The sight of Roy Williams wearing Carolina blue is a dream from which Tar Heel basketball players and fans hope they never awake.
Williams, who became a Kansas basketball coaching legend after leaving his position as a UNC assistant 15 years ago, has Chapel Hill buzzing with top 10 expectations after returning on a white horse to save the program.
Too good to be true? Probably not. Even Williams says the job change should be one of the easiest things he has done in his coaching career. But hardly a day goes by that Williams doesn’t say this about the expectations for a program with 36 losses in the last two years: “Hey, Roy ain’t that good.”
He knows what others need to be reminded of: One injury or setback to this team, essentially the same one that went 19-16 last season before its coach was forced out, and it all can go south.
“Will the transition be easy? It’s kind of a yes-and-no answer from the standpoint that he is coming to a familiar situation where he’s in essence back home,” says ESPN analyst Jay Bilas. “On the other hand, anyone who thinks the North Carolina job is easy is out of their minds. Expectations are high, and he’s got to heal a lot of wounds.”
After an ugly ending to three tumultuous years under Matt Doherty, the players are healing already, thanks to the order, authority and success that Williams brings to UNC.
“He said, ‘Guys, we’re going to win,’ ” sophomore guard Raymond Felton says. “Seeing how serious he was and the way he looked at us and the tone of his voice made me believe.”
The players should adjust quickly to how Williams wants to play. They won’t have to pick up a new set of X’s and O’s; Williams’ are the same as Doherty’s. But they will have to pick up the pace.
Williams runs a hyper-quick version of the Carolina system, which revolves around the secondary break when the initial fast break is thwarted. The uptempo style requires pressure defense, five players who can run, great rebounding and a quick-moving, quick-thinking point guard.
The Tar Heels will have to play better defense, but the program’s heralded sophomores — Felton at the point, Sean May inside and Rashad McCants on the wing — are a great fit for Williams’ style.
The only way UNC will be slowed this season is if one of those players gets injured. Last season, the Tar Heels had won the Preseason NIT and were 7-2 when May suffered a broken foot in December. He missed 24 of the next 25 games, and UNC was 12-12 without him.
But all things considered, the situation at UNC looks mighty sweet for Williams. That’s one reason he was willing to give up so much — a building named after him at KU — to rescue the program at his alma mater.
With a new era of Carolina basketball set to begin, both Williams and his players are set on tackling renewed Final Four expectations head on — with the foot planted firmly on the accelerator.
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