Roy Williams back in Kansas City 10 years after departure for UNC

Kansas City, Mo. — As former Kansas coach Roy Williams walked onto the court Thursday afternoon for his team’s shoot-around he was greeted by a polite applause by the Sprint Center crowd with a few fans rising out of their seats to show their appreciation.

A few minutes before practice started, Williams signed autographs for the Jayhawk faithful, especially the young children who wanted to connect with him — to connect with the past.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams yells to contest a foul call made by a game official. Williams was the Kansas coach before going to North Carolina.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams yells to contest a foul call made by a game official. Williams was the Kansas coach before going to North Carolina. Photo by: Mindy Ricketts

He stood surveying the arena where his team will face off against Villanova on Friday.

More than anything though, Williams felt appreciation from Kansas fans for one of the first times since accepting the head coaching job at the University of Norht Carolina, his alma mater, in 2003.

“For me, University of Kansas and Lawrence was a great 15 years of my life,” Williams said. “I’ve said it this way before: I gave my heart, body, and soul for 15 years, and I loved it.”

This weekend, Williams is back in his old stomping grounds where he ruled the Big Eight and Big 12 for more than a decade, but this time he seems to be more adored than in times past.

“A guy stopped me in the airport and said, ‘Coach I just want to say hello and I wanted to tell you I’m a big time Jayhawk fan.’” Williams said, “I said, ‘So am I.’ He looked at me sort of weird and he walked off. He went down a couple of gates and he came back a few moments later and said, ‘You know you really surprised me.’ I said, ‘I was there 15 years, had wonderful players that I loved, it was family and it always will be. It’s not immoral to love two institutions.’”

However, Williams is not the only North Carolina coach with Kansas ties. Assistant coach C.B. McGrath was the team captain for the Jayhawks in 1997-1998 season, lettered for four seasons as a point guard and went to Topeka West High School.

He’s now worked for Williams for 10 years in Chapel Hill, N.C. and understands his employer’s choice.

“Hopefully the fans are over it by now,” McGrath said. “It’s been 10 years and they’ve got a pretty good darn coach and a national championship and another Final Four, nine straight conference championship. I think they would show coach [Williams] some respect and give him an ovation.”

It has not been an easy road for Williams to fully accept the Kansas faithful into his heart.

In the previous two meetings in the NCAA Tournament Kansas soundly defeated North Carolina, the Jayhawks took down the Tar Heels 84-66 at the Final Four in San Antonio in 2008.

Kansas went onto beat Memphis in the National Championship game.

After taking a lot of criticism throughout the weekend Williams sat in the stands that Monday night with a Jayhawk sticker on his black turtleneck watching the program he helped build cut down the nets.

Last season, Kansas seized control of the series once again with an 80-67 victory that propelled the Jayhawks to another Final Four and one step away from the National Championship.

Whether by chance or the humor of the selection committee Williams has helped push the Jayhawks into a position of success the past few seasons and he seems to be fine with that.

But even though he’s grown older and moved several states to the East, Williams remains an important figure in Jayhawk history.

Whether it’s his Carolina charm or his constant poise with the University faithful regardless of how they’ve treated him the last 10 years.

He still takes a moment to say thank you by taking a look around the Sprint Center or signing a few autographs for some kids that reached across the silver barrier to help bridge the gap.

“He did a lot of good things for Kansas,” McGrath said.

  • Updated Mar. 24, 2013 at 11:16 am