HENDERSON — The local basketball community was left stunned when Roy Williams announced his retirement following a stellar 33-year career between Kansas University and UNC Chapel Hill.
Henderson Collegiate men’s basketball head coach George Marshall was among those taken aback by Williams’ decision to retire, adding that the moment comes during a time of immense change within the sport.
“I was surprised because I felt like the decision was done without anyone thinking he was going to retire this early,” Marshall said. “The team had been coming off a successful season and people thought he would be around for at least a few more years but when you step back and look at the situation, this makes sense for him.”
Success followed Williams throughout his career, as he took Kansas to four Final Four appearances before taking over at his alma mater of UNCl, where he led the men’s basketball program to three NCAA Tournament championships.
Many players who were under Williams’ tutelage would later go on to have solid careers in the NBA. Among them are 10-time NBA All-Star Paul Pierce, and Danny Green, who has won NBA championships with three different organizations.
Marshall himself does not know Williams personally but he has had the opportunity to watch a couple of UNC practices in person so he can learn more about his coaching style and apply some of those techniques to his players.
While Marshall said that Williams will be remembered for his championships and 903 victories, he wants people to remember that Williams’ determination to focus on relationships was a main factor towards his efficiency as a leader and role model for his players.
Williams “put his entire emphasis of success on relationships,” Marshall said. “He may have had teams that struggled but at the end of the day, an overwhelming majority of players that Coach Williams has had love him to death and see him as a father figure. They realized that in the blink of an eye, he would be there to support them through any trials and tribulations they went through in life.”
Crossroads Christian head coach Scottie Richardson has also had plenty of interactions with Williams during his coaching career, ranging from sitting in on several UNC practices to learning from him at coaching clinics around the United States.
Richardson has taken a lot of notes from Williams’ tenures at Kansas and UNC when it came to establishing relationships with his players and building a culture and game plan that could help lead his programs to success.
“A part of our fast-break system, which involves inbounding the ball in 0.5 seconds and catching on the run, came from Roy Williams when he was at Kansas,” Richardson said. “He inspired a lot of our system and he will definitely be missed.”
Richardson added that there are many lessons the current generation of players and coaches can take away from Williams’ career. He said having passion for the game and ensuring that your players believe in your teachings propelled Williams to so many wins, and can do the same for others.
“To me, [Williams] was always a player’s coach,” Richardson said. “He got on the guys when he needed to but he was a genuine, what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of a guy. He inspired all of us and we’re obviously going to miss seeing that Carolina blue sport coat on the sidelines.”
Marshall said that Williams simplified basketball through his mantra of ‘play hard, play smart, play together,’ which he believes is something that players in the high school, collegiate and professional levels need to hear and understand.
Now a year removed from an N.C. High School Athletic Association title of his own, Marshall said that he wouldn’t be in his current position without figures like Williams setting the benchmark on how coaches are supposed to interact with the people on their rosters.
While Marshall does not know what the immediate future is for UNC basketball, he said that Williams will always have a lasting impact on the game.
“As a young coach, [Williams] was really inspirational,” Marshall said. “Moving forward, I’m going to hopefully learn more from him and study more about his strategies and the types of cultural messages he would send to his players. He was a great man and I’m really proud to be a UNC fan for that reason.”