Lucas: From The Top Down

Lucas: From The Top Down

By Adam Lucas

Roy Williams left Chapel Hill from 1973-78 to be the head coach at Asheville's Owen High School. We all need to take this moment to be extraordinarily grateful that he chose to take that job, because otherwise there's a decent chance he might not still be with us today.

It was during that stretch, you see, that NC State reeled off nine wins in a row against the Tar Heels, a figure that equals the sum total of Wolfpack victories in the series since the day P.J. Hairston was born on Dec. 24, 1992 (yes, that's true). The battle for the state wasn't fought with billboards or marketing slogans in the mid-1970s. It didn't have to be, because State had David Thompson and Tom Burleson and everyone knew who owned the series while they were wearing red.

Thankfully, Williams did not have to sit on the sideline for those games, because he might not have survived it. Have you watched him, really watched him, coach a game against the Wolfpack? Midway through the second half, he clapped his hands together so forcefully while expressing amazement at Lorenzo Brown drawing a charge while turning his back to James Michael McAdoo that he clapped his watch straight off his wrist.

No problem. He grabbed the watch in one hand, deposited it in his left pants pocket, readjusted his championship ring--those darn things are bulky and tend to get in the way, you know--and kept on pleading/cajoling/coaching his team.

"Come on!" he shouted on almost every defensive possession, and you just know players of this era will hear this in their sleep long after they hang up their argyle. "Come ooooooon!"

It was that kind of afternoon at the Smith Center. It felt like an old-time ACC game--4 p.m. on a Saturday, sellout crowd, conference positioning at stake. All we needed was Dinah Shore to hand out the Holly Farms Player of the Game award afterwards (kids, ask your parents).

If she'd been there, she would've been hard-pressed to give the honor to anyone but Marcus Paige. Williams has now called Paige "a tough little nut" three times in the past two days. That's high praise from the head coach, who has previously reserved that exact phrase for players like Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson (who was the rare player who could also occasionally earn a "wacko tough little nut" description).

In the minutes before Saturday's game, Paige--who received a thorough education from State's Lorenzo Brown in the first meeting--told P.J. Hairston, "This is going to be a different game."

But saying that is not what makes him a tough little nut.

This is what makes him a tough little nut: saying that, and then backing it up with 14 points, eight assists and zero turnovers. Included among those 14 points was an enormous three-pointer in front of the Tar Heel bench, when Paige had time to eye the rim, gaze around at his teammates, look at the rim again, consider exactly whose state this actually was, look at the rim for a third time, and fire it through to turn a two-point UNC deficit into a one-point lead. Gio Bernard ran back the punt for a touchdown in less time than Paige had to eyeball that shot.

"I honestly thought someone was going to come cover the ball and I'd make one more pass to a shooter," Paige said. "When that happens, you have to step up and take the shot."

Carolina played with that type of edge all afternoon. In Raleigh, they looked a little overwhelmed. Saturday, they looked like they belonged.

"We've been doing this for a long time," said Leslie McDonald, who played two big second-half defensive possessions on Scott Wood. "And we're not backing down. We're not ready to let go of our state."

Certainly not as long as Roy Williams occupies the biggest office in the Smith Center. The head coach's intensity has a way of spreading. No player who has ever played for him at Carolina has failed to understand exactly how Williams feels about the Wolfpack. Almost ten years ago, Ohio native Jawad Williams stood in the UNC locker room after a win in Raleigh and said, "When I got here, I didn't know anything about State-Carolina. But Coach Williams makes it very clear."

Look back at the photo on the front page of this site. Hairston looks pretty excited, right? But look behind him--there's Williams, who looks like he just converted a three-point play himself. And there's assistant coach Steve Robinson in full fist-pump mode, like Tiger Woods on the 18th green.

Late in the game--the outcome was already decided--Hubert Davis thought some Tar Heels were celebrating too early. He ripped his glasses off his face because, well, his glasses were the only thing nearby that wasn't bolted down. He flung off the glasses, scowled at the court, clinched his fists, and then realized there wasn't much left to do except slam his glasses back over his ears.

Davis, you see, was 3-5 in his playing career against the Wolfpack, including three losses by a top-10 Carolina team to an unranked State squad.

A hallway that leads to the Tar Heel locker room runs behind the media room. Usually, it's fairly quiet as the assembled media waits for Williams to appear for his postgame press conference. Some journalists are writing their game stories, some are tweeting (OK, they're all tweeting) and others are perusing the stats.

Through that quiet came a celebratory yell. "Wooooooo!" shouted someone who was clearly running towards the locker room, giving off a perfect Doppler effect as the owner of the shout raced down the hallway.

A bystander poked his head out to find out the identity of the shouter.

"It's Hubert," he reported back.

Oh, well, that makes sense for a player like Desmond Hubert to be fired up after a big ACC win. Good for Desmond that he was showing such emotion...

"Hubert Davis," came the clarification.

That led to Paige's only turnover of the day. Asked about the scene in the Tar Heel locker room, the freshman replied, "It was pretty businesslike."

Sure, if your business is being Ric Flair. Let's give Paige a break. He's a freshman and he's not sure exactly how much he can reveal just yet. So, let's turn the microphone back over to McDonald and let him tell us the truth about what happened.

"In the locker room both before the game and after the game, Coach Williams was so fired up," McDonald said. "There was no doubt we were ready before the game. As a matter of fact, we were ready after the game. Coach Williams came into the locker room after the game so pumped up and fired up that I think we could've gone out and played them again."

Roy Williams is now a combined 42-9 against NC State when sitting on the Carolina bench as either an assistant coach or head coach. And he's coached every single one of them like it's the middle of the 1970s.

Adam Lucas is the publisher of Tar Heel Monthly and the author or co-author of seven books on the Tar Heels.