Famed UNC coach Roy Williams back to being an assistant of sorts
RALEIGH, N.C. — Roy Williams is back being an assistant again. The former North Carolina men's basketball coach is serving as the ambassador for the Asheville Championship, a basketball tournament created after the city successfully pulled off playing host to the Maui Invitational last year.
The inaugural event will feature South Carolina, Minnesota, Western Kentucky and Princeton at the Harrah's Cherokee Center in Asheville, N.C., on Nov. 12 and 14.
Williams used to love taking his teams to Maui every four years from his time at Kansas and it continued during his 18 seasons at UNC. He used to joke with tournament director and former Wake Forest coach Dave Odom, that he wouldn't want to take his place, but he'd love to be his assistant.
Well, Odom called Williams' bluff.
"I've kidded with Dave that I didn't want to do all the work that he did but I just wanted to go to the Maui tournament and watch it all the time," Williams told the News & Observer. "So then Dave all of a sudden calls me and says, 'I got one thing I want you to think about.' "
That one thing involved basketball and his hometown so it didn't take much for Williams to be sold. Williams, an Asheville native, said the games will take place about 30 minutes from where he still owns a home and right up the street from where he grew up playing.
"Right down from the civic center used to be the old YMCA, which is where I lived for many Saturdays for a long long time as a young kid," Williams said. "So I love that area, they love college basketball and getting a tournament in there."
The Maui Invitational was moved to Asheville last season among concerns of having eight teams traveling to Hawaii during the COVID-19 pandemic. The games were not opened to the public due to the state's protocol at the time for indoor arenas.
"Last year when we were there with Texas, Stanford, Indiana — I mean that place would have been packed every single night," Williams said. "And so thinking about doing a tournament there was something I was interested in. I want to do anything I can to make them to make it be successful and try to get the people to buy the tickets and come to the games."
No one knew it as Carolina lost to Texas on a buzzer-beating shot in the finals, but it was a final hurrah for Williams in his hometown. The event was akin to the UNC tradition coach Dean Smith began of scheduling a game in the hometown of his senior players as Williams announced his retirement in April.
Williams said KemperLesnik, which created the Asheville Championship and operates the Maui Invitational, has not yet had discussions about making it an annual event.
"I think that we'll have to see how the tournament goes this year and supported in Asheville," Williams said. "A big key is going to be if it is continued to be televised. ESPN stepped forward for this year. I think KemperLesnik people would like for it to continue, and we've just got to see how successful it is, but we have not had those discussions now."
Williams has stayed active during his first summer as a retired coach. He's been an unofficial ambassador for UNC, meeting with three of the athletic department's new coaches in gymnastics, rowing and women's golf. He's done some fundraising at the request of the chancellor. He's also set to give the commencement address for UNC's class of 2021. (Although he said he hasn't written his speech yet, he promised, "I won't go up there and just ad lib, I'll have something prepared.")
He's also stayed close to the basketball program. He's familiar with all of the new players except Oklahoma transfer Brady Manek, because he recruited four of them. Dawson Garcia and Justin McKoy ultimately chose Marquette and Virginia, respectively, but Williams knows them well.
The Tar Heels' two incoming freshmen, D'Marco Dunn and Dontrez Styles, committed with Williams as head coach. They stayed committed to UNC after Hubert Davis was named the new head coach.
Williams said he's visited with Davis and the team several times over the course of the summer in the same way that Smith and former coach Bill Guthridge visited him when he first returned to Chapel Hill in 2003.
"I just want to be extremely supportive without getting in the way — and I know that that's a fine line," Williams said. "... I loved having them (Smith and Guthridge) around and so far I think that's what Hubert is feeling. He's definitely made me feel that way and made me feel very comfortable but I'm going to be very sure that I don't get this way."
Even though Williams will no longer be on the sideline coaching, he'll still be a fixture at Carolina games.
"Right now it's hard for me to envision missing many games, if any, because I do want to be a tremendous supporter of Hubert," Williams said. "I already know where my tickets are, where I'm going to be sitting. So I have already done a lot of those kinds of things to get it set up. I'll be there a lot, clapping and cheering and enjoying watching him coach and enjoying watching the Tar Heels play."