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October 16, 2013

Williams Operation Basketball Notebook

UNC head coach Roy Williams spoke about a bunch of different topics at Wednesday's Atlantic Coast Conference 'Operation Basketball' event in downtown Charlotte.

"It was a wild summer," Williams said. "There's no question about that. I didn't enjoy most of it, but also there were times with my family, my grandson, that I did love. And times with my team that I did love. The other stuff got all the attention."


Of course it didn't take long for the conversation to steer to junior P.J. Hairston, who remains suspended though the UNC wing standout has been cleared to return to practice.

Naturally the media wanted to get more details about the timeframe of Hairston's suspension and how many games he might miss, but with uncertainty in the situation based on NCAA feedback and other related issues, it's going to be a couple more weeks before a definitive answer on a game length is known.

"I'm not a huge NFL fan, but I love Bill Belicheck's comments. 'He's inactive.' That's one of the coolest press conferences I've ever seen," said Williams. "P.J. is going to miss some games. We're still going through the process of trying to confirm how many."

"I'm not going to go in the locker room and say, 'Okay P.J., you're not going to play tonight.' There's several things we're going through at this time and he's completed some of those, not completed some of the others. He did enough in the running program to be allowed to come back to practice. We'll make that decision (on the length of his suspension) when we have all the information."

Williams acknowledged that Hairston has been excellent in the 12 preseason practice sessions the Tar Heels have had.

"He's been sensational in practice. He was on a running program that's the most difficult I've ever done with any player," Williams said of Hairston.


Williams is in the unenviable position of looking to replace NBA first round pick Reggie Bullock along the perimeter without assurances of when Hairston will be returning to action.

Bullock's solid all-around play will be missed, and it's going to be up to Leslie McDonald, J.P. Tokoto, and others to pick up the slack while Hairston is out.

"It's really hard (replacing Bullock), because not only was he a shooter, he had a tremendous assist-to-error ratio, but he was a great rebounder for his position. He was a good defensive player, so you don't just replace that guy of that quality with somebody who's never played at this level," Williams said.

"Leslie has got to be a better defender. P.J. has got to help rebound the ball more. J.P. has got to not turn the ball over. So we're going to need all those guys to try to get them to play to their strengths and stay away from their weaknesses. But losing Reggie Bullock was a tremendous loss for us."

Williams admitted that it caught him off-guard that Bullock left, but it's a credit to how hard he worked in the pre-Draft season to get himself into the first round.

"Last year at this time, I would not have thought he was going to leave," the Hall of Fame coach said of Bullock. "At the end of the season I didn't think he was going to leave, because he was on the borderline between being a No. 1 (first round) or a second round pick, and I've always thought that a guy shouldn't leave unless he's guaranteed to be a first round pick."

"It worked out great for him (Bullock). He worked his tail off at the workouts and moved up to the 26th selection by the Clippers. I'm as happy as I could be for him."


Several reporters covering the new schools in the ACC (Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame) were at Operation Basketball, and of course several of them asked Williams about his thoughts on the newer, even-more-loaded than ever league.

"I think it will be the greatest basketball conference ever. We can't call it Tobacco Road anymore unless we include South Bend, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh. Tobacco Road just got a heck of a lot longer and a heck of a lot tougher," he said. "But I'm ecstatic about being in this league."

Williams was asked a lot about Syracuse, and his longtime coaching counterpart Jim Boeheim. The two have met several times, including the 2003 NCAA title game in New Orleans, and have served on committees together and worked with Team USA together at different points.

"He's a Hall of Fame coach. Tremendous job on the bench for a long, long time. Has won over 900 games. I think we're fortunate to have him in the league," said Williams of Boeheim. "I made a five-dollar bet with somebody two years ago that he would never coach a game in the ACC. It's been so long that I've forgotten who I made the bet with, but I owe somebody five dollars."

Boeheim is one of the few guys in coaching these days who's been doing it even longer than Williams, and the UNC coach joked about it.

"I like having Jim here. He's one of the few guys in college basketball coaching who's older than me, so I like that part of it," he said. "He and I have played a lot of golf together, been on a lot of committees together. (He's) really a good friend."

"Unfortunately for me, I was part of one of his biggest moments, when in 2003 they beat our Kansas team when I was coaching them to win his national championship. I think Jimmy's very well-liked right now. You know, 20 years ago it was a whole different thing, but he's mellowed so much, he's really doing a lot better right now."

Williams doesn't think it will take longer for UNC-Syracuse to become a storied college basketball rivalry, starting with the first matchup Saturday, January 11 in the Carrier Dome.

"I love having them (Syracuse) in the league. I think North Carolina playing Syracuse the first day is going to be a big game. It's going to be a big rivalry, and we're not going to have to wait 10 or 15 years to build anything up."


Coach Williams did something a little different this summer in light of the Hairston suspension and some other issues with current players. He elected to designate leaders for the team---veterans James Michael McAdoo and Marcus Paige---to serve as mentors to their teammates.

"This summer I made the decision---part of it because of some of the problems we had this summer---I told them who the leaders were," Williams said.

"James Michael (McAdoo) and Marcus Paige, they don't make the types of mistakes that were made. If they make a mistake it's a mistake, and it won't happen very often. They're great kids. But I declared them the leaders of our team."

"On the court, the players do it (lead) themselves," Williams continued. "And the respect that they have for each other trumps everything that a coach says. Marcus and James Michael, they'll also make a lot of decisions. But on the court, your play does it. Marcus Paige, as a point guard that's a leadership role. And James Michael has been solid for us for three years."


This year was a little unique in that the Tar Heels were able to conduct several early practices, which naturally helped the team build some cohesion and learn a little bit about itself prior to the annual 'Late Night with Roy' event and the start of in-season workouts.

Williams believes his UNC players, while still young on the whole, matured from last season and saw that by working hard and staying the course, good things can happen.

"I think they (the players) understand much better now how to handle adversity. We're still really young. I think these kids understand that part of it. (Last season) they kept practicing. They kept working every day, and things got better at the end. And hopefully they'll have that stick-to-it ness (this coming season),"

Williams acknowledged that the Tar Heels have tried a bunch of different rotations in practice, including some sets that involve Paige and Nate Britt, the team's two lead point guards, on the court at the same time in a backcourt-heavy lineup.

"We've done that (play Paige and Britt together) in practice already the first 12 practices. Luke Davis would be in that mix. I don't think you'd see Luke, Marcus, and Nate all three at the same time. It would look like a team of jockeys out there running, they're so small," Williams replied.

Freshman Kennedy Meeks has lost considerable weight heading into his rookie season, and figures to give Joel James a run for his money at the 'five' spot.

Brice Johnson, on the other hand, faced the opposite concern, needing to gain weight to add some bulk and strength to his thin frame. Johnson joked throughout the day on Wednesday about how much he's been eating, but Williams said all the eating in the world wasn't necessarily packing on the pounds.

"I don't care how much he eats. I just want him to be stronger. It's difficult for Brice to gain weight," Williams said of Johnson. "(Meeks went from) 317 (pounds) to 285 during the summer. Brice has gotten up a little bit. Both those guys have really worked awfully hard. Marcus when he came here was 154, and this summer he got up to 170."


It's been mentioned a bunch since Syracuse was admitted as an ACC member that the league might be well-served considering an ACC Tournament inside storied Madison Square Garden, the site of numerous legendary games in the old Big East Tournament.

With several schools of the Big East's old guard, including Syracuse, Pitt, Boston College, Notre Dame, and Louisville all calling the ACC home in the coming years, it would seem the league has a veritable well of potential ACC Tournament sites.

Of course the league's base is in the Tar Heel State, and specifically in Greensboro, which will again host the ACC Tournament this coming March.

But with the new Northeastern explosion within the league, it would seem only a matter of time before Madison Square Garden seriously enters the mix as an ACC Tournament destination.

And Williams is totally okay with that, so long as the league doesn't forget to occasionally bring things back home.

"I think we've done a pretty doggone good job of moving it around. North Carolina has been the foundation of the ACC for a long time. The state of North Carolina, whether it's Charlotte or Greensboro, for the Tournament. And those people have done a marvelous job," Williams said. "When you're in Greensboro, it's the biggest thing going. I mean, the whole town knows about it, and I love that."

"Since I've been back here (at North Carolina) we've been to Washington D.C., Tampa, Greensboro, Charlotte, Atlanta. We've moved it around a little bit, and I hope we keep doing that. And I think New York would be a fantastic place for us. But I also hope people don't forget the foundations of what we have here.'


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