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Correction to This Article
A March 24 Sports column incorrectly said that Roy Williams took the University of Kansas men's basketball team to the Final Four twice and to the national championship game once. Williams's Kansas teams made the Final Four four times and the national title game twice.
Mike Wise

Williams's Opening for Closure

By Mike Wise
Thursday, March 24, 2005; Page D01

The likelihood of Roy Williams having another locker room full of weepy kids is fading. It is still four wins to his first national title, but March's most tormented and tearful coach is simply not in Kansas anymore.

Maybe a national championship will allow Roy Williams to finally let go of Lawrence, where he always said he would stay. Maybe he can stop reminding everyone how agonizing it was to leave the Kansas job and just admit he couldn't say no to Dean Smith and Chapel Hill twice.

Winning a national championship might allow UNC Coach Roy Williams to finally let go of Lawrence, Kan. (2003 Photo Jeffrey A. Camarati -- AP)

"There will be no more jobs," Williams said on July 6, 2000, spurning Carolina's first offer to remain at Kansas. "The next press conference will be when they fire me or when I retire."

Said former player Ryan Robertson at the time, "Now, he's the Dean Smith of Kansas."

Roy Williams turned out to be the Rick Pitino and the Pat Riley of Lawrence, passing through and making the masses believe before he grew restless.

Which any coach has a right to do. But he needs to let go -- especially if his team wins it all.

With respect to Williams's very best Jayhawks teams, this North Carolina crew is far and away the most gifted college basketball team in the country. Who knows? If the Tar Heels advance to the Final Four this weekend at the Syracuse regional, Roy Williams may not even be asked on national television where he wants to work next season.

Two NCAA tournament games, two defining routs. The Tar Heels did not win as much as they emasculated their opponents last weekend in Charlotte, winning by 27 and 28 points.

Raymond Felton, a better floor leader than Wake Forest's Chris Paul, stutter-steps past everyone. Sean May, the son of Indiana's Scott May -- the all-American forward on college basketball's last unbeaten men's team in 1976 -- uses his rump and forearms to punish opposing big men. Rashad McCants lights it up from the perimeter. And Marvin Williams is good enough to declare himself for the NBA draft, like, yesterday. The 6-foot-9, elongated, gifted freshman forward had 12 points and 10 rebounds in the second round against Iowa State -- by halftime.

All four players could earn minutes on most NBA playoff teams. No sane coach wants a booster to hear how loaded his team is, but Roy Williams may simply have too much depth and talent for elimination to be an option this time.

"I never talk about individual talent; it's the most overplayed thing in the world," he said after his loaded team moved to the round of 16, where the Tar Heels face an injury-bit Villanova team tomorrow.

Williams quickly brought up the bronze-medal winning NBA players in Athens, whose clocks were cleaned by cohesively superior international teams. Williams was an assistant coach to Larry Brown on that team.

"We had a tremendously talented Olympic team and we faced teams that had been together for a long, long time," he said. "Our system was set up to fail regardless of how well our kids in the Olympics played their tails off.

"Talent's the most overrated thing in the . . . nah, that's a bad way to say it."

Williams caught himself briefly before adding, "I believe it is, though."

A national title in Carolina, post-Dean, would be huge for Chapel Hill. But it might be even more cathartic for Roy Williams.

It's ridiculous to hold a great coach to the flame for annually losing in a single-elimination tournament. Still, like Jim Boeheim before him, no one will be able to say Williams loses the big ones.

He won't need approval from all those jilted Kansas souls. He won't have to feel guilty about winning with players Matt Doherty recruited to Carolina. He won't feel bad about the man who took his old job, Bill Self, losing to Bucknell in the first round with players Roy Williams recruited at Kansas.

Maybe Roy Williams can be at peace with his decision and stop sounding in countless interviews like the boss who fires an employee and then tries to make him feel good about his decision. Or the old relationship standby: "It's not you. It's me." He took the Carolina gig -- not the Akron job.

It's time to let go and not expect the Jayhawks legions to still attend worship.

It's time for Williams to stop worrying about what everybody in Lawrence thinks and move on. He was the one who left. What's done is done.

The days of Nick Collison missing and Kirk Hinrich heaving the ball up and barely drawing iron against Syracuse in the 2003 title game are over. The days of losing as a No. 1 seed in 1997 and 1998 with Paul Pierce and multiple NBA players are in the attic. Williams took the Jayhawks to two Final Fours and one championship game, always falling short, gradually becoming The Coach Who Couldn't Get Over the Hump.

After all those great teams and exceptional players -- all the frustration -- Roy Williams may be closer with this group than he's ever been.

Premier players are needed to win a national championship. Roy Williams has more thoroughbreds left in the tournament than any other school. On the weekend defending national champion Connecticut went down, Syracuse was knocked out and Wake Forest bowed to West Virginia in one of the tournament's greatest games, North Carolina was left nearly peerless.

Marvin Williams is going to be a top-three pick when he decides to leave school. At this moment, he comes off Roy Williams's bench.

"I can name every player on our team with a little hole in his game," Roy Williams said, paying down his roster. "Marvin is probably the most complete player. Talent? People talk about talent too much. Give me five guys that are very good and that'll play their butts off together. I'll take those against everybody."

Roy Williams is right. But with 16 teams left -- and maybe four with a shot to knock off Carolina -- anyone who wouldn't take his five over everybody else's is just not thinking straight. Either that or they're still scorned in Lawrence.

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