By R.L. Bynum
For the time since Roy Williams left Kansas to take the North Carolina head-coaching job 19 years ago, the Hall of Fame coach was back for a Jayhawks game at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas, on Tuesday night.
Williams returned to the venerable arena in October 2014 — along with current coach Bill Self and other former Kansas coaches Larry Brown and Ted Owens — to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the building. But it was the first time he’s been back for a game.
After the first television timeout of the No. 9 Jayhawks’ 62–61 win over No.15 Iowa State, there was a nice video tribute to Williams on the scoreboard screen.
The crowd cheered loudly for him and his wife, Wanda, with a standing ovation (shown at the end of the above video; a better quality version of the video played in the arena is at the bottom of the story). He stood and thanked the crowd.
“It’s a really, really neat feeling. I didn’t know about the video, I look up and they start talking. It brought back so many great memories,” Williams said. “But I look around at Allen Fieldhouse. I love coaching, period. But I love coaching here. The student section, they never sit down. I saw the Rock Chalk chant. I’ve never seen it before. It was always a little busy. So it’s been a neat deal.”
The finish was a pretty neat deal for Jayhawks fans who welcomed back Williams and got an exciting victory. Dajuan Harris won the game for Kansas (13–2, 2–1 Big 12) on a driving layup with eight seconds left. Iowa State’s Gabe Kascheur missed a 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
“I think the word fanatics, talking about fans, it originated right here in this building because these people are fantastic and fanatical about Jayhawk basketball,” Williams said. “It’s one of the sweet things that we have in our world.”
Self said that Williams contacted members of the Kansas athletics department a couple of weeks ago to ask about attending a game. It worked out well for Williams since he has been attending most Carolina games this season and the Tar Heels don’t have a mid-week game.
“When you’re a coach, you get a chance to have an impact on some young kids,” Williams said. “My high school told me, he said, ‘You coach somebody, 30 years later you see something you gave him. It’s your job to make sure it’s something positive.’ And I see people like Greg Gurley and Wayne Simien and all those guys? I’m about as lucky as anybody could possibly be.”
Williams was supposed to attend a Monmouth game to see Coach King Rice and Walker Miller but the game was postponed because of COVID-19 issues in the Hawks’ program. He hopes to see a Cincinnati game in support of first-year coach Wes Miller.
On Wednesday night, Williams will be in East Lansing, Mich., for Michigan State’s home game with Minnesota.
“He’s more than welcome,” Self said before the game. “And [I think] it’s a given that our fans will pay homage and tribute to him the way that he deserves for the 15 great years of service he gave this institution.”
Williams took over for Brown following Kansas’ 1988 NCAA title season after 10 years of being an assistant coach at UNC under Coach Dean Smith. Kansas was on probation for Williams’ first season in Lawrence.
Under Williams, the Jayhawks went 418–101, winning 80.5% of his games. His Kansas teams won four regular-season and three tournament titles in the Big 12 and five regular-season and one tournament title in the Big Eight.
“This [fieldhouse] is the greatest homecourt advantage I’ve seen. The fans won’t let you lose,” Williams told The Kansas City Star.
He took the Carolina job soon after his 2002–03 team went 30–8 and lost to Syracuse 81–78 in the NCAA championship game.
He was the AP National Coach of the Year once at Kansas (1992) and once at UNC (2006), where he went 485–163 with three NCAA titles, nine ACC regular-season titles and three ACC championships before retiring on April 1, 2021.