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The Daily Tar Heel

More to Game Than Coaching Duel

But today at 9 p.m., Williams will be forced to face Matt Doherty's Tar Heels in the Preseason NIT semifinal game in New York City. And Williams' hesitance to play UNC has nothing to do with what players are taking the floor.

"North Carolina is the one that is harder to play than anybody else because I have those feelings of my entire life I dreamed of playing there, and I dreamed of coaching there," Williams said. "I did coach there for 10 years. I love that place. I don't think anybody loves that basketball program as much as I do."

The matchup is hardly a coaching duel, though the intrigue surrounding the North Carolina men's basketball coach and the man who built Kansas' program is hard to ignore.

Doherty played for Williams at UNC and then went to work for him at Kansas as an assistant himself. Doherty's "big brother" figure later turned down the job that Doherty took.

But, rightfully so, the coaches are quick to focus attention on the game at hand.

"I'm not afraid about facing the coach; I'm afraid about facing the players," Doherty said. "If I was going against Coach Williams I'd have an opportunity to post him up because he's a little smaller than me.

"I'm more concerned about Nick Collison, Kirk Hinrich, Wayne Simien and Aaron Miles. They're a great team."

North Carolina has reversed last year's dismal 0-3 start, but the Jayhawks (2-0) will clearly be its biggest test so far.

Kansas will put arguably the best starting five in the country on the floor against UNC -- two of whom Doherty played a role in recruiting while he was a Jayhawk assistant. So he knows exactly how dangerous Kansas seniors Collison and Hinrich can be.

North Carolina could make mistakes, and Kansas' experienced squad should capitalize. But UNC has depth where Kansas' roster drops off after its starting lineup, so the Tar Heels will give the Jayhawks a run for it. UNC likely will walk away a loser but will be a better team for it.

And Doherty and Williams will shake hands, exchange a few words and walk away, like any two opposing coaches.

"You don't like to play against someone you care about because someone is going to lose," Doherty said. "And sometimes when you win those games you feel worse than you do if you lose because you feel bad for the other person.

"But once the ball goes up, it's going to be Carolina's players against Kansas' players."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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