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Return of the Native
Grant Wahl
April 13, 2005
After 15 seasons in Kansas, Roy Williams came home to Chapel Hill to restore the Tar Heels' legacy
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April 13, 2005

Return Of The Native

After 15 seasons in Kansas, Roy Williams came home to Chapel Hill to restore the Tar Heels' legacy

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Oh, but he is planning something for this season: the first full Carolina basketball reunion since the dedication of the Dean Dome in 1986. "It was the greatest thing I ever did at Kansas, bringing those players back and making sure they knew it was their program," Williams says. Already there are signs of a revival. More former Tar Heels appeared on campus for pickup games last summer than in recent years, and the Carolina Pros charity game, which was conspicuously held at North Carolina State's arena in 2002, switched to the Dean Dome the next year.

Likewise, Williams pulled off the delicate operation of retaining his Kansas staff (Jerod Haase, Joe Holladay and Steve Robinson) while keeping Ford in the fold. ("I understand," says Ford. "Even though I'm not on that staff, I am on that staff, if you know what I mean.") Along the way Williams made peace with Guthridge and Fogler, his fellow assistants on UNC's 1982 national title team. "The only reason I was mad at him was because he hadn't come [in 2000]," Guthridge says. "But that was selfish on my part, because outside of my family I love North Carolina basketball more than anything, and I knew he was the right person for the job."

And so the Family recovers. In perhaps the most striking example of its resilience, Doherty remains a card-carrying member as he takes the year off from coaching. He's living in Charlotte, prepping for a TV gig, enrolling in some graduate-level courses in leadership and takeover strategy. "I've made some mistakes, [things] I would handle differently if I had to do them over again," he says. "But here I am, I had to resign my position, and yet I was on the phone today with Larry Brown. I talked to Michael Jordan last week. Coach Williams called me today, and I talked to Coach Smith a week ago. It's a powerful group, and it's neat to be a part of it."

Says Williams, "I try to make sure people understand if I say anything about what happened here in the past, I'm not blaming Matt. I will do anything I can to help him. And if he's not back at the reunion, I'm gonna be really ticked."

Noontime in Chapel Hill. Cars honk. Pedestrians gawk. Williams is taking his daily constitutional: up Manning Road, over to Franklin Street (where he starts jogging to avoid crowds), past the statue of Silent Sam ("Legend says he fires his gun every time a virgin walks by") and back, eventually, to the Dean Dome. But not before the new coach, while jabbering away with his guest, crosses an intersection right ... in the path ... of a moving car!

The driver slams on his brakes.

"They'll stop as long as we aren't losing," Williams cracks.

Left unsaid is how Carolina fans will react if his team doesn't match the outlandish expectations of hoops mavens. Let's see if we've got this straight: UNC, without adding a single impact player to last year's NIT squad, appears in many preseason Top 10s? Sure, the Heels have three of the nation's best sophomores-- guards Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants, and center Sean May, who's now recovered from a broken left foot--but are they really a Final Four contender?

Perhaps it's just a case of pundits noticing the similarities to another talented but untried bunch with a cinch Hall of Fame coach and seeing the next Syracuse. Williams has a standard line for anyone who suggests that he alone makes the difference: Ol' Roy ain't that good. For starters, Carolina's personnel isn't really the same as it was last year. ("You and I both know if Sean May doesn't get hurt, we aren't walking on this street right now," Williams says.) But even if May is at full speed--just about every discussion in Chapel Hill contains the worried phrase if they stay healthy--an overnight return to the elite may be asking too much. "I'm not so sure they're going to be better just like that," Williams says. "We've got some major problems to overcome. The fact is, the depth here is worse than it was at Kansas last year. It's almost embarrassing to be at North Carolina and have one point guard and just one big guy who can consistently play at this level."

To be fair, the Doherty Era had its moments: a 21-2 start and national Coach of the Year honors his first season, a 67-56 upset of Williams's Jayhawks on the way to the preseason NIT title in 2001 and an 82-79 takedown of archrival Duke near the end of the next season. But Doherty's three-year reign was torpedoed, in the end, by an 8-20 record in '01-02, the unscheduled departures from the team of six Tar Heels and so much antagonism between the coach and his players in Doherty's final season that a half dozen were considering transferring after the 19-16 campaign.

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