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home at last
William Nack
March 10, 1997
AFTER A CHILDHOOD IN WHICH WARM FAMILY SCENES WERE ALL TOO RARE, ROY WILLIAMS HAS FOUND IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE COACHING TOP-RANKED KANSAS
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March 10, 1997

Home At Last

AFTER A CHILDHOOD IN WHICH WARM FAMILY SCENES WERE ALL TOO RARE, ROY WILLIAMS HAS FOUND IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE COACHING TOP-RANKED KANSAS

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Whatever happens this March, Williams cannot see himself in any better place. He has already turned down a couple of offers to coach in the NBA, including a bid from the Los Angeles Lakers for $1 million a year in 1992, and he has no intention of going anywhere right now. The abiding fear in Lawrence is that Smith, 66, will be leaving soon and that Chapel Hill will again be beckoning Williams. "The Kansas guys keep calling me," says Smith. "You know, 'Are you all right? Is your health O.K.?' "

It has been a long, often difficult journey for Williams, but he has brought to his life the kind of order that his childhood lacked—though not without sadness. On July 7, 1992, while undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, Mimmie died of cardiac arrest. "Part of my life ended there," he says. "Not just her life, but part of mine."

Roy has what Wanda describes as "an uneasy relationship" with his father—"It's something that his dad doesn't necessarily handle any better than he does," she says—and while Roy phones Babe occasionally, sends him Jayhawks hats and shirts, and keeps a picture of him in his wallet, he's not as close to him as he is, for instance, to Baldwin. Williams has never had his father come for a visit to Kansas. Says Wanda, "It's not like Roy's dying to be best friends with his dad, and I think part of it is not so much that his father hurt him but that Roy thinks he hurt his mom." When Babe attended Mimmie's wake, father and son spoke for a few minutes alone, and for the first time Babe apologized to Roy. "I told him I was sorry about everything that happened," says Babe. "I said I loved his mother, and I still do. There's nothing I can do to change what I did."

Roy says he understands that. "It's over and done with, so let's go on," he says. He doesn't blame his father for what happened, he says, and while Frances believes Roy is still angry with Babe for how he treated Mimmie, Roy demurs. "I think I'm mad at alcohol," he says. "I don't think it's my dad that did that. I don't want him portrayed as the villain here. I believe [alcoholism] is a disease. I believe he is remorseful. How can I be mad at him for that? I love him. He's my dad, and that ain't gonna change."

Nowhere has it been more vividly clear that this child of a broken home has found a place for himself than it was on Feb. 22, after Kansas beat Kansas State in its final home game of this season and each senior was given the chance to speak to that day's crowd of 16,300 fans who lingered to hear them. The place was electric. Guard Jerod Haase, who lost his father just before he transferred to Kansas, said to Williams, "You've been like a father to me." And guard Jacque Vaughn began by saying, "You're not just a coach..." but he choked up and couldn't go on, and he and Williams ended up in a long, emotional embrace. In the end Williams told the crowd, "This is not only the greatest place in the world to play college basketball, this is the greatest place in the world to coach college basketball."

The standing crowds erupted as he walked away, reminding him once more that he was home again.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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