ST. LOUIS — North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams showed off his aw-shucks humor in classic style Thursday on the eve of the Tar Heels’ Sweet 16 matchup with Ohio at the NCAA Midwest Regional.
It was vintage Williams, as the 61-year old with 674 career wins answered questions from the media during a 15-minute news conference that spilled into 20.
Kansas fans familiar with Williams’ trademark, homespun funnies should know that he hasn’t lost a step during his nine seasons in Chapel Hill.
On whether he really doesn’t know whether point guard Kendall Marshall will or won’t play Friday with a fractured wrist: “Yes, I really don’t know. I have a strong, strong inclination that he is not going to play. If he comes to my room tomorrow and says, ‘My wrist feels great,’ and he drops down and does 10 right-handed pushups, then I’ll probably play his rear end. But I don’t expect that to happen. I mean, the guy can’t even brush his teeth right now.’’
On the potential of a regional final game against Kansas, where he coached for 15 seasons, on Sunday: “I’m really being truthful, I love the University of Kansas. My first chancellor at North Carolina said it’s not immoral to love two institutions and I think there’s some truth to that. OK, I love Kansas.
“This morning I was out on my walk and this guy says, ‘Rock Chalk Jayhawk.’ And you know what I said? ‘Go KU.’ He walked about 3-4 more steps and said, ‘Damn, that was Roy.’ ’’
On whether freshman point guard Stilman White, who hasn’t played more than 11 minutes in a game this season, can handle an expanded role if Marshall is unable to play: “Stilman is so wacko, I don’t know what the crap to think when I watch him. We just try to make sure he has his ID with him so he can get into the building. Really, we have a manager that’s just responsible to make sure he gets his ID here.”
When pressed for more information on Marshall, whose injured right wrist threatens to keep him out tonight and perhaps the rest of the tournament: “I’ve got what our doctors are saying and I’ve got another orthopedic surgeon saying, ‘Yeah, he can play.’ But I’m thinking that guy hasn’t even seen Kendall’s X-rays. I just know the kid tells me he can’t brush his teeth yet. How the dickens can he play a basketball game if he can’t brush his teeth? I mean, he can go out there with bad breath, but you still got to be able to play the dad-gum game.’’
On North Carolina winning a national championship in New Orleans 30 years ago, the first for legendary coach Dean Smith, for whom Williams was an assistant at the time: “I wasn’t nearly as stressed out at the time. There was a guy named Dean Smith and I let him be stressed out. Really, I will never forget the pressure that I did feel because I wanted us to win for Coach Smith so people would stop talking about him being the greatest coach who never won a national championship.
“I remember hugging Coach on the court at the Superdome and I said I was just so glad because now it will shut those people up. And his statement back to me – and I’ll never forget it because I used it in this town in 2005 (when Williams won his first of two national championships as a head coach with the Tar Heels). He said, ‘I’m not that much better of a coach than I was 2 1/2 ago.’’
More on Marshall — Williams called Marshall “the best point guard I’ve had in several areas.” That’s high praise considering the likes of Adonis Jordan, Jacque Vaughn and Kirk Hinrich at Kansas and Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson at North Carolina.
Personal for Roy — His rival along I-40, N.C. State, is here, and so is his former school, Kansas. Williams is being tugged in different directions on his trip to St. Louis, where, by the way, he won his first national championship in 2005.
“Well, look, there’s no question I’d rather not have all these personal things going on,” Williams said. “I would just like for it to be about the basketball game. And I’m not trying to be humble. I’m being truthful.”
State-Carolina — The N.C. State-North Carolina rivalry doesn’t get as much publicity as Duke-Carolina, but it carries deep meaning for the Wolfpack, who haven’t been very successful in the series. It has lost 19 of 20 games in the Roy Williams era.
Asked if he believed Tar Heels fans would be cheering for his team against Kansas, N.C. State forward Richard Howell said he would prefer that they wouldn’t.
“I really don’t want them to root for us,” Howell said. “I’d rather them root for Duke than N.C. State.”
Head start — Kansas went through its interviews Thursday, then hit the floor. Reserve walk-on guard Christian Garrett was the first one out. And for a while he was the only one on the floor. After about a minute, Garrett looked around and saw the rest of his teammates hadn’t followed him. He sheepishly made it back to the group to good-natured ribbing from the team.