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UNC basketball: 2016-2017 season may be Roy Williams’ greatest yet

A small reminder about how great this season was for Roy Williams

North Carolina Tar Heels Championship Welcome Rally Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

Back in in December, during the first UNC-Kentucky game, a sophomore named Luke Maye entered the game with 15:07 left in the first half, the score tied. I, along with a many other Carolina fans, were scratching their heads at the move. It sure seemed too early to insert a sophomore who the year prior had barely gotten playing time.

In retrospect, of course, it was a great move. Roy Williams was staring at a bench still short Theo Pinson, and as ACC play was around the corner, it was clear he needed to figure out who he could trust. Kentucky’s speed was a challenge for both Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks to match, but inserting Maye opened the floor for the offense. Maye would check out about five minutes later with Carolina leading by two. He played seven minutes in the first half not scoring a basket.

That changed in the second. Maye would play fourteen of the twenty minutes, scoring all 11 of his points during that stretch, and surprising everyone by making two of his three 3-pointers.

Think that experience of hitting shots against Kentucky in such a charged atmosphere may have paid dividends later?

The move was one of several that fans have taken for granted ever since Roy took over the Head Coach’s chair. Peek on Twitter during any game and you are going to find a ton of armchair coaches screaming about every little mistake made. They screamed in December. Roy was looking at the big picture, and as is usually the case, Roy was right.

Objectively, this was Roy’s finest coaching year of the fourteen he’s had at UNC. Think about it: this team had the least amount of NBA talent of the three that have won a title with Roy as coach. They also had the crushing weight of expectations from last year to live up to. Almost all of us had redemption as a goal for this season after The Shot, and it became known that the players had that goal, too. Add to this, he never had a fully healthy roster. The box scores will show two games where everyone was available, but anyone who watched Berry, Pinson, Hicks, and Kenny Williams play knew there were a lot of times these kids played at well under 100%.

As if this wasn’t enough, between last season and this, Roy had a double-knee replacement. Think an injury to a coach isn’t a big deal? Just look at Ohio State and how quickly their recruiting went downhill when Thad Matta’s back started acting up. It’s also come under the cloud of The Junk, which has clearly affected the ability of Roy to get a true One and Done at the school.

All of this, and his fire is still burning so hot that he guided the team to a monumental comeback against Arkansas, a thrilling win against Kentucky, held on against Oregon, and outlasted Gonzaga. Each time, his kids seemingly knew the right play to make at the right time.

Think he rested on his laurels once “One Shining Moment” had ended? Nope, instead he hit the road hard, trying to bulk up the team to make a return trip next year. When Garrison Brooks suddenly decided he no longer wanted to go to Mississippi State, Roy quickly pounced and re-offered the spot that Brooks initially turned down. This was while he was trying to recruit Kevin Knox to play as well. He may not have landed Knox, but he landed Brooks. He still wasn’t done.

You forgot about Brooks, didn’t you? That’s because some guy named Cam Johnson let it be known if Carolina was interested in him, he’d be interested in Carolina. Seemingly out of nowhere, a kid who didn’t have to fight to play at any other school except for one in the ACC wanted to come to Chapel Hill. He used his last school visit on Carolina, and do you think he chooses to play there unless Roy puts on the hard sell?

Suddenly, a team that was facing the loss of Bradley, Jackson, Hicks, and Meeks adds a four-star recruit, an All-ACC caliber forward, and announces to the rest of the ACC that they aren’t going to rest just because they got their redemption. That’s all in the two months since Carolina cut down the nets.

Remember all of that in November, December, and during the ACC Season. There are quite a few new faces joining the squad this year, and Roy is going to have the main goal of getting his team to San Antonio for their third Final Four in three years. This will mean the usual mish-mash of lineups during November and December, with the bench getting a little shorter as the calendar ticks to March. There will be moves that cause us to scratch our heads, but remember: there’s a bigger picture. He knows what he will get out of Joel and Theo. He’s going to need to see how much Seventh Woods has grown, how quickly Jalek Felton can assimilate in the offense, help Kenny Williams get back into the flow, work Cam Johnson into the offense, see if Luke Maye can make another leap, and figure out which big man he can trust with minutes in March.

Above all, remember this: we are lucky to have this man coaching this team.