At first glance, the Jayhawks resemble North Carolina, with the shade of blue dialed up a notch. Pritchard signals the defense after every basket. The Jayhawks huddle before free throws. And upon leaving the game, a player takes his seat to a standing ovation from teammates on the sideline. Calloway, Maddox, Markkanen and forward Mark Randall aren't talents on the order of James Worthy and Sam Perkins, but they can throw difficult little two-and three-foot passes to each other in traffic, the kind of passes that turn good shots into gimmes, the kind that were commonplace in Chapel Hill during the early '80s.
"Ninety-nine percent of the things we do I got from Dean Smith," says Williams. "But it's the kids who have gone out and done this."
No one has done more than Randall. Under Brown he quickly fell into disfavor. Word was that he was a hypochondriac, someone who would slink off to the training room after taking an elbow. Brown benched him, then guided Kansas to the title while Randall sat out as a medical redshirt. Williams describes Randall as "the least confident good player I'd ever seen."
By the end of last season, however, Randall had begun figuring out what to do with his broadly distributed 230 pounds. In the Jayhawks' last three riveting victories in the NIT, he maneuvered through myriad defenders for 27 field goals on 38 shots. With the Redmen having just tied the final at 55 and Randall sitting on the bench with four fouls, Williams sent him back in, even though 6:37 remained. Kansas quickly took control as Randall provided rebounds and brazen defense, including a remarkable pirouette to steal a St. John's entry pass. He was the only possible choice for MVP.
Williams's upbeat style has changed Calloway and Pritchard, too. Calloway, weary of Bob Knight's mouth and baffled by diminished playing time, is now a carefree contributor. And Pritchard is rejuvenated. "Coach Brown drew up so many emotions in me," he says. "One day I was on cloud nine, the next day down in the dumps. I had one eye on the basket and one eye on Coach Brown."
Williams won't second-guess any other coach's style, even as he stands by his own. "It's like in golf," he says. "Some guys hit fades; some guys hit hooks. But they're all aiming for the same spot." Tactful and reserved, he seems every bit the dean's list student. He dresses like a hotel check-in clerk, doesn't smoke or drink, and when he's animated, looks like Huckleberry Hound. His players and his assistants laugh at his pseudo-profanity. "This is only a dad-gum basketball game!" he said during a first-half timeout against UNLV. "Just step up and shoot the flippin' free throws!"
For eight of his 10 years in Chapel Hill, Williams was a part-timer, paid little more than a graduate assistant. He made ends meet by driving 504 miles every Sunday delivering copies of The Dean Smith Show to TV stations around the state. He took over the national champions several months after Brown had bolted but before Kansas learned of its probation penalty. Yet he was undeterred. "We didn't have that carrot at the end of the road," Williams says. "So I made up a cause. They had to keep my tail happy."
The Jayhawks bolted to a 13-1 start last season, but withered, losing eight straight conference games during one dismal stretch. Twice, injury-riddled Kansas finished games with no one left on the bench because three of its players had fouled out. In the waning seconds of a one-sided loss at Missouri, one Tiger player said to Williams, "Coach, why don't you take your starters out?" Williams couldn't—he had no reserves. Still, the Jayhawks carried on with a plucky integrity, earning a standing ovation in their Allen Field House after an overtime loss to Oklahoma.
UNLV could learn a lesson from the Jayhawks' resiliency. The Runnin' Rebels' preseason notices were predicated on their having Moses Scurry and David Butler, now academic casualties, in the lineup. Butler received an incomplete in a summer-school anthropology class and should become eligible on Dec. 17.
Scurry, who's from Brooklyn, wanted desperately to make the trip east last week, and to that end vowed that he would become eligible by scoring the requisite 75 on a final exam in a stress-management course.