As summer turned into fall, the vibe was undeniably optimistic. May was delighted to hear that the new staff, unlike Doherty's, would let him use a one-two jump stop on his half-hook. ( Doherty's staff mandated the two-footed stop.) "As long as you make 60 percent of your shots, I don't care what you do," Holladay told May. And on the first day of conditioning in September, junior swingman Jawad Williams redlined to the point of throwing up. "I've never done that in my life," he told Haase, "but I'll trade that for a Final Four."
Ultimately, Doherty's demise in Chapel Hill came down to this: Doherty, the Carolina guy, wasn't Carolina enough. Smith and Williams, by contrast, are bound more tightly than Smith & Wesson. It's an oft-told (though nonetheless poignant) story: As the son of an alcoholic father, a boy raised near his native Asheville by his saintly single mother, Mimmie, who worked yeoman's hours to make ends meet, Williams found the structure he craved in Smith's hermetic roundball universe (SI, March 10, 1997). Williams absorbed every nuance of the Carolina philosophy, taking notes from the moment he joined the freshman team, in '68, to the day he reluctantly left Smith's side for Kansas 20 years later.
You can see Smith in the way Williams schedules every practice down to the minute, the way he always gives his team a Thought for the Day, the way his players dive on the floor, take charges and point to their teammates in gratitude for assists. The resemblance is uncanny. As former Tar Heel Jeff Lebo, now the coach at Chattanooga, puts it, "When I saw Kansas the last three years, I saw North Carolina."
Even after Williams turned down Carolina in 2000, he and Smith (who upon retirement became a consultant to the athletic department) never missed a golf date, never stopped talking hoops over the phone. Williams still picks up his mentor's Final Four tickets so that Smith can avoid standing in line, and on one recent day Williams tiptoed into Smith's basement office, "just to see if I felt like we'd put him in a dungeon where there's one light hanging from the ceiling and one table and one chair and it smells bad." A torture chamber it wasn't. ("I like it," says Smith, "I have two secretaries, and I'm out of the way so nobody finds me.")
Truth be told, while Doherty strained to put his own stamp on the Tar Heels' program, Smith ( Kansas, class of '53) became KU's de facto fourth assistant. It was Smith who suggested posting a picture of the Georgia Dome, site of the Final Four, in the lockers of every Jayhawk two years ago, and Smith who gave Williams the idea of having his team sign a pledge last season: If I truly want to win a national championship, I pledge that I will box out on every possession.
Williams vows to continue consulting his old boss on X's and O's this season, and he holds out hope that Smith will start attending every home game, not just the rare ones that aren't televised. "People think part of the reason I didn't come three years ago was because it wasn't gonna be my program, which is far from the truth," Williams says. " Coach Smith and I will talk basketball, and we will talk quite a bit. Why would I not want to use such a great resource?"
Granted, Williams and Smith don't share the same DNA. Not exactly. "I'm not gonna wear a coat and tie to the office every day like Coach Smith did," Williams says. "If I curse at all, it's more than he ever does. And he's much more innovative. I copy people. I'm not the dumbest guy on the block, but he is more intelligent than 99.9 percent of basketball coaches." Williams notes that whereas he reads for entertainment (his recent favorites include Rick Reilly's Missing Links), Smith reads for intellectual enrichment, devouring such tomes as Parables of Kierkegaard.
In some ways, though, Williams interprets the Smith Gospels even more strictly than than the man who created them. Consider: In the year 2003 Williams, a devout Southern Baptist, still requires all his recruits to attend church (or synagogue, mosque, etc.) during the first semester of their freshman years. It's an old Smith rule, but while Smith softened his stance in the 1960s, allowing players to abstain with a note from their parents, Williams has never relented.
Ever the puritan, Williams is possessed of a manic zeal for following rules. "He really goes by the book," Collison says. "We'd have a barbecue at an assistant coach's house, and then three months later we'd each get a bill for $6.59." When Williams takes the NCAA's annual recruiting rules compliance test--a 40-question, open-book exam required of all coaches--he'll challenge himself by doing it closed-book instead. "My record is 19 minutes, and the most I've ever missed is two," he says proudly.
That sort of relentless and uncompromising virtue is precisely what Williams's supporters adore in him and what his detractors resent. Though he is among the most respected teachers in the college game, the term rival coaches often use to describe Williams is sanctimonious. Five years ago Williams famously reported Florida for possible violations in its recruiting battle for Mike Miller (the NCAA investigated and turned up no evidence of wrongdoing), and he admits that he has blown the whistle on coaches in his own conference. "I don't think coaches should say, 'Well, he's cheating,' but then do nothing," he says. "If somebody robs a bank, they should be called on the carpet for that."