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UNC Basketball: The Coronavirus presents new challenges for Roy Williams and his staff

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COVID-19 has made a mess of things, but Williams and his staff are still trying to get things done from afar.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

If it’s been said once, it’s been said a million times: things are really weird right now in the world. Weird is perhaps a way too gentle term for what’s been going on, but when it comes to sports it’s pretty dead-on. When focusing specifically on college sports, it’s hard for coaches who tend to work year-round to get a whole lot done. Enter Roy Williams.

Tuesday afternoon the Hall of Fame coach held a press conference via video chat with members of the media from his mountain home in North Carolina. The most important topic that he addressed is that each of his players and staff as well as their family members have managed to stay healthy during this COVID-19 crisis:

”Everybody seems to be doing well. I had to correct a few of them because they said, ‘My family’s good,’ and that kind of thing. I said, ‘That’s good, but it’d be better English if you knew adverbs and adjectives,’ that kind of thing. Everybody so far - knock on wood - so far know one has been touched by their immediate family. That’s a blessing and hope it stays that way, but that is the first question I ask and every player responded to that, so I felt good about that. It’s such a weird (thing). You can’t see it, you can’t have any idea, you don’t know what to fight. So, just trying to take the advice of the scientists and the medical people and not the politicians I think is the best thing that can happen in the world right now.”

One of the more interesting (though not surprising) answers that Roy Williams gave to a question Tuesday revolved around recruiting. As many know, recruiting never truly sleeps for college head coaches, and basketball recruiting in particular is usually going strong following the NCAA Tournament. While April, May, and June are likely a wash now from a traditional recruiting sense, a more realistic question that was asked revolved around the July recruiting period, and if Williams thought it was likely that it’d even exist when it’s all said and done. Here’s what he had a to say:

”I don’t have any idea. I really don’t. I’ve been talking to NBA people, I’ve talked to other college coaches. The general consensus is what it should be: that nobody has any idea what is going to happen. I think to me, I think June is out of the question also. So I’m just hoping for the July period. And if not, then what you’re going to do is you’re going to rely more heavily on tapes. You’re going to rely more heavily on high school coaches recommendations, word of mouth from people that have seen them.

“I’ve been around a long time so I do know a lot of people around the country, but it’s going to be very uncomfortable, there’s no question, if you don’t get to put your eyes on somebody. And looking at somebody on tape, to me, is a good start. Gracious sakes, I hate trying to make a decision scholarship or no scholarship on a guy just by watching him on tape. But it’s the world we’re in right now and we’ve got to go with what we have. I’m not looking forward to making those kinds of decisions without being able to put my eyes on somebody in person.”

When looking at the situation Roy Williams is in, one could argue that he’s blessed with the gift of being in the part of the year where he’s mostly dealing with recruiting, getting a feel for where his current roster is at, and helping players navigate the NBA Draft. He doesn’t have to worry about whether or not the team is going to play a meaningful game until November, and while we all know there’s perhaps more uncertainty surrounded around fall sports than the summer, that’s a problem for another day.

However, trying to recruit in the months of April and May are weird times for Williams. There’s no live games to scout recruits at, he has to rely almost solely on film from this previous season to really get a feel for where players are at, and visits to recruits are having to take place via the phone or the internet.

The good news is that when it comes to the 2020 and 2021 classes Williams has named enough targets to where it’s not so much about scouting new prospects as it is doing deeper dives into his current list. However, things are a bit dicier when it comes to scouting the 2022 and perhaps even the 2023 classes if Williams has gotten that far already. In regards to the 2022 class specifically, we do know that UNC has only handed out one scholarship offer so far. There’s a lot of ground that is usually covered during the spring/summer months when it comes to high school juniors and AAU season, and we’re 99.99% likely not going to see those leagues play. I personally am not jealous of the situation Roy and his staff are in when it comes to navigating this, but hopefully when it’s all said and done they’re able to get the intel they need to make the proper decisions when it comes to scholarship offers.

Roy Williams’ press conference highlighted the struggles that currently exist for college coaches across the country. The good news is that there’s at least some methods of navigating the recruiting landscape while we wait for things to get back to being closer than normal. The bad news, however, is that things may get a bit rougher for coaches if sports don’t resume on time. Thankfully we all know that Roy is up for the challenge of taking on whatever is waiting down the road. Perhaps the NCAA investigation and the 2019-20 season were just preparing his mental toughness for what lies ahead.