeting the day after arriving back from Houston to make sure Hicks knew that he wasn’t to blame for the loss.

“He took way too much responsibility for that shot,” Williams said. “That shot was against North Carolina’s team. I was grading the film, and I gave Isaiah two good defenses during that one possession. Then I read these comments like, ‘I should’ve gotten up there’ and ‘he was my guy.’ It was North Carolina as a team.

“But Isaiah, it was not his man. But he was willing to take that responsibility. He did. If you watch it on tape, he challenged it a lot better than I thought he did. If you look at it in still pictures, it’s not as good a challenge. If you watch it on tape, he did challenge it.”

And, Williams acknowledged, even with a defender in Jenkins’ grill, he still could’ve hit that shot to win the game.

“We just didn’t get to Kris as closely as I would’ve wanted,” Williams said. “And you know what? We may have played great defense and he still would’ve made the shot. It was, As soon as he went up to shoot it, I knew it was going in. I didn’t even follow it, I knew it was going in.

“It was a great moment for him. But I don’t anybody thinking Isaiah screwed it up because he didn’t.”

ICYMI: Williams isn’t retiring this summer

To squelch any shred of lingering doubt, Williams confirmed again that the outcome of last week’s national championship game had zero influence over his retirement timeline.

“If I were going to quit,” Williams said, “I sure as the dickens wouldn’t have seen four (recruits) in an 18-hour period last Thursday and Friday.”

Williams frequently answered questions about his retirement throughout the season and the NCAA Tournament, with his frustration on the topic coming to a head at the Final Four when he got the question a couple times.

When asked to revisit those questions and the impact of the national title game on his longevity at UNC, Williams refrained that he wasn’t retiring any time soon.

“I don’t know what else I can say,” Williams said. “I mean, that (Villanova) game will have nothing do to with what Roy Williams does with the rest of his life.

“I’ve changed: I guess for four years I said I wanted to coach six to 10 more years. And I thought it was silly to say that four years ago and still say it, so I went down one. I’ve said I hope I can coach five to nine more years. That’s what I said in a home (recruiting visit) last week. And so that’s all I can say.”

NBA decisions coming next week

Williams said he expects a decision from his players on testing NBA draft waters next week.
He’s meeting with his team individually over the next couple of days and will continue to advise them before getting a concrete answer on their futures next week.

“I’ve met yesterday, today and tomorrow with our players,” Williams said. “There will be some of those players, where I’m not asking them to give me a definitive answer now, I want a definitive answer next week, but I think that some of our guys will try to go to the combine, will declare and not hire an agent, and see how they play in the combine, and I have no problem with that.

“If I were the father of some of our players, I’d get them to do the same thing. We’re not going to have a release today that says ‘Joe Blow’s going,’ and then tomorrow, [another player], and then the next day Henry’s going and anything like that. When we get through with all the interviews, we’ll make one announcement.”

Under new rules, college players can declare for the draft and go through the NBA combine, but retain collegiate eligibility if they don’t hire an agent and remove their names within 10 days after the combine, which falls on May 25 this year.
“I don’t see any reason, unless you play two minutes a game, I don’t think it’s necessary to do that,” Williams said, “but if you’re a good college player, why would you not?

Williams believes, if conducted honestly, the new process will allow players to get better information before deciding their futures.

“I think this should be better especially if the NBA does what they say they’re going to do,” he said. “If they’ll really be straightforward and honest with the kids, you’ll be top-30, you’ll be top-60 or whatever. In the past, I’ve had some players and, ‘I’ll say this is not a good decision. You’re last of the second round or won’t be drafted.’ But agents got to the parents and said, ‘oh we can move him up to the first round.’

“If the NBA says, and if they’ll be truthful, I think it’ll be great. I don’t see any problems with it whatsoever. I’ve never been against it. I just want guys to go that will be first round pick, where they’ve got guaranteed money.”

Tar Heels loose ahead of national championship

HOUSTON — Roy Williams twitched in surprise as he turned his head at Sunday’s final press conference before Monday’s national championship game.

Another press conference, another uninvited guest — the same guest that always seems to find his way into the spotlight — stealing the show.

But at this point, it shouldn’t have come as any shock that Theo Pinson found his way on to the dais at the last pregame press conference of the NCAA Tournament.

“He turned his head, and it was probably one of his nightmares to see my face,” Pinson said, regaling reporters in the locker room afterwards with the story of his latest hijinks.

If the first press conference crashing before the Elite Eight win against Notre Dame was off the cuff, this one was most certainly premeditated.

It’s a tradition, part of a series of superstitions that these fun-loving Tar Heels refuse to shake ahead of the biggest game of their careers thus far.

“Theo, I’m pretty sure he did that because last weekend he did that and it worked well for us,” senior Marcus Paige said. “We don’t like to disrupt what’s working. The past couple weekends we’ve kept the same dinner routines. The first night we’ll go to a nice steakhouse and then after we play, and then on this day on the previous weekends, we’ve gone to a more laid back restaurant and just kind of had a more casual dinner. We’re doing that again. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Hopefully this rhythm that we’re in will help us.”

From right, North Carolina forward Justin Jackson (44) and guard Marcus Paige (5) watch as guard Joel Berry II (2) jokes around during a press conference before the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship at the NRG Stadium in Houston, TX on Sunday, April 3, 2016. (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)
From right, North Carolina forward Justin Jackson (44) and guard Marcus Paige (5) watch as guard Joel Berry II (2) jokes around during a press conference before the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship at the NRG Stadium in Houston, TX on Sunday, April 3, 2016. (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)

The looseness has been well-documented. From Pinson’s antics to Williams’ dance moves and April Fools’ pranks, this UNC team is perhaps one of the most laid back squads to make it this far under Williams.

Usually, Williams prefers radio silence on bus trips between the arenas and hotels, but recently, the coach has gone soft in his ways, and earlier this week he passed the auxiliary cord around to his players to DJ the drive. It’s just another one of the ways the coach, who said he used to “coach with fear,” has adjusted to his teams over the years.

“He’s been doing the dabbing,” sophomore point guard Joel Berry II said. “He’s been jumping around with us. He’s been dancing with us. On the bus on the way back to the hotel usually coach doesn’t let guys play music on the bus, but he encouraged us to take our phones to the front of the bus and put it on the aux cord and were just all in there singing and dancing.

“It just goes to show that he’s going into this loose. I think he’s enjoying this process as well. And through these years, there’s different ways you have to coach different teams. I think the way he has coached this team has been unbelievable. We’re a team that likes to joke around and have fun. He’s adjusted to that really well. I think he’s handled it really well. He just changed his way really well as well. I think it’s bringing him a little joy knowing that there’s still hope in coaching college basketball. I think he’s done a great job of that.”

North Carolina forward Brice Johnson (11) reacts as head coach Roy Williams talks about his height during a press conference before the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship at the NRG Stadium in Houston, TX on Sunday, April 3, 2016. (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)
North Carolina forward Brice Johnson (11) reacts as head coach Roy Williams talks about his height during a press conference before the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship at the NRG Stadium in Houston, TX on Sunday, April 3, 2016. (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)

On the other side of the court, No. 2-seed Villanova is taking a more serious approach, having learned that looseness doesn’t always win championships in a game against the Tar Heels seven years ago.

UNC trounced the Wildcats 83-69 in the Final Four en route to the 2009 national championship game. Ty Lawson’s 22 points along with 20 from Wayne Ellington and 18 points and 11 rebounds by Tyler Hansbrough pushed the Tar Heels past Villanova and onto an eventual title.

Remembering the sheer determination of that UNC team, Villanova coach Jay Wright has implemented a tight regimen for his players to keep them focused throughout the tournament.

“You could just see the focus in Carolina,” Wright said Friday. “You could see our guys were just playing a game. I knew. It was about 10 minutes into the game. I knew. I was like, ‘I didn’t get these guys ready.’ ”

So this time around, Wright is making plenty sure his guys are ready to face North Carolina (33-6) on an even bigger stage.

Since beating Oklahoma 95-51 Saturday night, the Wildcats (34-5) have continued to stay in the zone, still consuming basketball at a constant clip.

“We watched the game between North Carolina and Syracuse last night,” Darryl Reynolds said. “We ate, we slept. We watched the game back at the hotel. Just try to digest the (Oklahoma) game but also kind of put that aside because we have a game ahead of us.”

Like any team preparing for a game of this magnitude, the Tar Heels will definitely be doing the same game-planning and practicing, but in staying true to themselves, there’s definitely going to be a little fun mixed in with the hard work.

“I think it’s going to be a long, long 48 hours or whatever it is,” Paige said after the win against Syracuse. “You’ve got to enjoy it. Luckily our team is probably the most loose, most relaxed fun team to be around. So we’ll find time, find ways to kill time. Hang out and play video games. Relax, shoot some pool at the hotel. I’ve got to win some of those games, some of those ping pong games too.”

“We’ll relax and then as the game gets closer, we’ve got to really focus in. There’s only two teams left playing in the country. No reason for us not to have our best performance Monday night.”

Williams uses system to select suits

HOUSTON — There’s no telling what plaid, checkered or horse-blanket patterned jacket Roy Williams will show up in Monday night, but one thing’s certain: whatever suit ends up on the sideline for the national championship won’t be by happenstance.

There’s a system dictated by superstition, but how exactly that system works is top-secret intel.

Assistant coach Hubert Davis revealed that Williams has a system, but when pressed for more information in No. 1 seed North Carolina’s locker room ahead of Monday night’s national championship game against No. 2 seed Villanova, Davis laughed uproariously.

“Let me just say this: he has a system,” Davis said, overcome with laughter. “He has a system. I cannot reveal it, but he does have a system. There’s a system and he is superstitious. It revolves around the games. If the games went well, if the games don’t go well then it revolves around the games. He has a system. And the system that has worked. But he is superstitious.”

Davis has tried telling Williams that his clothes won’t change the outcome, but there’s no use. Roy Williams is going to do what’s worked for Roy Williams.

“I always tell him, you’re one of the greatest coaches of any sport of all time,” Davis said. “It has nothing to do with what tie or what suit you’re wearing. But if you want to wear it, go for it.”

Williams isn’t averse to recycling his looks — in fact, it appears he’s only worn two outfits during this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Against Syracuse, Williams wore a solid navy suit, light blue striped shirt with a white collar and a darker blue paisley patterned tie. He wore what appears to be the exact same outfit in UNC’s Sweet 16 blowout against Indiana and in UNC’s opening win against Florida Gulf Coast.

For the Notre Dame Elite Eight game, Williams cut down the nets in the blackish-navy pinstripe suit (who can really tell those colors apart?), white shirt and light blue and black patterned tie. That same suit, tie and shirt combo brought him success against Providence in the round of 32.

That suit made its postseason debut as Williams coached the Notre Dame ACC semifinal game in the same pinstripe-white shirt-light blue patterned tie combo. And, Williams was wearing that suit in the big regular season finale win at Duke.

The last time Williams wore a suit other than those two was in the ACC Championship game when he wore a dark gray and light blue plaid jacket with a white shirt and dark gray pants.

He also wore a different black and blue plaid jacket and a solid light blue tie in UNC’s ACC quarterfinal game against Pittsburgh, but hasn’t worn that combination since.

He’s also seemingly retired the thicker-striped navy/black suit with a very light blue tie worn in UNC”s 74-73 loss to Duke.

While Williams takes meticulous care to pick out his outfits, his assistants and players don’t pay super close attention.

“I couldn’t tell you if he wore a black, blue, brown jacket, but he knows,” assistant coach C.B. McGrath said.

During the season, McGrath doesn’t know what jacket-tie combination Williams will select, so he often packs an extra tie just in case.

“I honestly never know what he’s wearing,” McGrath said. “I don’t really look at it. I’m more worried about what I’m wearing, probably. I want to make sure that, because we have the same ties. Sometimes I take two ties to the game just in case. We don’t want to look alike. We’d be like the three stooges out there.”

With Jay Wright on the other sideline, the suit game of the national championship will be undoubtedly strong. While Williams will take a long time to pick out just the right look based on its past performance, Wright just goes on gut instinct.

“I think he switches it up, just a personal preference for that day,” Villanova walk-on senior Henry Lowe said. “I don’t think he plans anything out or is superstitious. He’s admitted to not being superstitious.”

With so many other important things going on during the game, the Villanova players haven’t really thought about what suit their coach might wear.

“Honestly, I have no idea,” Lowe said. “He doesn’t really talk about it with us. He’s always swagged out so I’m sure he’ll have something that will be eye-catching for sure.”

With both men — arguably two of the most well dressed in college basketball — at NRG Stadium for the biggest game of the year, the sideline will definitely be “swagged out” and maybe even a little eye-catching. But even so, there’s still a national championship game to be played and coaches to do some coaching, no matter the suit or the tie.

“He has his little quirky things that he does or a tie he may wear or a suit he likes to wear,” UNC director of player operations Sean May said of Williams. “As a player, I never really paid attention to it. I was moreso worried about the calls he was making, and as a coach, I really don’t pay attention to it. I just like to see him out there on the sidelines getting it done.”

UNC limits celebration, hopes for bigger one ahead

HOUSTON — Marcus Paige allowed himself less than a minute — 39 seconds to be precise — to celebrate.

As he, Justin Jackson, Theo Pinson, Brice Johnson and Joel Berry II checked out of Saturday night’s 83-66 national semifinal win against No. 10-seed Syracuse, Paige let himself exhale and take in the surroundings at the NRG Center.

UNC checked off one more item on the to-do list. But there’s still a big one remaining.

“I took about 45 seconds to cherish that moment,” said Paige, who scored 13 points. “When he subbed in our bench and we got to come out, that was the moment of relaxation and celebration for me, hugging my teammates, telling my teammates, ‘Hey we got one more game.’

“Because our ultimate goal is not to make the final game, it’s to win the final game. You’ve got to happy, satisfied with the way you played and to get to this point. But I’m sure it’ll be a lot more fun if we come in here after a win on a Monday night.”

There was, of course, plenty of reason to celebrate for those 39 seconds. The Tar Heels faced off against ACC foe Syracuse (23-14) for the third time this season, and, for the the third time, UNC walked off the court with a victory.

It was a close game, at least compared to Villanova’s earlier 95-51 thrashing of Oklahoma. The Tar Heels struggled to find any separation early as Syracuse’s zone kept them out of an offensive rhythm.

“They were just a little more aggressive in that zone,” Johnson said. “They weren’t allowing us to get it in the middle of the pass. The first possession when I got the jump shot, I don’t think I touched it in the middle again. It was just a little more aggressive with the guards at the top not allowing us to try to get it in there.”

Initially, UNC settled for 3-point shots, a decision that didn’t pan out as they missed all 10 first-half 3-pointers.

But once the inside game got going, the Tar Heels (33-6) began to find some separation and outscored Syracuse 26-12 in the post en route to a 39-28 halftime lead.

UNC went 6 of 19 in the first 10 minutes of the game, including nine missed 3-pointers. But once the Tar Heels started forcing the ball inside, they went 11 of 16 from the floor and missed just one 3-pointer in the final 10 minutes.

That feat was especially impressive given that UNC leading scorer Brice Johnson sat the final 9:05 with two fouls.

Johnson went to the bench with the scored tied at 16, but keyed by buckets from Berry, Meeks, Jackson and Joel James, UNC went on a 10-2 run and stretched out the lead to nine points.

“I’m really proud of those guys for stepping up, especially Joel,” said Johnson, who had 16 points and nine rebounds. “He really hit some big time shots.”

UNC led Syracuse by 11 at half, but thanks to slack rebounding and turnovers by UNC, Syracuse was able to cut it into single digits on a 3-pointer by Malachi Richardson with 9:48 to go in the second half.

Paige then answered with a 3-pointer of his own — UNC’s first of the game — and stretched the lead back to 10 points.

North Carolina guard Marcus Paige (5) shoots a three-pointer during the first half of an NCAA Men's Basketball Championship semifinal game at the NRG Stadium in Houston, TX on Saturday, April 2, 2016. North Carolina beat Syracuse 83-66 to advance to the National Championship. (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)
North Carolina guard Marcus Paige (5) shoots a three-pointer during the first half of an NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship semifinal game at the NRG Stadium in Houston, TX on Saturday, April 2, 2016. North Carolina beat Syracuse 83-66 to advance to the National Championship. (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)

“There’s no question I got really excited because he had done so many good things and hand’t been able to make a shot,” coach Roy Williams said. “That was the first 3 our team made. I got a little excited on the sideline after that.”

But after Paige’s shot dropped, Syracuse senior Trevor Cooney answered with another 3 before Pinson drained UNC’s second triple. From there, UNC never led by fewer than 10 points en route to a national championship date Monday night with No. 2 seed Villanova.

There’s no denying that it was the biggest win of the season thus far. With everything on the line, it was the definition of a must-win game. But a bigger one is on the horizon, one that means there’s no time for an extended celebration.

Saturday night’s game was about business, and if everything goes the way UNC hopes, a much bigger party will come a little bit later.

“I’ve got one more,” Johnson said. “I’m not done. We’re not done as a team and I’m not done as a player. I’ve got one more game in college and I’ve got one more game this season. We’ll go out there and give it our all.”

Williams pranks Tar Heels on April Fools

HOUSTON — On a team as loose as North Carolina, there’s gotta be a couple of April Fools’ pranks, right?


But this time the prankster wasn’t Theo Pinson or Brice Johnson. Nope, it came from a collaboration between the head honcho himself and a team manager.

Before Friday morning’s practice, manager Maggie Boulton, a senior exercise and sports science major, decided that some kind of prank had to go down. It just wouldn’t be right if it didn’t.

So she huddled up with coach Roy Williams and started hatching a plan.

“The team does like to joke around and I’m really goofy myself,” Boulton said. “So I was like, we’ve got to do something. A lot of times it’s really serious around, especially with the tournament, big games coming up. We got to practice and I said to him, ‘you should do one of your things where you go wacko on the guys during practice and scream at them for nothing and make them think they’re running and then it’s like just tell them April Fools or whatever.’”

Flawless, right?

Not quite. The No. 1-seed Tar Heels had a great practice ahead of Saturday night’s national semifinal game against No. 10 seed Syracuse, so there wasn’t much for Williams to nitpick.

So he freelanced a bit and told his players to get on the baseline.

Williams told his players they would be running a set of five 33s, or from endline to endline six times in under 33 seconds. THey could sit out one, but they had to do at least four of the sprints.

The color drained from their faces.

“I was just scared,” freshman Kenny Williams said. “You know when you get ready to run and you start leaning on your knee? I was just doing that because I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Theo Pinson lined up alongside his teammates, never looking away from Williams’ face. There was no way he was going to make them run the day before biggest game of the season.

“First of all, the guys should’ve known better,” Pinson said. “We have a game the next day. Why would we run four 33s. Why would he make us run five but we had to run four of them before a game and we had a good practice. I figured out the day because my boy JB’s (Joel Berry) birthday is today. I was like, it’s April Fools, so I was praying, talking to Jesus the whole time that it was a joke. It was and I felt a whole lot better about it.”

His prayers were answered when coach yelled to Boulton.

“We lined up and everybody was about to run,” Kennedy Meeks said. “Coach asked Maggie what day it was and she was like, ‘April Fools!’ Everybody was like ahhhhh.”

Good one, Ol’ Roy.

“He has a lot of fun with it,” said Sean May, former player and current director of player personnel. “I think he’s enjoying the moment knowing the group of guys we have here, they’re relishing the moment.”

Williams values special bonds with Baldwin, Paige

HOUSTON — Sitting on the stage in the interview room at the NRG Stadium a few days before his team was set to play Syracuse in the national semifinal, North Carolina coach Roy Williams was asked about his relationship with senior Marcus Paige.

Their days together are numbered. After this weekend, their relationship defined in the roles of coach and player will come to an end as Paige finally exhausts his collegiate eligibility.

But just because Paige, Williams’ tough lil’ nut and go-to guy, won’t suit up for the No. 1 seed Tar Heels any more doesn’t mean that their friendship is over.

It’s impossible to predict the future, but in the past, Williams’ friendships have transcended the hardwood, and as Paige grows out of Chapel Hill, Williams hopes that their friendship will grow too.

“Gosh, I hope so,” Williams said, his voice not quite breaking, but already tinged with emotion. “I think it will. He’s one of the most incredible young men I’ve ever been around. Marcus Paige has made me a better coach every day. He teaches me something every day.

“I think you have an opportunity to learn from every player, But Marcus truly has the gift of getting other people to follow him. He has that gift. I hope that our relationship only gets better and better. I think it will.”

Decades ago, Williams was in a similar position with T.C. Roberson head coach Buddy Baldwin. Williams was Baldwin’s point guard in the late 1960s, and even after graduating high school and heading off to careers at UNC and Kansas, Baldwin and Williams have remained close.

Baldwin estimates that he’s come to 141 games at the Smith Center since Williams took over UNC’s reins in 2003. When Williams was at Kansas, Baldwin and his wife picked a weekend every year to drive down for a couple of Big Eight games.

Health permitting, Baldwin goes to as many postseason games as possible, and each time Williams goes the Final Four, Baldwin goes too.

“It’s one of the things I’m more proud of than anything,” Williams said before leaving for Houston. “I say that my teams have taken me to seven — and now I can say my teams have taken me to eight Final Fours — and I take my high school coach with me every year.

“He was in Philadelphia and Washington DC. He’s fought and beat cancer three times. He’s had a kidney removed, bladder removed, he’s been back out on the golf course. It’s a thrill for me. I talk to him a heck of a lot more than I should. I’m a pain the butt talking to him.”

While their relationship started on the court, it’s evolved to the greens and the craps tables. And after so many years, basketball rarely comes up.

“We don’t really talk about basketball,” Baldwin said by phone before heading to Houston. “It’s just something we don’t talk about. In fact, I’ll be honest with you, we don’t talk about basketball at any time because I just, I know he’s all wrapped up in it and I know he likes time when he doesn’t want to talk about basketball. Let’s talk about something else. That’s the way it goes a lot.”

So the pair mostly talk about the Yankees, craps and their golf games. But every now and then basketball sneaks into their conversation. How could it not? With the deaths of close friends, the NCAA investigation and a self-inflicted pressure to give this team a proper sendoff, Williams often confided in his mentor about the stress of it all.

And Baldwin can’t help but worry about his friend and former player.

“Well, he lost three great friends,” Baldwin said. “His best friend in Chapel Hill lived across the street from him. And that has really, that really hurt Roy and affected Roy. I’ll tell you the thing, the NCAA. They never came out with it. They hurt Roy that way because it allowed people to use it against him in recruiting.

“And his knees are really bad right now. He’s going to have to have work done with his knees, probably have to have a replacement. He just had a lot going. Pressure, I think that he put on himself, plus the fact that he wanted these kids to win something so bad. He would talk about that. He wanted them to win something so bad. And when they did, I think it was just like, a big weight off his shoulders. I think it’s great.”

Baldwin is understandably protective of Williams. He’s been by his side for nearly 50 years, and he’s quick to defend him.

And when Baldwin isn’t around, Williams isn’t lacking for gladiators. Paige has filled that role, protecting and praising his coach since arriving to play for Williams four years ago.

While only about a decade separate Williams and Baldwin, the 43 years between Williams and Paige are much greater.

But despite the age difference, Baldwin sees a lot of similarities in his relationship with Williams and the relationship Williams shares with his player.

“I’ll put it this way, Marcus Paige is one of his favorite players, I can tell you that,” Baldwin said. “All time favorite. And he was one of my all time favorite. He was my point guard and very intelligent.

“You tell him something, you don’t have to say it but once, very, very competitive. Played hard. You go play golf with him, hey, you better bring your A game because he will try to beat you. That’s just the way it is.”

Beginning with an annual trip on last weekend in April, Williams and Baldwin make a point to play golf frequently throughout the offseason. And once he graduates, Paige could join that fraternity — but he’ll have to up his game first.

“I took up golf this past summer,” Paige said. “I don’t know if I’m ready to go with coach Williams. I still shank the ball out of play every single time. But I’ll definitely still stay in contact and depending on where I am in the next stage of my life, that kind of determines how much we’ll talk and stay in touch. But I don’t imagine him being a distant part of my life at any point soon.”

Meeks leaving tights at home for Final Four trip

CHAPEL HILL — When Kennedy Meeks packs his bags for No. 1 North Carolina’s Final Four trip to Houston, there’s one thing he’s definitely leaving behind — his white tights.

Meeks has worn a white pair of athletic tights underneath his uniform for most of the season. But in trying to shake off a funk, Meeks changed up his normal game day garb and went tights-less in the Sweet 16 win against Indiana.

Before the Indiana game, teammate Marcus Paige told reporters that all it would take for Meeks to be an impact player was a good matchup. And with a physical battle in the paint combined with switching up his uniform and shoes, Meeks finally played the kind of game he’s capable of playing.

Against FGCU and Providence teams that played smaller and faster players in the post, Meeks played a combined 21 minutes and scored just six points. But against an Indiana team that played more physically, Meeks flourished in the post

The change worked and Meeks scored 15 points — his first game in double figures since 12 at Duke March 5 — and grabbed nine rebounds in the 101-86 win.

Against Notre Dame in the Elite Eight matchup Sunday, it looked like Meeks wouldn’t be able to continue on his hot streak as he played just four minutes and didn’t take a single shot in the first half.

But after the break, Meeks erupted in the opening minutes of the second-half, keying his team to an 8-2 run in the first five minutes.

He finished with 10 points to give him back-to-back double digit scoring games for the first time since scoring 10 and 12 against Syracuse and Duke respectively.

“I said to Kennedy and Isaiah — and Brice — three of our four turnovers in the first half were our big guys and being silly,” coach Roy Williams said after the Notre Dame win. “Kennedy just lost the ball. Brice just lost the ball and Isaiah charges a guy. That’s three of our four turnovers. I said I want to play you guys but you’ve got to be effective. I thought Kennedy really was around the basket. Scared me at one time because it looked like Demetrius rolled his ankle badly, but he bounced right back. Kennedy was a big force during that time period.”

During halftime of that game, Meeks worked with strength and conditioning coach Jonas Sahratian to throw an eight-pound medicine ball.

Since injuring his knee and missing seven games from Dec. 16 to Jan. 4, he’s worked with the medicine ball frequently before and during games, including before he scored 23 points against N.C. State.

“(The medicine ball) just helps me a little bit on my explosiveness,” Meeks said. “I think I’ve been doing a great job with Jonas as far as weight lifting and getting my body back to where it needs to be after the injury. It’s been a hard journey, but I’m glad that we’re in — and I’m in the position that I’m in — and the team is in the position that we’re in.”

With his resurgence in the last two games, it looks like Meeks will be swapping out his tights for a medicine ball in his Houston luggage.

“The tights are gone,” Meek said, laughing. “They’re never coming back.”

Nothing but net: Carolina teamwork extends to postgame

They used special scissors with a gold blade, and one after another, the Tar Heels learned what it felt like to cut down the nets that had just taken them to a Final Four.

Most of the coaches knew the feeling. Roy Williams had climbed that ladder before.

“It is really special,” he said. “And that’s the reason I even know how many times we’ve done it. This is my eighth time in 28 years as a head coach.”

Assistant Steve Robinson has been on Williams’ staff for 20 of those 28 years and has strands from seven Regional Finals nets.

Assistant Hubert Davis climbed the ladder in 1991, as a player for the Tar Heels. Sean May had the experience in 2005.

Among the Tar Heels in uniform in Philadelphia on Sunday, only Kennedy Meeks had experienced what it felt like to cut down the second-to-last net of the year. As he took the scissors and trimmed away a piece of the home net, he experienced a sense of déjà vu.

That’s because he’d just done the same thing at the other end of the floor, not five minutes earlier.

The 2015-16 Tar Heels are a loose bunch, crashing press conferences and giggling as they’ve stormed through the postseason. But Meeks wasn’t clowning around as he took a second-helping at the net on Sunday night. Instead, it was the culmination of a selfless player-to-player-to-player hockey assist that would have made Dean Smith proud.

“It wasn’t for me,” Meeks said of the second strand he clipped from the Wells Fargo Center nets. “I got it for Luke. He didn’t get one. So I went and got one for him.”

That would be freshman Luke Maye. The forward didn’t play in the Regional Final win over Notre Dame, but he seemed capable of climbing a ladder on his own. In fact, when the Tar Heels took down the first net, on the visitors’ end of the floor, he was in line several players behind Meeks.

So why didn’t Maye get a turn with the scissors.

“I got to cut a strand,” Maye said.

Clearly, something was fishy around the budding controversy. Just where did the extra strand end up, and why?

Netgate originated two weeks earlier, when the Tar Heels cut down the nets at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., following their ACC Tournament title.

After each member of the team got a piece, the second net hung from a few slim strands. Coach Williams sent his scholarship seniors—Paige, Brice Johnson and Joel James—up the ladder to finish the job.

There was a supply and demand problem: Three seniors and only two nets.

The first net was already around the neck of senior Marcus Paige. A three-year captain, there was no question that Paige would get one.

Johnson and James looked at each other after cutting the second net, but that one was just as much of a no-brainer. The team’s leading scorer and rebounder, Johnson had turned in one of the best seasons in school history. He cut the last strand and wore the net like a necklace.

James was left out. The huge ACC tournament sign that had been mounted to the backboard would have to serve as a substitute for the senior center’s trophy case.

James’ bulky souvenir led to an outbreak of sign stealing, as the Tar Heel players stripped the Verizon Center of any and all ACC Tournament signage, bringing them back to Chapel Hill to divide among themselves.

Last week, in the NCAA opening weekend in Raleigh, James peeled a giant logo sticker from the wall of the PNC Center to join his ACC sign in a collection of oversized signage.

“I’ve been trying to look around and see what I can take,” James said, while sitting in the locker room in Philadelphia.

He pointed to a dog eared decal on the wall that he’d clearly tried to peel away already. “Those sticky signs are a hassle. They ball up and stick to themselves. So I’m not sure what I’ll take yet.”

When the Tar Heels finished off the Fighting Irish to advance to their first Final Four since 2009, James had his chance to get a more manageable memento.

Whoever was in charge of counting strands on the first net and lining up the players accordingly—assuming there was such a person—had a costly miscalculation, however, and James found himself third in line at net number one, which was hanging by just one strand.

Maye was at the head of the line and took the scissors. He started toward the ladder, then turned and offered the scissors to the upperclassman. James deferred, waving Maye toward the basket.

Maye climbed the ladder, but he had no intention of taking down the net. Instead, he clipped away a small strand from the part of the net already hanging free. He held it up for the crowd, then climbed down.

At that point, Coach Williams saw the situation and stepped in to resolve it. He stopped senior walk-on Toby Egbuna, who was next in line, and directed him to hand the scissors to James.

“Let Joel do it,” Williams said, and James climbed the ladder to finally get his net.

joel james cuttingEgbuna was first up the ladder on the other end of the court, getting his strand. That left Maye with a piece of the net far smaller than everyone else’s. Eventually, Meeks noticed the freshman’s bare Final Four hat, because Maye’s strand was too short to tie to the band in back of the hat, as the other players had done.

Maye refused to go up the ladder a second time, but Meeks wasn’t about to let the matter drop. He took it upon himself to cut Maye a strand.

The Tar Heel chain of generosity made sure that everyone got the keepsake they deserved. All the seniors had their nets. Everyone else on the team got a full strand. In typical Carolina fashion, however, getting anyone to take credit for the gesture would be like pulling teeth.

“I got a shorter strand at first, but then I ended up getting one,” Maye said, declining to mention his willingness to sacrifice to get James his net.

“I could care less about the net,” James said, when asked about it. “I was just glad to win the ACC Tournament before. Now, I’m glad to go to the Final Four.”

It turned out that Meeks was the only one willing to point the assist finger, crediting his teammates for their sacrifice and taking a tiny bit of credit for himself.

“I was just being a good friend,” he said.

joel james locker


Roy Williams splits finger cutting down nets after clinching Final Four berth

Roy Williams partied really hard after the Tar Heels clinched a spot to the Final Four. So hard, in fact, that he split his finger while cutting down the nets in Philadelphia after North Carolina defeated Notre Dame in the Elite Eight.

Luckily for Williams, a team doctor was on hand to quickly take care of the wound so the 65-year-old coach could continue celebrating.

Williams didn’t show any signs of pain when he cut the net, selling it to the crowd before calmly climbing down the ladder.

“I was up there cutting the net and I started to take a step back and it felt like the ladder moved a little bit,” Williams explained. “I grabbed and when I grabbed the end of the scissors I started bleeding.

“I’ve really got very good-looking blood. It’s very bright, very deep colors.”

For anyone who thought the injury would restrict Williams from throwing down in the locker room, those doubters were sorely mistaken.

Heading to his eighth Final Four and carrying the Tar Heels to a record 19th trip to the national semifinals, Williams clearly still has some work to do  with his net-cutting abilities. If he can find a way to earn just two more wins, Williams might get another crack at the process yet again.

Even without an invitation, Pinson still the life of the party

PHILADELPHIA — Theo Pinson, arguably the life of No. 1 seed North Carolina’s party, wasn’t invited to Saturday afternoon’s press conference festivities.

But just because there wasn’t a place at the dais for Pinson didn’t mean he was going to miss out on all the fun.

Bored in the locker room while UNC’s starting five fielded questions about Sunday’s matchup with Notre Dame (8:49 p.m., TBS) alongside their coach from the podium, Pinson decided to do something coach Roy Williams said he hasn’t seen in 28 years of coaching.

Casually jogging up the steps to the stage, Pinson crashed the press conference, interrupting teammate Justin Jackson.

“Where my chair at,” Pinson deadpanned. “Where my name at, though?”

He loitered on the stage for a minute, looking for a place to squeeze in before jogging back to the locker room.

“There was no space for me to sit down,” Pinson said. “I was going to sit next to Coach but that probably would’ve been bad on his knees.”

His teammates cracked up, Brice Johnson burying his head in his hand, shoulders shaking with laughter.

“Theo said in the locker room that he’d do it, I just didn’t actually think he’d do it,” Johnson said later. “I thought somebody would tackle him before he got up there, but they didn’t. That’s just who we are.

“We’re a bunch of kids. We like to have a lot of fun but when it’s time for us to play, we know how to turn it on and get ready to play.”

While Pinson’s surprise cameo took the crowd of reporters by surprise, Williams was unfazed.

“You guys don’t have to put up with him,” Williams said, laughing. “I have to put up with him every dadgum day. You’re doing a nice job, Theo. I appreciate you. Like I told you, I never have to congratulate him. He congratulates himself. I’ve been coaching 28 years I’ve never had one friggin’ player walk up in the middle of a damn press conference.

“That’s the guy who mimicked Coach Larry Fedora last night in the locker room. You guys want to see something funny, you ought to see that.”

Saturday’s actions were hardly out of character for the sophomore swingman. He and the rest of the Tar Heels know how to have a good time amidst the pressure cooker of the NCAA Tournament. It’s made them media darlings, breaking through to show personality in a time when most teams stick to the same well-worn, politically correct script.

After the senior night win against Syracuse, Williams told the crowd this was one of his favorite teams. In the midst of questions about NCAA sanctions and academic scandal, some levity from this year’s Tar Heels is all the more necessary to keep them going in this year’s tournament.

“I think this team is always comfortable with ourselves,” junior Kennedy Meeks said. “I don’t think we’ll ever change for anyone. I think we’re the same way, how we are in the locker room, outside the locker room. Just to show how Theo, his sense of humor is out of this world. That’s our identity. That’s how we’re always going to be. Whether we lose or anything.”

So, did Pinson’s actions earn him spot at the next press conference?

“They might have one chair open for me,” he said. “Maybe a name tag, too.”