A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
With a win over No. 11 Florida State this past Saturday, UNC men’s basketball head coach Roy Williams completed college basketball’s thousand-mile journey, reaching 900 wins as a Division I head coach in record time.
But it’s just that — 900 wins. 900 individual, 40-minute games of five-on-five basketball, each with its own unique storyline, tension and ending. It’d be a fool’s errand to try and rank any number of Williams’ most important victories, and that’s not what this is.
But after 900 victorious games, let’s take a look at three of those games that have helped define his career.
No. 102: March 15, 1992 — No. 2 Kansas 66, No. 11 Oklahoma State 57
Before Williams ever stood before the Tar Heel faithful as a head coach, he heard “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” as the head coach of the University of Kansas from 1988-2003. 418 of his 900 wins came during his time in Lawrence, the same place his UNC mentor, Dean Smith, had been a player and assistant coach.
Williams had rapid, immense success in his first few seasons with the Jayhawks, even defeating Smith’s Tar Heels in the Final Four of the 1991 NCAA Tournament. But that was only his third season. Was that tournament run the start of an illustrious career or just a flash in the pan?
Williams spent the 1991-92 season proving that it was more of the former. Kansas went 21-4 during the regular season, finishing No. 2 overall in the AP Poll and winning the Big Eight regular season championship. The Jayhawks then cruised through the Big Eight Tournament, culminating with a nine-point win over No. 11 Oklahoma State for Williams’ first-ever conference tournament championship as a head coach.
With that win, Williams proved that he was more than just the momentarily successful protégé of Dean Smith — he could coach consistent, winning basketball from the regular season to March Madness.
No. 463: March 6, 2005 — No. 2 North Carolina 75, No. 6 Duke 73
Based purely on fan pressure and cultural importance, Roy Williams’ first win at UNC over Duke might as well have been the most important game of his career.
He lost his first three attempts against Mike Krzyzewski’s team, and looked like he might lose another, with UNC down nine with three minutes left on Senior Night in 2005. But an 11-0 run to close the game, finished off by a Marvin Williams 3-point play, got the Tar Heels their first win over the Blue Devils in the Roy Williams era.
The 2004-05 season as a whole was a bit of a Chapel Hill debutante’s ball for Williams. After working as an assistant coach under Smith from 1978-88, Williams proved that the success he enjoyed at Kansas would translate to UNC even faster.
In just his second season, he led the Tar Heels all the way to the NCAA Tournament final, where they defeated Illinois, 75-70, to claim the 2005 NCAA Championship. Claiming that winning his first national title was unimportant would be ridiculous, but it wasn't as important as…
No. 594: April 6, 2009 — North Carolina 89, Michigan State 72
...his second one.
By the 2008-09 season, there was no debating who Roy Williams and the Tar Heels were. He was a powerhouse coach at the head of a powerhouse program, where standouts like Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson and Danny Green are just some of the players Williams led that year.
And together, they raked.
A 27-3 regular season, the top seed in the 2009 NCAA Tournament, an 83-69 demolishing of Villanova, which finished No. 11 in the final AP Poll, in the Final Four — all icing on the grandest cake of them all: a 17-point obliteration of two-seeded Michigan State to win Williams his second NCAA Championship.
Sure, he would go on to surpass his mentor Dean Smith in both national championships and overall wins, but after that game, there was no disputing it.
Williams had completed his ascendancy.