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Why We Love Roy

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In case you forgot why over a sticker and two and half hours basketball game.

Via Adam Lucas at Tar Heel Blue:

Williams will, in fact, be on a plane in a few days. But it won't be bound for Barcelona, where he was supposed to meet Scott and Katie and then move on to the Canary Islands. It'll be bound for one of several recruiting events that span the nation over the remainder of April.

"Telling my wife I had to cancel our trip to Europe is probably the second-closest I've ever been to divorce," the head coach said on Wednesday. "But I missed three days of recruiting last week because our team was preparing to go to the Final Four. I didn't feel like I could miss three days next week, too. I need to be out recruiting that Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday."

In case you were wondering, Williams says the closest he's been to divorce also has a recruiting bent; after his third year at Kansas, he and his wife, Wanda, took their first vacation since taking the head coaching job in Lawrence. They went to Maui on his cherished Marriott Rewards points. Remember, this was pre-cell phone era. Every afternoon of their trip, he told Wanda he wanted to go jogging. And every afternoon, he'd put on his jogging shoes and go down to the hotel lobby to make recruiting phone calls on a bank of pay phones.

So in this instance we get a glimpse to what extent Roy is willing to sacrifice, even spending time with his family because he is dedicated to UNC.  Let that sink in for a moment.  He did not feel like he could miss three days of recruiting this week because he missed them last week and this coming from a guy who has top flight players committed from now until 2010.  It would be easy for some to take those three days off but not Roy.

On Saturday, his team suffered an 84-66 defeat to Kansas in the Final Four. It was easily Williams's largest margin of defeat ever in the NCAA Tournament.

But the score wasn't the only reason it was so painful.

"When I went back to coach at Owen High School (in Asheville), do you know who I wanted to beat the most?" he says. "My old coach, Buddy Baldwin, and Roberson High School.

"That game against Kansas, I wanted to win that game more than any game I've ever coached for obvious reasons. And it's the only time in my life I can remember one of my teams coming out with that kind of energy level."

That energy level, of course, eventually resulted in a stunning 40-12 first-half deficit. And although the Tar Heels surged, it still led to a sleepless Saturday night.

"The next morning, the first day that there's no practice and no game, that's the worst day of your life that doesn't have something to do with an illness in your family," he says. "You feel lost. You've gotten close, but you didn't realize your dream."

I assume that is a sufficient level of angst and agitation to silence those who thought Roy was not wholly focused on beating Kansas.

Williams remained in San Antonio on Sunday to attend the Naismith Award presentation with Tyler Hansbrough. His son, Scott, and daughter, Kimberly, also remained in town, as neither could find an earlier flight back home. The entire Williams family sat together at Monday night's championship game.

While walking down the aisle to his seat at that game, Williams spotted nine of his former Jayhawk players. While talking to one of them, Ryan Robertson, a bystander handed Williams a Kansas sticker. After taking his seat, Williams affixed the sticker to his shirt.

It was exactly what you'd expect from a man who is always very candid about his emotions. When he's sad, he cries. When he's happy, he beams. When he's rooting on one of his teams--as he's done in Omaha for the past two years following the Diamond Heels, for example, or when he made the 30-minute drive to Cary to watch a Carolina-Princeton baseball game on the Tuesday after winning the ACC Tournament title--he is as vocal about his support as any fan in the bleachers.

That's how he acted in 1993, when his Jayhawks lost to Dean Smith's Tar Heels in the national semifinals. "Let's stay in New Orleans and watch Coach Smith win another one," he told Baldwin.

That's exactly what the pair did, with Williams feverishly waving a blue-and-white pom-pom from his seat in the Superdome. On the way out of the arena after Carolina's win over Michigan, he stopped to buy a t-shirt for Scott and Kimberly--neither of whom had yet attended UNC--that read, "I was there in New Orleans," along with the victorious Tar Heel score.

"I'm pretty consistent," he says. "My team lost to Carolina in 1993 and I stayed and supported Carolina. My team lost to Kansas in 2008 and I stayed and supported Kansas. I am who I am. I'm thankful that I am surrounded by people who understand how I am and support me no matter what, because I realize not everyone in the world falls into that category."

So is what Roy did this time any different than what he did at Kansas in 1993?  The only difference is CBS did not find him with their cameras and plaster an image of him cheering for the team that just knock his team out of the tournament.  We also did not have message boards and the prevelant nature of sports talk to fan the flames by focusing on 2+ hours of wearing a sticker amid the tireless hours of work he gives UNC in efforting to make them the best college basketball program in the nation.

Since returning to Chapel Hill, he's had a chance to have an initial meeting with Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson, and Tyler Hansbrough about their upcoming decisions. He's filled out paperwork for the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee, and will also contact five other NBA teams not involved with the committee about the future of his talented trio. They'll meet again once the information-gathering process is complete.

Wednesday was the first day he had the opportunity to resume his ritual lunchtime walk (his spring plans also include next week's awards ceremony and this year's Reece Holbrook Golf Classic, which this year also features a concert by Vince Gill)), a circuit that takes him around most of the heart of Chapel Hill.

"It's an unbelievable feeling to be able to walk around campus and get that feeling when you walk down Franklin Street," he says. "Walking down Gimghoul Road and seeing how pretty it can be in the spring is great. And the students that I see always say hello. Being a part of that is neat for me. I love that. It's never been about just coaching a basketball team for me. It's about the University and the love I have for Carolina."

It's coaching, of course, that creates the opportunity for those midday walks. Which reminds us--what happened in that first meeting with Baldwin and Roberson High?

Williams winces.

"He beat me by 55 points," he says. But then he raises an eyebrow.

"But I got him back later.

The bottom line is yes wearing the sticker hurt some folks, mainly because the wound from Saturday was still open.  However, the great mistake many among us have made is judging a man based on one sticker and what he did in the stands of the game on Monday night.  That is the nature of the fast paced, instant reaction society in which we live but such responses fail to consider the whole man.  Roy's love for UNC is undeniable, if it was not he would still be at Kansas.  His desire to win is not quenchable in any way as evidenced by his demeanor in the postgame press conference.  And ultimately his dedication to the Tar Heel basketball program is why UNC went from the struggles of 8-20 under Matt Doherty to three 30 win seasons and two Final Fours including one title.

On Monday night, Roy did something that could be construed as a bad idea.  At the same time Roy did something that was wholly consistent with the man who has shown great passion over the years whether it be Kansas or UNC.    If I am picking coaches I am taking Roy six days a week and twice on Sunday because that passion is what I want fueling my basketball program for as long as he is willing.