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When 32-6 is not good enough for North Carolina basketball


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When 32-6 is not good enough for North Carolina basketball

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When 32-6 is not good enough for North Carolina basketball

Williams talks about what could have been

9:15 PM, Apr. 28, 2012  |  

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ASHEVILLE — A sure sign that perhaps expectations for your basketball program are too high?

At the end of a 32-6 season that includes an ACC regular-season title and a trip to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, your coach calls it an “almost joyless” experience.

Roy Williams was back home last week, speaking at a Rams Club function in Asheville, reliving the 2011-12 North Carolina season for more than 100 fans disappointed that a season that started with a No. 1 ranking ended with four key players out or limited by injuries.

“(A fan) may have put it best. It was a great, great year with a sad ending,” Williams said. “We had a tremendous amount of expectations and stress of what people thought we should do and could do, and our kids won 32 games. But it was almost a joyless season, with the way things fell.”

The WNC native who grew up in Asheville was referring to the circumstances that followed the highlights — not getting to cut the nets down after clinching the ACC title because the game was at Duke, earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs but not being in a celebratory mood after losing the ACC tournament title game to Florida State, the excitement of reaching the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament tempered with the news that point guard Kendall Marshall had broken his wrist.

Previous season-ending injuries to guards Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland, along with forward John Henson hampered with a wrist injury down the stretch, left the Tar Heels short on depth at the most important time of the season.

“After we beat Duke by 18 at their place, on the bus ride back, I told our staff that if we play like that, we are good enough to win the whole dadgum thing,” Williams said.

“If John could have gotten back to where he was before he got hurt and we had Kendall, I would have liked to have played (Kentucky coach John) Calipari’s Wildcats on that Monday night (for the national title that Kentucky won).

“We finished 32-6 and won the ACC regular season for the sixth time in nine years, and we think that’s pretty doggone good. But we would have liked a little more, no question about that.”

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In between his visit to Asheville and driving to Charlotte that night for another booster’s club function, Williams planned to stop at Kenmure Golf Club in East Flat Rock for his first look at the home he is having built just off the 13th hole.

But it is not yet his retirement home. Williams, 61, said he still enjoys coaching and predicts he has a few years left in Chapel Hill before retiring to the mountains.

“I would like to coach six to 10 more years,” he said. “I ain’t got 20 more in me. People bring little babies to me and say they want them to play for me, and I tell them they’ve got no chance.

“If I stay healthy, I think six to 10 more years. I really enjoy it, and it’s what I want to do.”

Williams also offered his thoughts on a variety of other subjects, including:

Rebuilding a team that will lose four starters, senior Tyler Zeller and a trio who are leaving early for the NBA (junior John Henson, sophomores Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall):

“This is going to be one of the more difficult ones. In ’06 we had a guy named (Tyler) Hansbrough coming in, and he kind of carried us on his back (UNC finished 23-8 that season). After we lost all those guys in ’09, it was really difficult, to say the least (the Tar Heels finished 20-17 and missed the NCAA tournament after going 5-11 and tied for 10th in the ACC).”

On next year’s squad:

“James Michael (McAdoo), Reggie (Bullock), Leslie (McDonald), Dexter (Strickland), P.J. (Hairston) are all going to have to step up, and, hopefully, we get something from our four freshmen (point guard Marcus Paige, forward J.P. Tokoto, post players Brice Johnson and Joel Jones).

“We’ve got some good players, but they are going to have to step forward and perform when we need them.

And we’ve got to get healthy. Reggie’s knee is better, he’s playing in pick-up games. Marcus had surgery on his foot that he broke in the McDonald’s All-American game. Dexter’s rehab (knee surgery) is going along about the way it should, and Leslie (knee surgery) is feeling really good.”

On how he recruits now with the one-and-done philosophy that Kentucky has used so effectively, in effect reinventing its team every year and having great success with that style:

“I’ve always said you have to have a mix. You can’t have everybody you recruit thinking that way (going to the NBA after one season), and you can’t have every recruit not being good enough to think that way. You have to have a good mix.”

When 32-6 is not good enough for North Carolina basketball

Williams talks about what could have been for Tar Heels basketball

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