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April 3, 2005
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
JOHN GERDES: We're joined by North Carolina. We'll ask Coach Williams to make an opening statement, then we'll take questions for any of the gentlemen on the dais.
COACH WILLIAMS: We're elated to be here. There's no question about that. It was a very difficult game for us last night. But second half I was really pleased with our toughness and the fact that we started pushing the ball the way we like to. Just happy to be here.
Q. Last year, did you come close to losing your voice or mind when you were trying to get your point across to these guys?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, each day at practice, I guess it's closer to my voice. But, you know, there's been a lot made of it. One thing that I don't think that people have really gotten a grasp on is I think the kids bought into what we were saying much quicker than everyone said they did. I think it's just you have to build habits. We were trying to build habits. You don't do that overnight. But I do think the kids bought into what we were wanting. I know last year in Denver, Jackie made a statement that it was sort of taken out of context that they had just bought in that night. I don't think -- I know he didn't mean that. It was the way it was taken. It was a difficult year. At the same time, I think the things that did happen were human nature.
Q. Sean, I know you've probably talked about this a lot, but I understand you have a tape of your dad winning the championship. How long did you have the tape? Have you carried it around with you? Have you shown it to your teammates yet?
SEAN MAY: No, we haven't watched it yet. Nor do I know if we will. We might tonight if we have some free time. I had it since we started the tournament. I got it for Christmas this year. I just wanted everybody to see the celebration they went through, the enjoyment they had. They had five NBA players on that team that got drafted the very next year. They were willing to sacrifice a night for the cause of winning the national championship. We might watch it; we might not. I do have the tape.
Q. Sean, have you given any thought to what you'd like for your 21st birthday tomorrow?
SEAN MAY: Yeah, man, the championship. That's all I care about. I want it probably more for these guys than myself. But we put in a lot of hard work. It would be a terrific gift and probably the most memorable gift I'll ever get.
Q. Roy and any one of the players, can you think back to last year's meeting with Illinois, could you have imagined that both your teams would have changed so much and gotten to this point?
COACH WILLIAMS: What I remember about the game last year is that it was in Greensboro, North Carolina, not right across the river from a lot of orange. I think it was a big-time college atmosphere in Greensboro. Our fans were fantastic. We made some plays. Did I think at that time that both of us would end up here? I was trying to make sure I could think of something the next day at practice that would help us much less anything else.
RAYMOND FELTON: I mean, I knew that we both will have a great season. We both have great teams, great guards, we both have big men that can get the job done. We both can put a lot of points up on the board and we both got great defense. I knew we had a potential to make it this far, but I never really thought we both would meet up.
Q. Sean, the last two years, all the things that the program has gone through, you thought about moving on, things were difficult. Have you had an opportunity to think about that? While your expectations before the season were to win the national championship, how amazing is it that you actually have this opportunity with what's gone on the last two years?
SEAN MAY: Yeah, I've thought about it a lot. We've all, you know, had thoughts go through our mind. There were a lot of guys thinking about doing different things, especially our freshman year, and me, especially with my broken foot, the situation I was in. The guys stuck around. They love the program. They tried to do what was best for the program. We're very fortunate to be in this position and achieve some of the goals we set out to do in the beginning of the year. I'm just extremely happy to have an opportunity to get a ring.
Q. Jawad, can you talk about last year's game, how is this team different now this year than you were a year ago? Where do you think you've grown?
JAWAD WILLIAMS: I think we're a lot more mature, if anything. We realize it's going to be the little things that determines who is going to win the games. Last year maybe we didn't understand that, but now we do.
RAYMOND FELTON: Like Jawad said, we're definitely more mature this year. We basically have a junior/senior team with the exception of a couple freshmen and sophomore. We have a lot of poise, we playing more mature and we're playing much better basketball this year as a team.
Q. Could you talk about turning your practice facility into the pit, turning up the heat, taking off the rims, and how effective you think it was?
COACH WILLIAMS: I don't know that we turned up the heat. I couldn't find the thermostat if you gave me a million dollars. If somebody did that, it was probably Sean. So I have no idea where that came from. But I thought in Syracuse, we lost our focus on the defensive end of the floor, needed to get that back. It wasn't that bad. It was 35 minutes the first day (smiling). There may be some disagreement up here on the table. But it was 35 minutes in the pit I guess Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday, I don't think we went back in there, did we? It was just two days. You can live through about anything for about 35 minutes. I do think we had to get refocused defensively and reenergized about playing on the defensive end of the floor.
Q. Raymond and Sean, can you talk about before Coach Williams came to North Carolina, did you pay much attention to him? Did you know what he was doing at Kansas, how he coached? Can you talk about your impressions of him when he was at Kansas and how it changed if at all after you got to know him as your coach?
RAYMOND FELTON: I mean, nothing changed. I mean, he's still the same coach. He's still the same guy. He's a wonderful person. He's a big-time role model for us. He's one of the best college coaches in the game of basketball right now. We played against him our freshman year. We won the game, but in a year, he was in the Final Four. So you know that explains it right there.
SEAN MAY: I mean, I think everybody was pretty much aware of his track record, all the experience that he has. You know, we were extremely excited to know that he was going to come in and be our coach, help turn this program around.
Q. Rashad, can you kind of break down the guard match-ups here, how you guys can guard a guy who is so fast like Dee Brown and then a guy like Deron Williams who just seems to have really the complete package?
RASHAD McCANTS: I think we have a wide range of defenders on our team as far as Jackie being able to guard anybody from one, two, three. Raymond being able to guard anybody from one, two, three. And myself, as well. I feel like, you know, Dee Brown, being as quick as he is, our length will be able to bother him a lot. And Deron Brown (sic), as quick as he is, as fast as he is with the ball, I think Raymond will be able to contain him, and Jackie as well. Luther Head, as high as he can jump, as fast as he can run, I think I'll be able to defend him.
Q. Coach Weber was talking about the number of players he thought could have moved on to the NBA among teams in the Sweet-16, how good a year it was for college basketball. Why do you think that is happening? What do you think it means for college basketball?
COACH WILLIAMS: Every player I've ever had - everyone - told me that basketball stops being fun after they leave college. I personally don't think there's anything wrong with anybody wanting to be a kid a little longer and having more fun. Now, Nick Collison, Kirk Hinrich, the last two players I had at Kansas, went to the NBA. They still say the 1st to the 15th of the month is a lot better, but other than that, it's not as much fun, you don't enjoy it. Both those kids decided to come back for their senior year. Nick Collison asked me what I thought. I gave him my opinion. He said, "Good, because I wanted to come back anyway because I want to be a kid, I want to enjoy college life." I think each individual has to make that decision that what is best for him, if it's good for college basketball, that's fantastic. I do think life is short enough that you ought to be able to have fun while you're doing something. The money I think will still be there. But, again, it's got to be the individual that makes that decision as to what's best for him.
SEAN MAY: I think coach pretty much said it all. I think a lot of guys are having fun in college, they enjoy college basketball. I think there's so many high school kids coming out nowadays that they're taking a lot of jobs, and guys want to stick around and wait for the right opportunity and the right time.
Q. People talk about the names McCants, May, the various Williams, where does Raymond Felton fit in this mix? With all the names and big star players on this team, where does Raymond Felton fit into this mix?
COACH WILLIAMS: He's a sorry little rascal that I can post up (laughter). You know, I have a wonderful feeling about this young man. You watch him play, he's 6'1" - yeah, right (smiling) - but he's all heart. That's what I love about him more than anything. The competitiveness, the dedication, the desire. He didn't have a great first half last night. He pushed it so hard in the second half, until the very end of the game. I never took him out of the game. He never asked to be taken out of the game. He didn't need to be taken out of the game. I just love guys that compete. His heart's about as big as anybody's I've ever been around. He's one of those big names.
Q. How much of a factor is it going to be to have Jawad back at full strength as he seemed to be yesterday? Illinois players talk about how they have fun playing defense. Is that going to make this game a different kind of game than what you've played in the tournament?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, there's no question that a healthy Jawad Williams is extremely important to us. He's been having little nagging things for the past two or three weeks anyway. Each and every day that he gets better, we all become better players. We become a better team. I become a better coach. That's huge for us to have him healthy, or healthier. If the Illinois players love playing defense, that's a situation that a coach would really enjoy, as well. My club has gotten better and better defensively. I think that tomorrow night there's only going to be two teams on the stage, and there's no reason, no way on earth that one team should have more desire and motivation than the other. So I think that my team will play extremely hard, and they'll try to do everything they can to the best of their ability, whether it's the offensive end or the defensive end.
Q. Maybe Jackie's perspective, then coach's, when coach first took over, do you think he did some things to make it easier on you, adjusting to a new coach, or did he just make you guys, "Hey, this is my system, this is how it's going to be, you have to do it"? If coach could address the same question.
JACKIE MANUEL: I think when coach first came in, you know, he was more worried about our feelings. He really didn't want to rub anybody the wrong way. This year he changed that, you know. He just wanted everybody to work hard, you know. It really didn't matter how we felt about it, so...
COACH WILLIAMS: I think that Jackie's right. I mean, there had been a lot of turmoil. I am concerned about kids. Even though we're 20, 21, 22 years old up here, 19, some of the young ones on the end, but I do believe that every coach should be concerned, and the day that I stop being concerned about our kids individually will be the day that I stop. It was a little different for me last year because I had not recruited kids, I hadn't been there 15 years, they didn't know me as well. I wanted to make sure we were positive, as I always do, but I always wanted to make sure I was concerned about what they had already gone through. This year it's been much more matter of factly because they're on the same page that I am. We've all been concerned about North Carolina winning. That's been the only concern.
Q. Rashad, how much did Williams guard you in any of the previous match-ups? What are your impressions of him as a defender?
RASHAD McCANTS: Say it again.
Q. How much did Williams guard you in either of the previous match-ups and what are your impressions of him as a defender?
RASHAD McCANTS: He didn't guard me too much. Luther Head was the primary assignment. I really don't feel like any defender out there, you know, really going to really bother me as far as, you know, one-on-one, so it's not really a factor to me.
COACH WILLIAMS: The game of basketball is a team defense anyway. I mean, that's what I talk to the kids about all the time: it's not one guy against one guy; you have responsibilities. It is a team defense. Whether it's Luther or Deron guarding him, it makes no difference. But please don't ask the players any opinions about Illinois because we haven't given them one word. We wrote the starting lineup -- excuse me, we wrote their roster up on the board this morning. We haven't gone through the walk-through, we haven't given them the personnel, we haven't gone to clips. It was fairly late when you guys left here last night, just like it was us. They don't have a scouting report yet this morning.
Q. What first gets your attention about the way Illinois plays? What intrigues you about them?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, I think they are very much a team. The only thing that's important to them is their team winning. You know, I like their T-shirts wearing around now, on the back it says, "Let's finish the job." So their team, their attitude of just winning, their ability, the speed with which they can play. They have ability to shoot. They play defense. Again, I showed my club this year, I think it was one or two possessions of one of their games where they moved the ball around, passed it 19 times, but they got the shot they wanted, with I think it was just two dribbles. So I have a great deal of respect for them. They've done the best job of anybody in the country this year. They're eight seconds away from being undefeated, being 38-0. Nobody in college basketball history has ever won 38 games, and they have a chance.
Q. Sean and Raymond, your coach just talked about Illinois being a team. They're kind of saying that you're the talent, and they're the team. That's how they're approaching the match-up. Your thoughts on that?
RAYMOND FELTON: I mean, yes, Illinois is a team, but at the same time that kind of makes me upset that people are always saying we not a team, we just a talented team. We are a team. We haven't won 32 games this season just off talent. You know, I don't believe in that. I believe that we are a team and I know that we are a team.
SEAN MAY: I agree with Raymond. I think we do have a great deal of talent on this team - but, you know, as does Illinois. I think we are an extremely better team than we were last year. You know, the 1 and 2 teams are playing for the national championship. I think you wouldn't expect anything other than that. We've done our job thus far, and we just want to close it out for ourselves.
Q. Jackie and Jawad, can you just describe your thoughts and emotions sitting here today as you prepare to play for the national championship when four years ago your world was upside down after a season you never imagined in your dreams.
JACKIE MANUEL: It's been unbelievable. Go from 8-20 to playing in the championship game. It really is a dream come true. It makes you appreciate everything that you get, you know, not taking anything for granted.
JAWAD WILLIAMS: It's a great feeling for me. You know, the best part of it, I get to spend more time with my teammates. The season is not over yet. Hopefully we can go out with a bang.
Q. You talked about reemphasizing defense last week in practice. I'm wondering in yesterday's game, where do you think that work paid off? How do you think you were a little better defensively yesterday than maybe last week?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, I think at halftime we, again, talked about being more competitive and more attentive to the details. I think we were that in the second half. For example, we shadowed screens much better in the second half, got a hand up on the shot much better in the second half, we did a better job of boxing out in the second half. I think all that was there. You know, it wasn't just a halftime talk by any means, it was the kids understanding where they were and how they played during the first half to get to that spot, that we needed to change some things if we wanted to get to a different point at the end of the game.
JACKIE MANUEL: Like coach said, I think we paid great attention to detail. We also played great team defense. That's the key to our success, is helping each other out.
Q. What was your toughest season in coaching? How did you work through it?
COACH WILLIAMS: You know, before we leave this press conference, I hope at least one person will ask the little puppy on the end down there, Marvin who is about to go to sleep, nobody asked him a question. We had to bring his big rear-end up here, he could be laying in the locker room. Make sure somebody asks a question. What was my most difficult year in coaching? Our first year in Kansas on Halloween night, we had two great years of practice, and all of a sudden they tell me we're on probation, that the kids who won a national championship the year before couldn't even go back to the tournament at all. That was very difficult for me because I had some guys on my staff that I'd taken from pretty good situations and didn't know if we were going to be able to get it done or not because the probation itself was very severe. We had some injuries. We played a game where we only dressed eight guys. We had two guys foul out. I always had a practice at putting the JV players' name in the score book just in case. We sent that youngster to the locker room at halftime, got him to put a uniform on. We were playing Oklahoma. They're the No. 1 team in the country. I look down the bench one time, he jumped through the bleachers trying to hide from me. That was a fairly difficult year. And last year was difficult just because of the change, the turmoil that the kids had gone through, the emotions that I had gone through for leaving Kansas and coming to North Carolina. But I'm one of the fortunate ones. I'm doing exactly what I want to do. There's a very small percentage of the world get to do that and still get paid for it.
Q. Roy, in the mid '90s, college basketball seemed to get sort of stodgy in style of play, not very quick. You're one of the coaches who got rid of that, playing faster. Where did that come from?
COACH WILLIAMS: You know, Coach Smith's teams always played very fast. We ran a great fastbreak. It came from the pressure defense. But when we had Kenny Smith, you know, he's called "The Jet" for a reason. I used to do pre-season conditioning. We'd do 220-yard sprints. Kenny did it so well, quickly, fast, that the track coach at North Carolina got him to run in a couple of track meets. The other team could score and we'd get it out of bounds quickly and get it to Kenny. He used such speed, sometimes even after a made basket, he could lay it up on the other end. During that same time period, Magic and James and Kareem, all the guys with the Lakers, were playing at a fast pace. I wasn't any good at all, but when I did play with a bunch of other guys that weren't any good, I tried to go faster than they did. I just liked that.
Q. What is your relationship like with McCants? How has that developed over the two years? Is the perception -- is it a fair perception that many of the fans have of him and the media?
COACH WILLIAMS: No, it's not a fair perception. I jokingly say this, but you guys know it's true, and he definitely knows it's true. Julius Hodge reached over and untied Marvin's shoe at the free-throw line. You know what everybody did, everybody giggled. If that had been Rashad, everybody would say, "He lost it again." It's not fair. He's brought some of it on. But I tell you what, it's the most unfair rap that I've ever been around a player. You know, you guys are going to write articles tomorrow about how this question was asked, going to forget about all those other questions. He's much better defensively, he's much better at putting the ball on the floor. He's a much better passer. He's a much better total basketball player than he was last year. And that's what he and I sat down and talked in the spring about him becoming. So the first thing there is, if a coach gives a player something, and the player does it, that's a pretty good relationship. And then the other thing is that Rashad doesn't mind trying to make big plays. Sometimes he even doesn't mind making big plays too many times probably. But as a coach, you love that. I think, you know, with me, I've been very fortunate. I've had great youngsters to work with. He has been the most scrutinized player that I've ever worked with. And yet, again, when I sit down with him in the spring and told him three things I wanted him to do, he's done every single one of those. Every teammate sitting up here has gotten passes from him to score because it was the right play to make. They've even talked a couple of them, about the number of his shots is way down from what it's been in the past. But we wouldn't be here today without Rashad playing the way he plays. How did I do, Rashad?
RASHAD McCANTS: (Thumbs up.)
Q. Sean, can James Augustine or Roger Powell guard you one-on-one?
SEAN MAY: They're very good defenders. You know, I approach the game, no matter who it is, I approach it the same way. Hopefully we'll still play the way we've been playing this whole tournament, attacking inside out. I think they are very good defenders. I think our three-man rotation with bigs can bother them a little bit. I think if we get them in foul trouble, make them get into their bench a little bit, make Ingram play more than Augustine or Powell, that's to our advantage. If we rotate, play well, play inside out, we'll be fine.
MARVIN WILLIAMS: I agree with Sean. Personally, they really are tough inside. It's going to be a big-time match-up for myself, Jawad and Sean. But, I mean, they are tough inside, so it's going to be a good match-up.
Q. Coach, I was wondering if you could talk about, when you first got to started working with Sean, what was the first step in his development or the first priority you had when it came to coaching him and making him a better player?
COACH WILLIAMS: You know, I'd seen Sean when he was like 15 years old playing in the Under-15 AAU Championship up in Michigan. I thought that he had a great chance to be a big-time player because I thought even at that age he had great hands. Then I didn't see him as much after that. Through the course of the summer before his senior year in high school, we were not recruiting. I did make two phone calls, I think, but I thought he was going to stay close to home. Then the next memory I have of him is his freshman year in North Carolina playing in Kansas in the pre-season NIT. These guys up here beat our rear-ends, so I didn't like any of them at that time. Felt so badly for him and their team when he broke his foot. I've said, and I believe, that if he hadn't broken his foot, Matt Doherty would probably still be the coach there. For me, coming to North Carolina and seeing Sean, the first thing you think about is his hands. But what I found out, even more importantly to me, he does talk a lot. Sometimes that's good, okay? But the thing that goes along with that is every time I ask a question, Sean almost always - and I mean almost always - knew the correct answer. So I just loved his savvy. Then, again, he's a youngster that we set down last spring, he had a very good junior year, sophomore year as well. We sat down and talked about what he needed to do. I told him it was going to be very difficult. Yet the youngster went out and I couldn't be prouder of the year that he's having right now. It's 100% directly related to him. It's not me, it's not his dad's influence, it's not what he eats -- well, maybe Jonas (ph) will say it is what he eats. It's related to his hard work. I couldn't be any prouder of anybody there.
Q. When you came to North Carolina a couple years ago, was there ever any doubt in your mind you could get this program to this point sooner or later?
COACH WILLIAMS: You know, we talked a little bit about it earlier. I don't ever think that far down the line what I'm going to be doing five years, now 10 years from now. I did bring the kids in and talk to each one of them individually and told them that I thought we would make the NCAA tournament last year, and nobody on the team had ever been in the tournament, and that hopefully we would do a little damage. If everybody would work extremely hard and do the things that we asked them to do, that we had a chance to win the whole thing this year, and I believe that. But I believed it not because of my coaching, I believed it because of the kids. When we added Marvin to the group, I thought it was even more a possibility. The guys have taken the things that we've asked them to do and they've tried to work on it. It's made the team stronger.
Q. Marvin, could you talk a little bit about how this amazing transition, going from high school to now suddenly both the talent level of the Final Four and the lights, cameras? Coach Williams, generally just starters up there. Why did you or someone feel it's important that Marvin deserves to be up there today?
MARVIN WILLIAMS: It's a big difference, you know, from high school to college. I'm from a little small town in Washington, so I'm not used to all this. But being in the Final Four is a great experience for me. I'm very happy to be here. It's a big blessing for our team. You know, I'm excited. I'm playing for the national championship tomorrow. Hopefully it's going to be a good game.
COACH WILLIAMS: The reason I wanted Marvin up here is because I really feel like we have six starters. I've believed that since the beginning of the season, that Jawad and Sean have done a fantastic job. Marvin's done a fantastic job. I keep rotating all three of those guys into two positions. There's even been a couple minutes here and there where I've played all three of them at the same time because Marvin has got great feet, can guard the three. Jawad has been through the philosophy and style a couple years, so he can play three on the offensive end or the four because he just knows what we're doing. He's a big part of our team. Besides, you know, he needs to come up here and get in front of these cameras instead of being laying around back in the locker room worrying about how long practice is going to be today.
Q. Marvin, as a freshman coming in, did it take you a while to figure out assessing this group, which player really truly was in charge and had the respect of the group the most? What is your feeling today? Is there one leader today or are there several leaders of this team?
MARVIN WILLIAMS: I think we have a few people that can lead this team. But I think our main leader are the seniors, Melvin, Jackie and Jawad. Those guys have all been there for us when we needed to be lifted up. Everybody can take charge. As me coming in, Jawad was the person I could look to when I needed help. Sean was there for me, too. They've been pretty big in developing me in my college game.
JOHN GERDES: Thank you, gentlemen. Questions for Coach Williams.
Q. You said that you didn't want the kids staying through this too much because they obviously haven't seen a scouting report. Can you talk about how you guard the three fantastic guards that Illinois has, match-ups, if you care to share them?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, you know, I have no problems sharing them. I left this place last night the same time you guys did. Joe Holladay has had Illinois since last Sunday. He's watched several tapes. We're going to meet from 2:10 to 2:30 and go over personnel in the locker room, go on the court and do some walk-through, then we'll watch the clips tonight. That's not a big change for me. As you know, during the course of the season, I don't ever look at tape on our next opponent till the night before anyway. Michigan State was a little different because I had a whole week between games. But I have seen Illinois play several times. I've been just amazed at what they've been able to accomplish. It's going to be a very difficult assignment for us. We do play three perimeter players. That's what they have, whether you call them guards or whatever. We're going to have Raymond, Rashad and Jackie on the perimeter. If I take Jackie out, we'll have David Noel in and Melvin in. It is a match-up of three perimeter players against three perimeter players. So we don't have to cross the line. Last night was more difficult because we had Jawad guarding Alan Anderson or Marvin guarding Alan, who is more of a perimeter player. I don't know yet what the match-ups will be. We do have the tape of our game against them last year, but it was so early in the season, I don't even know that I'll watch it because I've got I think five tapes on them from down the stretch here.
Q. Have you thought about --
COACH WILLIAMS: Yes (smiling).
Q. -- how the dominos have fallen, and it's the first time since '75 that the 1 and 2 are meeting?
COACH WILLIAMS: You know, my radio show, I have fun, a caller, it's a big-time Carolina person, will say, "Coach, have you thought of." And I'll say, "Yes. I'm not a pharmacist that does this one or two nights a week. We have four guys; it's our lives. There's nothing anything anybody can ask that we haven't thought of." Somebody said it last night, I was surprised, because I thought in '82 North Carolina and Georgetown were 1 and 2. Maybe Virginia was 2 or something like that. I really don't think it has much of an impact on the game. I won't think about that much more. I do believe it's a match-up that supposedly the people that thought we were the best two teams in the country were looking for. Very seldom does it happen.
Q. What about the coaching shuffle, had you not left?
COACH WILLIAMS: If I had stayed at Kansas, we were going to be pretty good. Marvin probably even said he would have gone to Kansas, too, because he want -- fortunately, he wanted to play for me. You know, that's two years ago. There's enough paper to fill up this room that's been written about that stuff. I haven't thought very much about that. As a coach, what you're doing is trying to do everything you possibly can with your own team. And I am emotional, I am corny, I have cared about what Kansas has done, wanted them to be extremely successful. But, you know, every time a coach makes a move, there's a domino that something else happens. That one was a little unusual because of the names involved, Illinois, Kansas, North Carolina, three of the biggest names in college basketball.
Q. To what extent at any time do you believe in pedigree, and specifically now with Sean being the son of Scott, who was such an efficient player and non-flamboyant players?
COACH WILLIAMS: When I think of Scott, I do think of him as being extremely efficient, as you said, one of the best jump shooters I've ever seen, midrange jump shot. If Sean will continue working on his shot and get to where he can shoot it like his dad, then you'll really have something. But I do believe in the pedigree part of it, the competitiveness, the skill that you can get from one parent to a son. But I do believe that Sean's success is more related to how hard he's worked. I'm not trying to say anything negative about his dad. He's a guy I've really grown to love. But I do think this is an extreme case of a guy who has worked and made himself into a much better basketball player than he was. Since you asked the question, I am pulling for the Yankees tonight, and that's pedigree, too (smiling).
Q. I know you've said you're going to be on the first tee Tuesday win or lose. When you watch Phil Mickelson at The Masters, do you pull for the guys who are in a position that you seem to have been in, who have tried for a long time and finally succeeded?
COACH WILLIAMS: I pulled for Davis Love almost emotionally at the PGA that year. Other than that, I really haven't. You know, I loved Arnold Palmer, I love Tiger Woods. I get excited with Tiger. Tiger has won a lot of tournaments. Davis is the one I pulled for. He was a North Carolina guy. I had known his dad. His dad had given me a golf lesson at one time, so it was more of a personal thing. I pulled for the Yankees. Why should I -- have feelings -- if you're going to pull for the Yankees, you're sure as the dickens not going to care whether or not Roy Williams wins his first. So I try not to do something completely opposite there. I did pull for Davis, and part of the reason -- I'll go back, I've said this, Coach Smith said it best, in '82 I was so happy -- let me back up. I was relieved after we won the national championship. I had tears rolling down my face. I said, "I'm so happy because it will shut those people up." I've said this before. He said, "I'm not that much better a coach now than I was two and a half hours ago." You sit back and think about it, and he really wasn't. James Worthy went crazy, Michael made a big shot, then some little munchkin told Freddie Brown to throw the ball to James. I don't know what happened there. But all of a sudden Coach Smith was a better coach.
Q. You have two teams here that are very balanced. Two teams ranked nationally in assists who play very hard. Is there a message from this game, a statement on the value of playing the game a certain way? Is tomorrow night good for college basketball?
COACH WILLIAMS: I really do believe tomorrow night is good and hopefully it will be great for college basketball. I think Larry Brown's team the Pistons last year made a statement in the NBA about playing a game a certain way, sharing the ball, being a team. I'm hoping that that has gone over into the rest of the college basketball world. I'm hoping the way we play, the way Illinois plays, some of the other great teams, that people will decide that truly is what's most important, is your team and not just one guy shooting or one guy high-flying around, things like that. You know, it's something that I truly enjoy. I love college basketball. I love people that pass the ball and want to help their teammates.
Q. Has the game evolved defensively to where you can shut down, if a team has two good scorers averaging in the 20s, you can take those guys out, the teams tomorrow night do have all five starters in double figures?
COACH WILLIAMS: I think it's much, much more difficult to guard a well-balanced team than I do easily a team with one player, and to some extent even a team with two players. Once you get past two, they're really hard to guard. If you have to guard all five guys and you can't help, that's the most difficult kind of team to play. Then I think -- one of the questions, Illinois loves to play defense, and they do. But everybody still loves to at least handle the ball. You may not get to shoot it, but you like to catch it, feel of it every now and then, stuff like that. I think playing unselfishly is extremely important.
Q. Do you realize or sympathize or care if you win tomorrow night in some small way it puts more pressure on Bill Self?
COACH WILLIAMS: No, I hadn't realized that, and I don't think -- I personally don't think that that's true. Bill and the Kansas team, they had a heck of a game this year, heck of a team, heck of a season. They unfortunately got upset by a team that had one of those magical moments. They were tied for the conference championship, 23 or 24 wins. I mean, I think it was a heck of a year. But, no, I haven't thought of that. Probably if I did think of that, which I won't, I would think if we don't win, it puts a heck of a lot more pressure on old Roy, because you guys will be able to ask that daggum question another year. I would like to win it, because I have that desire. But the other reason is so guys will ask me how many hole-in-ones did you have this summer. I'd love to have that question.
Q. Obviously you had other things going on in 2001/2002. As an alum, what were your emotions about what was going on as that season was unfolding in Chapel Hill?
COACH WILLIAMS: 2001/2002, that was Jackie and Jawad's freshmen year. It was very emotional for me because I love Matt. North Carolina was my school. I got my buddies calling me all the time, talking about how bad it is, unhappiness, all that. That part was difficult. It was more difficult not during the season, because during the season, you're just consumed with what's going on in your own way. You're consumed with your own team. You don't have a lot of time to get involved in those other things. Each and every year I'll pick out one or two coaches that I truly think are really good coaches, but are having a difficult year. I may call them and just say, "Hey, you're the same guy you were a couple years ago when you had a great year. I just want you to know that I understand what you're going through, and you're a big-time coach." This year I called Bob Thomason from Pacific, because I saw an article about their run. I really like Bob, and he truly is the best golfer of all the basketball coaches. I enjoy him. But I did call him and just congratulate him. Called a couple of other guys, too.
Q. This is a country where college sports generates great passion and labels. For years and years, Notre Dame football was the franchise. For a long period of time, Carolina was the franchise. Do you feel that you can get back to that point? Is there a feeling in that state, other than in Durham, that a lot of people are almost clawing for you to get back to that point?
COACH WILLIAMS: There's no question that the Carolina blue people are pulling for us, and there's a lot of those. It's the state university. It's growing to 25, 26,000 every year. To get it back to where we are, the brand or the label or whatever terminology you use for college basketball, I don't think one season's going to do it. I think it's got to be a consistent year-after-year performance. That's what we tried to do at Kansas; that's what we're trying to do at North Carolina, is to make our team be one of those whatever-number-it-is teams that every year has a chance to win the whole thing. And that's my dream.
Q. Saturday Richard and Roger Powell of Illinois stepped up big, guys that normally wouldn't be the second or third or fourth option. Can you talk about that. They're both seniors on junior-dominated teams. Do they have similar roles, do you think?
COACH WILLIAMS: You know, I think seniors have more of a sense of urgency than the junior class or sophomore class does. I think they have more experiences to pull from that would allow them to step forward and play as successfully as they did. You know, I don't know whether their roles are the same or not because, again, I've watched Illinois as a fan this year. When I've watched them, I don't -- I don't watch that much college basketball except if it's somebody on our schedule. Because, again, I'm just consumed with that part of it. But, you know, when you think of Illinois, you think of Dee Brown, Deron Williams, Luther Head - oh, yeah, Roger Powell. That is something. In our club you think of Raymond, Rashad, Sean, and, oh, yeah, Jawad. That way I would say they are similar.
Q. After everything that's been written for the last few years of the game was down, not up to the standards of the past, does this match-up have a chance to stand with the '82 game, Larry-Magic?
COACH WILLIAMS: You know, it could, yes. But it could also be an ugly game. You know, I mean, they could kick us by about 25, and nobody would care about whether it was good for college basketball or not. I don't think you make those kind of determinations till after the game is over with. In '82, I was involved in that North Carolina-Georgetown game. I had no clue it was going to be a classic. I thought we were going to go out there and kick their rear-ends and it would be over with kind of thing. But, again, I think all those decisions and evaluations are made after the game is over with.
Q. Bill Self has kind of made it clear that he would have preferred for you not to have any contact with your former Kansas players. Do you feel in any way that was unfair to Bill or interfered with his ability to communicate with his team? How do you respond to the people that are saying this is talent versus team? How does that make you feel?
COACH WILLIAMS: The first part, I spoke to two different Kansas players, Wayne Simien twice in 12 months, and both times he called me. I'm not supposed to take a call when a former player that I'd known for six years, I'm not supposed to take that call? That's the part that I don't understand. Secondly, I called him once, knowing that he was being operated on because I'd seen it in the paper and I went across the little bottom line on the ESPN thing. I left a message of, "You're tough enough. You've been through a lot. You can get through this. You'll come back even stronger." The other two times he called me, and I did speak to him. We never one time talked about basketball. He called on media day, because he had seen it was media day and remembered how much I truly loved media day (smiling). He called me in my car. I told him it was a great thrill to be talking to him as opposed to spending nine hours at media day. The other time he called me was on Christmas Day. That was about four, five, six days after his surgery. I don't really think that Kansas had any "problem" this year. I think they had a great year. But I definitely don't think Wayne Simien was the problem. The other phone call was last year on Christmas Eve, Aaron Miles called me and wished me Merry Christmas. This year I decided to call him and wish him Merry Christmas and left a message on his voicemail. He called me back on Christmas Day. I don't really think, again, that Kansas had a problem. If Kansas had a problem, I don't think Aaron Miles was that problem. So do I think it was inappropriate? No. When I was at Kansas, Larry Brown's staff called the players that I was coaching. When I was at North Carolina, my first year, Matt Doherty, Doug Wojcik was quoted the other day as saying he speaks to the North Carolina players. That doesn't bother me. I know that I would never, ever do anything to hurt Kansas, their success, and especially those players. So, yes, it does bother me for somebody to say I interfered. I did interfere because I recruited all those kids and I cared about all those kids. But to say that I interfered was far from the truth, and it did bother me that somebody, USA Today did an article on Wayne Simien, called me, wanted to know what kind of kid he was. I said he's a wonderful kid, wonderful kid. He called me on Father's Day my first year that I was gone. Every time he would call or every time I would see him or anything, he would always end it by saying, "Please tell your wife hello." And then there was another article done, and then there was another article done. They took quotes from that and said that I was bragging about my chitchats. You and I both know that's not fair. Is that enough (smiling)?
Q. Team versus talent.
COACH WILLIAMS: I'm bothered by that, yes. The only thing, it doesn't bother me, because most of the time when you say "team versus talent" you're talking about African American kids versus white kids. At least we're not talking about that here. I think my team is a team, and they are talented individuals, just like I think Illinois has a big-time team with very talented individuals. It's just that my team has been through some more difficult experiences in their four years.
Q. Last few days, Bruce Weber has talked a lot about his early struggles in coaching, getting that first job. Could you reflect on that first year as an assistant for you in '78. I know you did a lot of things other than coaching to make some money. How did the first job come about? Do you remember the specific call?
COACH WILLIAMS: I've even -- during Bruce's time at Purdue, I was one of his references. I did make some phone calls for a couple of jobs for him because I know how difficult it was. With me, I did drive copies of Coach Smith and Coach Crum, our football coach, their coaches shows for 31 consecutive weekends around the state, 504 miles from my driveway back to my driveway. I did that because I like to eat and money helped do that. I sold calendars. I was the best calendar salesman there ever was. The NCAA made a rule because of my calendar sales, put some limitations on how you could do things after I did it. I felt good about that. The first job, mine was easy, I mean, Coach Smith came walking in and said, two days I guess after Larry Brown had left Kansas, he said, "Just hang with this. Don't get antsy or be worried about anything, but I think you'll have a chance at the Kansas job before it's over with." I'm very respectful of Coach Smith. I said, "Well, thank you, coach, I appreciate that." He walked out of the room. I thought, "He's finally losing it because there's no way in Hades I'm going to be the coach of Kansas." A couple days later, he said, "I think you're going to have a chance." A few days later, I got some other people calling me. The next week I'm talking to the athletic director, the Delta Crown Room at the Atlanta airport. A few days later I'm the coach at Kansas. I did have an opportunity the last three years I was at North Carolina for a coaching position, but I didn't think they fit. I was never going to be one of those guys to take a coaching position just because it said head coach. I wanted it to be one that fit me.
Q. I meant the first job as an assistant at North Carolina.
COACH WILLIAMS: You mean I talked that long and it didn't answer your daggum question (laughter)? I was very fortunate. I was a high school coach. I was working camp. I worked extremely hard, tried extremely hard in camp. The kids had fun in my gym. Coach Smith doesn't feel like he had to go check the gym very often because I was running a good gym. That summer they decided they wanted another "part-time assistant," they were the last big-time program to add that position. They asked me if I would be interested. I said yes. We talked a little bit about it. He told me it didn't pay anything. It was full-time job, part-time pay. I went home and told Wanda. She said, "We got a baby boy one year old, we got a new house, we both got jobs this year, it's going to be easier, when do we leave?" That was it. If I didn't answer it that time, you and I have -- we're not getting it done (laughter).
Q. In what area or areas has this team matured the most over the last two years, and how important has that been to getting you here?
COACH WILLIAMS: I think the biggest change is how willingly and instinctively we share the ball. I think that's the biggest stride. Then the second is to understand how, Jawad said it, the little things, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, how important they are, and they've bought into what we're saying and trying to put it on the court.
Q. You mentioned you served as a reference for Weber. I was wondering, you mentioned you called coaches when they're having a difficult time. Six, seven games into his tenure with Illinois, some people wanted to run him out of town. Did you call him? What do you like about him? Why do you think he's been a good coach, assuming you think that? Just your relationship with him.
COACH WILLIAMS: I did not call him during that time period. Bruce and Kevin Stallings, who came to Kansas with me, worked as my assistant for the first five years, were best friends. They were both at Purdue together. That's how I got to know Bruce even more. People don't remember, but my first year at Kansas, we lost eight games in a row, so I didn't think Bruce was going through as tough a times as I was going through, that kind of thing. I knew that Bruce was very effective. You know, during that stretch - perhaps, I'm not sure about this - during that stretch you're talking about may have been when we played. I saw his club and the job he was doing, and I didn't think Bruce had too many things to worry about. It was something that he was going -- the play of his players and his coaching was going to take care of itself.
Q. What do you think makes him an effective coach? He has a different personal style.
COACH WILLIAMS: I think he has a tremendous grasp for coaching, period. He worked for Gene Keady, a guy I have a tremendous amount of respect for. Bruce said it the other day, here he is at the Final Four, and Coach Keady never made one. I love Gene Keady. I mean, in 1980, we're in Denver at the Final Four. I turn around, put my hand against the back wall, because I'm in the last row, and I look up and Gene Keady comes in and sits down beside me. I said 1980, I think it was 1990 when the Final Four was in Denver. We made a pact then that if either one of us made it to the Final Four, we'd give the other guy tickets. Year later we made the Final Four in '91. I called him, said I hadn't forgotten, gave him tickets. Then we both figured out a way to get better tickets is to go on the board of directors, we both got good tickets then (smiling). Bruce worked for Gene. Coach Keady is a tremendous coach, a guy I admire a great deal. Bruce has the whole package. They have a good scheme in the defensive end of the floor; they are unselfish on the offensive end of the floor, they play extremely hard, they play together. There's nothing that Roy Williams can help him with.
Q. Raymond and you both kind of refuted or were offended by the suggestion that it's not a team compared to Illinois. Is there anything they do that sometimes suggests to you that maybe it could be a better team? Last night you mentioned going for loose balls in the first half.
COACH WILLIAMS: Yeah, you know, I think coaching, you don't know how 19, 20, 21-year-old is going to react under pressure. They're going to be tight, they're going to be loose, they're going to be cocky, they're going to be scared. I don't think you know. I think we were trying to tiptoe through the tulips a little last night instead of putting our nose in there and sticking it in in the tough spots. We addressed that at halftime. I think in the second half we did a much better job of that. I don't know why my team is not considered a team. Even our talent, you know, we have some holes. The talent is individual. Players is what they're talking about. Each one of those individual players have some holes in their game, as well. I think for us, our team is made up and has covered up for some of those holes. Sean doesn't shoot it as well as we'd like, doesn't slide his feet as well as we'd like. He's not 7', he's 6'8". We can go down the line, we got some flaws in our game. I think we're one of two teams still playing and that's the only thing that is important to me.
Q. Coach Weber mentioned he saved a couple of emails, nasty ones, he got last year, for motivation. People thought he should have been run out of town. You have a great reputation as a coach. Do you still get that kind of mail, calls?
COACH WILLIAMS: We had a caller that's called into our radio show a couple times, now I don't even take his call. I mean, he called, we were whatever, 25-3, he's complaining about our offense, our defense, rebounding, everything. I thought, "Geez, I hope we never have a bad year, you'll really have a bad year." I still have a clipping that in 2002/2003 season, the first part of it, headlines, it says, "Biggest disappointment of the year so far, Kansas." We were 3-3. We had guys that were hurt. It was a difficult time period. We played a different schedule. Later that year we were playing for the national championship. I still have a clipping, a letter, that a guy wrote that was full page, typed out, then wrote things all the way around the edges. One of the things, don't make this an X-rated interview, one of the things he said was I coached like old people have sex. I don't know what that means to this day. But I still have that letter, as well. My secretary is really doing a great job because all the negative mail that I get, 99% of the negative mail I get, she doesn't give to me. So it's better. If one of you want to enlighten me on what that means, catch me at a moment.
Q. If you don't know, do you consider yourself old?
COACH WILLIAMS: Then I'm not old (laughter).
Q. You talked all around this now, this talent/team thing. The year started out, you had a couple guys on the team that were going to be NBA players. Now we're up to like nine.
COACH WILLIAMS: On our team?
Q. It's out of control.
COACH WILLIAMS: I'm saying, it must be out of control, if we got up to nine. Does that include me?
Q. Apparently so. You could have put a stop to it by saying that people are going too far. It's built and built and built. Do you walk a thin line there? Do you want to be able to say, "No, we don't have players that are that good," you know what I'm saying?
COACH WILLIAMS: Yeah, I think so. Number one, I don't know that I can put a stop to it. Last year at a press conference after we lost, they said, "Do you think your players are going to be coming back to school? How many players do you think you're going to lose?" I said, "Nobody." Two questions later, the guy said, "Do you think any of your players are going to the NBA next year?" I said, "No." Two questions later, somebody said, "Do you think you'll have everybody on your current squad back with the start of practice?" It's the same daggum question. Doug Moe was standing in the back of the room waving his hand. I should have called on Doug because he was going to ask, "Who the crap wants any of your players?" It's some of that kind of stuff. I don't think I can put a stop to it unless I say, "Raymond Felton stinks. Jackie Manuel stinks. Anybody thinks they can play in the NBA is an idiot." I don't think that's going to stop it either. I guess I would disagree in the way that I could stop it. The other thing is, I think we have guys that are going to be NBA players. I don't think they're the second coming like everybody acts like. I think that's what you're saying there. But you know, to me, I really, really, really try to spend my time on something that is productive, and I don't think that anything I say to that is going to be productive.
Q. With all the troubles and the controversy surrounding how the college football selects the national champion. How do you feel about the system of college basketball? Do you think maybe not just this season but in seasons past, is the team that wins the NCAA tournament the best team in college basketball for that year?
COACH WILLIAMS: I love what we have in basketball because you get to play it instead of waiting till the next morning and read who won. Every year I don't think the NCAA tournament determines who is the best team, except it determines who is the best team at that specific time. That's the system we have. You know, I think throughout the course of this year that Illinois has had the best season of anybody in college basketball - better year than North Carolina has. But you still get to play on Monday night. 1983, North Carolina State won a national championship, and I don't think they were the best team, but it makes no difference because they won the national championship. That's what you go by.
Q. Are you complimented or insulted by the title "Best Coach Never to Win a National Title"? Also, considering your situation, why wouldn't you root for the Red Sox or Phil Mickelson?
COACH WILLIAMS: Am I complimented? You know, in some ways, it's a compliment. If I'm the best coach in this room, that's a compliment. And I don't know that I am. I know this doesn't make good copy, but I don't think about that. I do think about winning or not winning, there's no question. And I do think about winning a national championship. But I don't think about how that puts me in the hierarchy. We could sit here and think of a couple, three, four, five, maybe more coaches, that have won the national championship that haven't enjoyed their coaching career nearly as much as I've enjoyed so far. So I don't get caught up in that. It's very simple to me, when I was seven years old, and I'm not trying to act like a poor little boy around the block, but I was seven years old, we got a TV. We never had a TV. First game on Saturday, Dizzy Dean, Pee Wee Reese, Asheville, North Carolina. Mickey Mantle hit a home run left-handed, right-handed, then got a drag bunt single. Everybody talked about he was the fastest guy in baseball. I was a Yankee fan and I have been the rest of time. Gone through some tough times there, too. So that's the reason I'm a Yankee fan. Why I don't necessarily pull for Phil Mickelson, I was thrilled for him last year when he won the Masters. I didn't mean to imply that I didn't pull for him. But I was emotionally into it when it was Davis Love because I knew Davis. As I said, I played golf with his dad, he had given me a lesson. If Phil Mickelson had not won the Masters, and had had a great year career and won tournaments, won money, enjoyed his life for 10 more years, he was going to be a lot better off than a lot of people. Again, I'm doing exactly what I want to do. So I think if I don't win one, I really believe that I'll feel very good, as long as I can win. I can't feel very good if we're going 5-25. You can forget that. But if we win and I have the relationship with my players that I've had the first 17 years, I'm going to be okay.
Q. College basketball is pretty much an imported sport into North Carolina. The five guys who have won national championships from the state of North Carolina aren't from there. Can you put into perspective, if it means anything to you, from your home state, leading them to a national championship, what that means?
COACH WILLIAMS: I haven't thought of it. That would be pretty neat, I guess. I hadn't thought of that at all. If I'd been able to do that in Kansas, it would have been something I would have been thrilled with, as well, even though I didn't grow up there. I guess that's an unusual one I hadn't thought of.
Q. Jay Price from the Illinois staff is a guy that used to be on your managerial staff at Kansas. Can you talk about what he was like back in those days?
COACH WILLIAMS: He had a lot more hair than he does now. He was a fantastic manager. I knew he wanted to be a coach. He paid more attention during practice than probably any manager I've ever had. I called Billy Tubbs for him. He worked for Billy Tubbs. Billy and I are really close in a lot of different ways. So I thought he had a real experience working for Roy Williams and then working for Billy Tubbs. I say that wholesomely because I do enjoy Billy. But then he went to work for Gene. He's just done a great job. He'll know our stuff. There are some things I do today that I did in 1989.
Q. Do you think there's a bias against talent? "If you're talented, you probably don't work hard. If you're strong, you're probably not as smart." Have you seen that, or do you think not?
COACH WILLIAMS: No, I think there is something to that. "Well, gosh, you're supposed to win because you're talented. You're supposed to win because you've got so-and-so." Our Olympic team last year was as talented as we could be, but it wasn't -- the system that we have doesn't allow them to be together long enough. The Olympics is not a passion for us as much as it is other countries. Our talent wasn't enough to get us through in that scenario. But I loved the 12 kids that did give us a chance, that did come. I'll never say bad things about those guys because at least they came and tried. We had some other people that chose not to. But I do think that just because somebody's talented doesn't mean that they're the only person talented. I think in this case Illinois is extremely talented, and yet that perception is, you know, if we win, Gosh, you're supposed to win. Roy, if you couldn't win with that group, you ain't ever going to win. I really think that's going to happen. You know, I hope it does. They can say anything they want to about me. If we win it, they're going to say, "God, you had to have that good a team to win." That's fine with me. I had a hole-in-one, one. I took my wife out on the course to show her where it was. It was 118 yards. She said, "Well, that's so close, that shouldn't even count." If we win the daggum thing, somebody says something about that to me, that's going to be fine, too.
Q. There are guys who win this the first time they get here. Is there something to kind of learning from previous situations, things that you know now about dealing with this situation that maybe you didn't know in '91 or even two years ago?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, I think every year you're a better coach. There's no question about my mind about that. But I don't know -- you know, in '91, our first time, I mean, if Grant Hill doesn't jump over the moon grab that lob from Bobby Hurley, maybe we would have won that one. I don't know what I did or failed to do to allow Grant Hill to catch that lob, or Alonzo Jameson, who was MVP at the regional, goes 1-10 against Duke. I don't know what I did or did not do that made that happen. I think I'm a better coach, as everybody is, with more experience and the more times you've been, you do a better job. Jerry Green was my assistant one time. He said, "On big game days big-time players got to play." That's what it boils down to, I think.
JOHN GERDES: Thank you, coach.
COACH WILLIAMS: Thanks, guys.
End of FastScripts...