Suddenly, The Roy-Kansas Stuff Makes Complete Sense
LAWRENCE, KS – From the outside looking in, Allen Fieldhouse at Kansas University doesn’t look like much.
Weather worn, stained really, outdated and the appearance it could be crumbling mask the wonders inside. Entering through its Hall of Honor, the concourse and then into the arena itself, everything suddenly makes sense.
Not only is Allen Fieldhouse a hallowed hall worthy of any basketball fans’ time and effort, but standing there and taking it all in – goose bumps and all – it was quickly clear that any North Carolina fan or member of the media that has heard Roy Williams mention Kansas over the last 16 years since his return to UNC would fully understand the connection.
Forget the contempt many may have for the Jayhawks. Regardless of that emotion, these two programs are so deeply linked together you simply can’t trek down memory lane of one without bumping into the other.
Some Carolina fans wished Williams would have cut the cord to KU before or right after the sticker incident at the 2008 national title game, but that’s nearsighted. Williams has a place in Jayhawk lore as he does Tar Heel lore for many of the same reasons, and that should be embraced.
Not only was he the head coach at Kansas for 15 years and now UNC for the last 16, but when you look at the connections he has to the two schools, no one person is more deeply associated with both programs and the incredible roots they hold in a sport that matters so much to many of us.
Consider this: James Naismith founded the sport. You can google his “Rules of Basket Ball” online, but better yet, make the trek to Lawrence and see for yourself. It’s awesome.
Naismith coached Phog Allen at KU and Allen later coached Dean Smith, winning the national title in 1952. Smith, who took UNC’s program to a level with few peers, mentored Williams who sat on the benches once manned by both Allen and Smith.
Let that sink in for a second…
So, Williams is fourth generation from the sport’s origin. He’s a direct descendant of the game’s first roots. He is, in a sense, a walking, breathing, defensive stance-pleading, timeout-saving, joke-telling, game-winning scion who has elevated the history at both fabled programs right before our eyes.
His history is ongoing, and it’s been grounded in experiences at those iconic places. There’s more.
Larry Brown was the first great player to play for Smith at UNC and later got into coaching. He also ended up at the helm in Lawrence, bringing Jayhawks’ fans a national championship in 1988. A month later, at the advice of Smith, KU hired Williams as its seventh coach meaning two of Kansas’ eight head coaches have been legendary Tar Heels, and Kansas badly wanted the most important person in UNC's history to return home, but Smith stayed put in Chapel Hill.
Instead, he gave his alma mater the gift of Williams, who in turn gave them 418 wins against just 101 defeats with four Final Fours and 34 NCAA Tournament victories.
At Carolina, Williams has gone 453-133 with three national championships, four title game appearances, five Final Fours and 45 NCAA Tournament wins.
There was a time when the folks in Lawrence were a bit chapped that Williams returned home to take over the Carolina program, unable to turn down Smith’s request a second time. But time has healed those wounds, and it may have helped that Kansas won the 2008 national title, defeating the Tar Heels in the Final Four two days earlier.
So, when walking around the Hall of Honor, you don’t exactly need a flashlight and machete to find acknowledgement of Williams’ tenure. It’s right there, easy to find and well done.
Williams is treated with tremendous respect, so much that when asking an usher to see inside the usually-off limits arena part of Allen Fieldhouse, all it took was letting him know what we do for a living and who we cover, and the young man gladly hopped up and let us in.
And it was surreal.
Standing there and looking around, it was more than these eyes had imaged. But honestly, I turned to Brett Friedlander of the North State Journal, and we both said at the same time, “Now it makes sense.”
We got it.
We understood why Williams still has a passion for Kansas. The man was a part of a unique and cherished culture for what is now nearly a quarter of his life. He had the privilege of coaching players who were living up to a standard set by guys like Chamberlain, Lovellette, Manning and White in a building as hallowed as it gets and for a program started by the inventor of the sport.
How cool is that?
And, he now holds the same post for his alma mater with perhaps a better tradition, manning the spot his mentor once held coaching players living up to standards set by Rosenbluth, Scott, Ford, Worthy, Jordan, Jamison and Hansbrough in a building named after the KU grad-turned UNC legend in a program that has one of the most recognizable brands in all of American sports.
Williams has honored Kansas and North Carolina with his own legendary greatness. He’s a UNC guy first and maybe even second and third, but he’s also a Kansas guy, and that’s okay.
So, the next time UNC fans hear Ol’ Roy talk about Paul Pierce, Jacque Vaughn or Nick Collison, understand where it’s coming from, and that’s a pretty cool place. And it’s okay it still matters to him.