CAROLINA: Ten Years Of Memories
by Amy Hoots
CHAPEL HILL -- Sometimes your favorite memories don't start out that way. That's the case for Jesse Holley, former Tar Heel, and shining example of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It was 2003 and the Carolina men's basketball team was playing UNC-Wilmington in Myrtle Beach. In the first half, head coach Roy Williams was miffed at Rashad McCants and benched him after failing to run the designated play. McCants took a seat at the end of the bench next to Holley. If failing to run a play is a misdemeanor in Williams' rulebook, then failing to cheer one your teammates is a felony and a tough sentence can be expected.
Holley recalls the story: "I'm an animated kind of guy, so I was already up cheering. As I was going to sit down, someone took a charge, and as I'm sitting down, everyone else is standing up to cheer. At that very moment, Coach Williams looked at the end of the bench at me sitting down, Rashad sitting next to me sitting down, while everyone else is cheering. He runs to the end of the bench and points at me and Rashad and said, 'You! You! Go to the locker room!' I'm looking at him like, 'What did I do?' and he said, 'Don't talk back to me! Just go!'"
Both parties, guilty and innocent, went back to the locker room. Later, Williams apologized to Holley after his innocence was brought to light. Holley looks back on the story and laughs. He appreciates that the head coach was able to own his mistake.
Curiously, many former Tar Heels' favorite memories of Williams involve him in a state of distress. Tyler Zeller recalls watching film in the locker room the day after the 33-point debacle at Florida State. Williams went to pick up a chair, presumably to slam it down, but it was too heavy to lift, so he settled on knocking over the recycling bin instead.
Zeller also tells of the time Williams left the locker room in a fury and slammed the door behind him. Only the door didn't latch, so Williams was left exposed to his team as the door popped back open. "So then he had to slam the door again because he didn't know what to do," Zeller laughed. Eager not to sully the name of his beloved coach, Zeller adds, "Maybe don't write both stories because it'll make him look like a hot head."
At home against Georgia Tech in 2006, freshman Tyler Hansbrough scored a career-high 40 points to key a Tar Heel comeback victory. But Williams describes the first 20 minutes of the game as "the most frustrating half I've ever coached." The Heels sat dejectedly in their locker room, down 20 points. Eager to wake his team up, Williams leaned down to pick up the trashcan.
Whether the cylinder would have been tossed, slammed or taken outside to be emptied is left to the imagination because, regrettably for Williams, it was cemented firmly to the ground. Bobby Frasor quickly fled to the bathroom to stifle his laughter-laughter that wouldn't have been appreciated by a head coach struggling with back troubles.
When Jackie Manuel is asked to recall a favorite memory of his head coach, he remembers the loss to Santa Clara in 2004. The following day, the team flew from Oakland to Maui. Williams told the team, "You're not in Maui until I say you're in Maui! Right now, you might as well be in Detroit, Michigan." A few days later, after securing a pair of wins, Williams informed the team, "You have arrived in Maui!"
That many of his players' favorite memories involve botched outbursts and flashes of anger perhaps says less about Williams' temper and more about the heart of the man behind the eruptions.
He shows his frustration, wears his emotions on his sleeve, but it doesn't extend beyond the locker room or basketball court, and it's never personal. No matter how many trashcans he attempts to reposition or clipboards he breaks, players know that love and passion drive their coach, not malice or resentment. The passion that fuels Williams' anger also fuels his love for his players.
When Zeller suffered a season-ending injury against Kentucky in his freshman year, Williams appeared in the hospital room that very night, despite his head coaching duties and media obligations after the game. He drove Zeller to his apartment and walked him in, calming him with words of encouragement and reassurance that he'd be OK. For Zeller, those kids of actions and words hit home how much Williams really cares.
A jokester himself, Bobby Frasor loves Williams' ability to joke with this team. Walk-on Surry Wood was tardy to the bus in 2006 and his running punishment ranked high on the Richter scale of difficulty. According to Frasor, "Coach ran him more than any person I've ever seen."
Later during the season, Williams was upset with Ty Lawson's timing of some plays. According to Frasor, Williams commented, "Maybe I should make Surry our point guard...you know he will make the play on time."
Wood, consequently, does not remember the coach-induced running with particular fondness, but he does appreciate that Williams treated the walk-ons like any other players on the team. Seniors were seniors, regardless of scholarship status. A walk-on's name was on the back of his jersey just like the others. It wasn't until later that Wood realized that many other schools, some in the ACC, do not provide their walk-ons with the same amount of equality.
Of course, true equality means equal running. Walk-on Stewart Cooper's favorite Coach Williams story happened on the day he found out he made the varsity team. Cooper spent three days getting beat up by bigger and more athletic basketball players. Williams pulled Cooper, David Dupont, Patrick Crouch, D.J. Johnston and Daniel Bolick aside to let them know they made the squad. He sincerely thanked all who tried out for their hard work.
Williams immediately turned to those lucky enough to make the cut and told them to get on the line, because it was time to run. Their 30-second celebration was over. Cooper said, "It did show us that we were going to be treated just like everyone else on the team, which was and is one of the great parts about Coach Williams."
Sean May's favorite Williams moment was "running and giving him a sweaty nasty bear hug after we won the national championship." He said, "That was a great moment for me because Coach had changed my whole perception about the game and the way I approached the game. The only thing I could think about when the buzzer sounded was, 'Where is Coach?'"
At last month's Late Night with Roy, May surprised Williams by walking out to midcourt and thanking him for his ten years at Carolina. After a heartfelt thanks to Williams on behalf of all former players, May walked off the floor, but not before giving his former coach what he himself cherishes so much: a bear hug.
Another memory tucked away.