KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Hello, Roy Williams, welcome back to Kansas territory.
Jayhawk fans have been known to say nasty things about the former KU coach, even though he gave them 416 victories, four Final Fours and plenty of NCAA Tournament thrills in 15 seasons.
Friday night, right before the Jayhawks play Western Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament at the Sprint Center, Williams’ North Carolina Tar Heels will meet Villanova on the same court.
KU fans will undoubtedly dominate the crowd for the night session. How will they react?
Williams isn’t concerned.
“We go through enough in college basketball without worrying about whether they’re going to clap or boo when I come out,” he said.
Moments later, the KU-dominated crowd at the Sprint Center watching practices gave Williams a healthy applause as the Tar Heels came out for their session.
This will be Williams’ first game in the area since leaving the Jayhawks to coach his alma mater after the 2003 season, although he has lost twice in two NCAA meetings to Bill Self’s Jayhawks since then.
North Carolina lost to KU in the 2008 Final Four semifinal before the Jayhawks won the championship in San Antonio. Last year, KU defeated the Tar Heels in a regional final in St. Louis.
“I still love Kansas,” Williams said. “I just happen to be at North Carolina now. It’s not immoral to love two schools.”
Coach who? —You would think a guy who has won two national championships in Kansas City would get more respect.
OK, Western Kentucky coach Ray Harper did win the titles at the NAIA level when he was at Oklahoma City. And they did come in Municipal Auditorium.
But when he tried to come into the Sprint Center on Thursday for his team’s practice, the security guards thought he was a fan and wouldn’t let him inside.
“I’m sure Bill Self didn’t get asked the questions I did,” Harper said with a smile. “They didn’t know who the heck I was.
“I them I was a fan. I was here to enjoy some good basketball.”
Some people with him confirmed that Harper was indeed the Hilltoppers’ coach.
“Hopefully, they’ll let me in (Friday night),” Harper said.
Ex-Hilltopper — Kurtis Townsend, a KU assistant since 2004, played his final two years of college basketball at Western Kentucky.
“It’ll be fun playing against them,” said Townsend, who met his wife at the Bowling Green school. “When we’re not playing them, I’m pulling for the Hilltoppers.”
Townsend played two years. He was at Menlo (Calif.) Junior College before transferring to WKU in 1979 to play for Gene Keady.
Keady, a Larned native and former Hutchinson Community College coach, was only at Western Kentucky for those two years before moving to Purdue.
Leaving Texas — Harper is all about basketball in the bluegrass state.
“Love it,” said the Western Kentucky coach, whose hometown of Bremen, Ky., is about the school.
He also played two years at Kentucky Wesleyan, which is about 30 minutes from Bremen.
And yet Harper began his college career at Texas, where he played for the late Abe Lemons. Harper was good enough as a freshman that he was named the Southwest Conference’s rookie of the year in 1981.
Lemons, however, was fired after the next season. Harper was among six players who decided to bail on the Longhorns and transfer.
For Carter, that meant going to Kentucky Wesleyan, which was coming off a Division II Final Four season.
“I wanted to be somewhere where I thought I we had a chance to win in my last two years,” Harper said. “I didn’t feel like we could do that at Texas.”
Autograph, please — Tom Hentzen, a KU fan from Olathe, sat courtside during practices Thursday, determined to get Williams and Self to autograph a large picture he had of them shaking hands before the 2008 Final Four semifinal.
It took some doing because security guards kept running him off. He managed to get Williams’ autograph during the Tar Heels’ practice but didn’t get a chance to approach Self.
“Getting Roy was the big one,” he said, “because he’s not around here much anymore. I can always get Self’s later.”
Philly feel — There should be some brotherly love in Kansas City with two-fifths of Philadelphia’s Big 5, LaSalle and Villanova, sharing the stage at the Sprint Center.
“It’s nice to see a lot of friendly faces out here,” ‘Nova coach Jay Wright said.
Villanova lost to its cross-town rival, 77-74 in overtime, back in November.
“We take great pride in Philadelphia basketball,” Wright said. “When we’re playing each other, we want to beat each other bad. But anything else, we like to see each other do well.”
Same goes, he said, for the other three of the Philly Big 5 – Penn, St. Joseph’s and Temple.
If the Big 5 schools are doing well, kids in Philadelphia are going to stay home and play there,” Wright said.
Inconsistent Nova — Villanova’s season was all over the board.
On some nights the Wildcats lost to the likes of Columbia and Seton Hall and then within of five days in January upset Louisville and Syracuse.
Except for a seven-game winning streak that started in December and spilled into early January, Villanova never won more than three in a row. The Wildcats also never lost more than three straight.
“Some of those losses that you wouldn’t think we’d lose came from not executing what we know,” junior guard James Bell said. “We have to focus on playing together and off each other.”