In a bit of a switch, it was the Tar Heel players congratulating their coach after Friday's win.
In a bit of a switch, it was the Tar Heel players congratulating their coach after Friday's win.
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Lucas: Milestones
Release: 03/23/2013

By Adam Lucas

KANSAS CITY--Late Friday night in the spacious Sprint Center locker room, Roy Williams had a career highlight after Carolina's 78-71 win over Villanova.

By now, hopefully you've seen the video. The Tar Heel head coach traditionally writes the number of teams remaining in the NCAA Tournament on the locker room white board after each postseason win, a way of reminding his squad how very precious these victories are. This time, for example, it was a "32" scrawled in blue against the white background.

Then, he invited his team to join him in their usual big-game victory celebration, a mosh pit in the center of the room. While players were bumping chests, junior Reggie Bullock made a veteran move and commandeered the marker. With the same savvy he'd used during the game  to force a key steal with the game tied at 42 and 13:11 left, he crept behind the bunch of happy humanity and wrote an equally big--maybe even a little bigger--"700" on the board.

When the players finished jumping, Bullock showed the number to his coach and on behalf of the entire team, presented him with a blue Carolina jersey with the coach's name and updated victory total as the jersey number.

It was a nice moment. It also wasn't at all the highlight you suspect Williams will remember most about this night. Seven hundred is nice because it's a round number. But if 701 comes on Sunday, which one are most of us likely to remember more clearly?

Eric Montross played in Dean Smith's 700th win, a 105-73 whipping of Maryland on January 10, 1991 (current assistant coach Hubert Davis scored 25 points in that game, with the crowd serenading him with shouts of, "Huuuuuuu!"). Montross remembers very little about it. And why would he? This is how much credence Smith, his head coach, gave the mark in the immediate aftermath of the game:

"We shouldn't get into counting coaches' records," Smith said. "I've never been for that."

That's a perfect way of putting it. Smith had never been for that and would never be for that. There are places that hang enormous banners with the victory totals for their head coach. That doesn't have to be wrong, but it's most definitely completely different from what Carolina basketball has been about since the moment Smith took over the program in 1961. He's not for that.

Since coming back to Chapel Hill in the spring of 2003, Williams has also won his 500th and 600th games. Both of them were at the Smith Center. Do you remember anything about those games (hint: 500 was against High Point and 600 came against Nevada)? Odds are, you don't, which is exactly what Williams--and his mentor--would prefer.

During the season, Tar Heel coaches have said for decades, it's about the team. After the season, it's about the individual. The same holds true for the head coaches. Right now, that 700 jersey is folded away in a suitcase somewhere. This summer sometime, perhaps, it'll be put in a frame and hung on the wall in Williams's home, where the memorabilia could easily double as a suitable annex to Springfield.

But right now he's watching film of a Kansas team that will be very familiar, since some of the same pieces return from last year's regional final.

Oh, and what about that highlight from Friday night? Perhaps it was P.J. Hairston finally shaking free to hit some big shots? Maybe Marcus Paige continuing his evolution from shaky freshman to the player you want taking big shots late in big games? The Tar Heels recovering from a barren stretch through much of the second half to make just enough shots to send home the Wildcats?

None of the above.

After Bullock had showered and most people had left the locker room, the junior from Kinston was talking about his role in the postgame ceremony.

"It was very important to me to be able to give Coach that jersey," he said. "He was the one who believed in me and willing to welcome me in at Carolina. He's seen how much I've been through with my family. He's told me he believes I'm one of the strongest athletes he's coached because of the way I have fought through adversity."

Bullock thought about the people he considers most influential in his life-his grandmother, his mother, his high school coach, his brother-and then added something else.

Because he coaches basketball, Roy Williams has a job he loves. He is famous. He is wealthy. I believe that Williams enjoys all of those things and also appreciates all of those things.

I also believe he has never particularly chased those things-and he has had some opportunities. But he has chased this, which almost certainly will make it the night's highlight for him over the long view:

"Coach Williams," Bullock said, "is one of the most important adults in my life."

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

 


UNC North Carolina Men's Basketball


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