It happened Saturday afternoon, finally, after 1,124 career games, five consecutive false starts and ten losses into the most tumultuous season in a decade for the Tar Heels. It came after what seemed to be UNC's only hope was forced to the sideline, an uncanny home win streak was snapped and team veterans wondered what could possibly come next.
For one afternoon, though, or at least one moment, all that could have been briefly forgotten. Months worth of catastrophic injuries, missed opportunities and blown games all felt like distant memories.
For the head coach of North Carolina basketball, it happened.
Roy Williams, 880; Dean Smith, 879. Williams had, by at least one metric — career wins — eclipsed his mentor, good for fourth all-time among Division I coaches in college basketball history.
It happened in a late January game against Miami, perhaps the only team more undermanned than North Carolina this season. The hamstrung Hurricanes trotted out just six scholarships players and were without leading scorer Chris Lykes, allowing the Tar Heels to cruise to a much-needed 94-71 win and snap a six-game ACC losing streak.
It happened because of Brandon Robinson, who had a career-high 29 points, and Armando Bacot, who added 19 points in the rout. It happened after consecutive losses to Georgia Tech, Pitt, Clemson, Pitt (again) and Virginia Tech, which might have dulled the sheen of the accomplishment, but not by much.
"I'd have been just as happy if it happened four or five games ago," Williams said, continuing, "I desperately wanted (win) number nine for this team."
Elsewhere, the Hall of Famer — who promptly jogged off the court after the final buzzer, to little fanfare — was rather cool about the subject. But if you asked him to sit down and really reflect on the achievement, he’d undoubtedly say it happened because of everyone but himself.
Maybe Roy Williams would start here: It happened because of Buddy Baldwin, his coach at Roberson High School, who Williams “grew up wanting to be like.” Or it happened because of Owen High School, where Williams got his coaching start at 22.