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Thursday October 21st

'A legend': Former UNC players react to Roy Williams' retirement

<p>Head Coach Roy Williams kisses senior guard Kenny Williams (24) on the forehead at the end of UNC's 97-80 loss against Auburn in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, March 29, 2019 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, M.O.</p>
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Head Coach Roy Williams kisses senior guard Kenny Williams (24) on the forehead at the end of UNC's 97-80 loss against Auburn in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, March 29, 2019 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, M.O.

Brandon Robinson thought it was an April Fools' joke when he read the news.

The former UNC basketball guard from 2016 to 2020 assumed head coach Roy Williams would coach until he couldn’t anymore, so he initially brushed off the breaking headlines as a bad prank. But when Robinson saw the announcement from UNC basketball and his phone started flooding with notifications of the announcements’ legitimacy, he was shocked to his core — it’s true. 

After 18 seasons, Williams really is retiring.

“He used to make jokes in practice like, ‘If you don’t like it, you should leave because I’m gonna be here for 10 more years,’” Robinson said. “It’s crazy he’s done right now. I felt like he still has something left in him.”

Robinson was in disbelief and planned to watch Thursday afternoon’s press conference because he needed confirmation from Williams himself to believe it. 

But mostly, Robinson felt grateful.

“He gave me the opportunity of a lifetime that I can’t repay him for,” Robinson said. “He means the world to me and I appreciate him so much.”

And he’s not the only one. There’s been an outpouring of congratulations, anecdotes and thank-you's from former UNC players.

“You’ve impacted my life more than you could ever understand,” Brice Johnson stated.

“A legend,” Kenny Williams III confirmed on Twitter.

As the head coach of Kansas for 15 seasons and of UNC for 18, Williams has guided 52 players into the NBA, and even more players into successful careers elsewhere.

The consensus? Roy Williams made an impact far beyond the basketball court. 

“He’s like a father figure,” Philadelphia 76ers guard Danny Green said Thursday during a media conference in Cleveland. “That four years there taught me a lot about not just the game of basketball but about life. I’m happy for him. I hope he’s at peace. He’s always been a lot more than a coach to me.”

Green, the owner of four championship rings — three in the NBA and the other with UNC from the 2009 NCAA Championship — said he called Williams to thank him. Others went to thank him in-person. 

A crowd of former players gathered in the lounge at the Dean E. Smith Center Thursday to speak to Williams.

“When I came in and saw the former players in the lounge, it was really difficult,” Williams said. “And when I realized I was going to walk through that tunnel for the last time, it was really difficult.”

Williams said he loves his former players and made sure to verbally thank them in his press conference. But really, he has shown that love through his actions over the years: Williams visited Coby White on Nov. 13, 2019 in Chicago to watch the Bulls guard become the youngest NBA player to make seven 3-pointers — and give him a hug. 

In 2017, Williams broke an awkward silence as he and Robinson were in an elevator heading to practice for the 2017 Final Four in Phoenix, just to tell the young guard he’d one day be a big-time player for UNC.

Williams has impacted the lives of his players since he took on the role as assistant coach for Dean Smith at UNC in 1978. Now, he just plans to be a better golfer, a more present husband to his wife, Wanda, and a fun grandparent. 

But for UNC basketball players, he will always be "Coach."

"I've been so, so lucky,” Williams said. “For the rest of my life, I'll always say that I was a coach. And that's the proudest moment of my life."

@macyemeyer

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com


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