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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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" Coach Doherty was worried about his relationship with the players more than winning," says McCants, who bickered with the coach during the season. "That didn't work. It ain't about liking a coach; it's about getting the job done."

Adds Felton, "The situation with Coach Doherty shouldn't have gone down that way. Half the guys on the team don't take criticism real well, and Coach Doherty's the type of guy, he'd always tell you what you did wrong. Sometimes he took it overboard, but there's no fault in that. I wish him the best of luck."

To a man the players hope they can dispel the reputation they earned in some precincts as mutinous brats, a notion bolstered, fairly or unfairly, by images of them visiting Baddour's office the week before Doherty was forced out. "People put the blame on us like we got Coach Doherty fired," says May. "We didn't go to Dick Baddour. He came to us. We just told him stuff that happened during the year."

These days the young Tar Heels say all the right things about how they appreciate "a clean slate" ( McCants), how they're "so hungry" ( Felton) for the new season, how "everything has been clicking so far" (May), but they acknowledge something else too: They don't know Williams very well at all. Not yet. Between June 27 and Sept. 5 Williams spent only five days in Chapel Hill, splitting the rest of his time between the recruiting trail--he landed four crucial commitments for the 2004-05 freshman class, headed by 6'8" forward Marvin Williams of Bremerton, Wash.--and the Olympic qualifying tournament, serving on the staff of U.S. coach Larry Brown.

In the short time they spent with Williams last spring, the young Heels got a taste of what they can expect. On the one hand, Williams reassured players like McCants in individual meetings. ("He told me he wasn't worried about me as a person, that he's expecting me to be a leader," McCants says.) At the same time, the new staff laid into the Tar Heels for their grades and their punctuality. Says May, "At our first team meeting a couple of guys thought they could roll in late. It was just two or three minutes, but they got on us. To them you're late if you're on time, so you'd better be early."

Yet even as the summer wore on, an apprehension lingered in some players' minds. After all, they reasoned, didn't Doherty shadow Williams for seven years? "A lot of guys think because Coach Doherty was at Kansas, Coach Williams is just gonna be a tougher Coach Doherty," May says. "Coach Williams is intense, but they're two different types of coaches. We hope he's not the same as Coach Doherty, but for some reason he wins, and I don't care as long as we're winning."

As part of their research over the summer, May and McCants eagerly pumped Kansas guard Keith Langford for the skinny on Williams at Jordan's camp in Santa Barbara, Calif. While Langford didn't sugarcoat things--"Expect to work your ass off all the time," he told them--he also explained how he had come to trust Williams after his initial wariness. "There were certain days I didn't really like him, but he's gonna get the best out of you," Langford says. "I told them personal stories about how humble he is, how he has a modest house and isn't just trying to impress recruits all the time. Over two years we really started to develop a relationship."

It certainly says something that despite Langford's anger over Williams's departure from Lawrence--he hinted to reporters that he might transfer--he called Williams the next day to apologize. "If I can respect him, I can also respect what he wanted to do," Langford says.

This year's Tar Heels should be reminiscent of Williams's Kansas teams, which employed a high-speed version of the secondary break Doherty learned from Williams. "We won't be stopping to set up so many plays because we're gonna push the ball upcourt and get a fast-break layup or an open three," Felton says with unvarnished glee. "It's not a big adjustment, but it's a challenge because we have to get into shape."

For his part, Williams says he hasn't watched a single tape of last season, the better to form his own impressions once practice started. "What happened last year may not be the style I'm gonna play," he says, "and emotionally, whether any of us like to admit it or not, these kids went through some turmoil last year. What was happening in their lives off the court had a great deal to do with how they played on the court."

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