KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- At their shoot-around on Thursday and again during Friday’s win over Villanova, the North Carolina Tar Heels received rousing ovations from an unlikely group of supporters.
For nearly a decade almost anyone who called themselves a Jayhawk held resentment toward former coach Roy Williams for leaving KU in 2003 and returning to North Carolina, his alma mater. But if this week is any indication, Kansas fans have moved on and come to appreciate Williams for what he accomplished during his 15 seasons in Lawrence.
“Time heals all wounds,” Williams said Saturday. “The people have been really nice. There have been people driving by on the streets when we’re out walking in the morning that have been yelling and saying nice things.
“I’ve only had one person yell something that wasn’t quite as nice, but that’s part of it.”
Williams’ Tar Heels -- the No. 8 seed in the South Region -- will take on top-seeded Kansas at the Sprint Center on Sunday for a chance to go to the Sweet 16. The Tar Heels are 0-2 against the Jayhawks since Williams became their coach. KU beat UNC in the national semifinals in 2008 and again in the Elite Eight last season.
A lot of the attention leading into each of those games centered on the ill will that some Kansas fans held toward Williams for leaving in 2003, just two years after vowing he’d retire at Kansas. “Benedict Roy” shirts were a hot seller in Lawrence. One barbershop owner went so far as to hang Williams’ picture above his toilet.
This season, though, most of the buzz during Saturday’s news conference centered around the actual game. That had to have been refreshing to both Williams and KU coach Bill Self, who coached for three seasons at Illinois before taking over for Williams.
“Nobody can ever take away that he did a fabulous job and ran a first-class program [at Kansas],” Self said. “Anybody that doesn’t feel that way isn’t real, because that’s the reality of it.
“Since we’ve had a chance to play a couple of times in the tournament, I think there were some story lines [before] that probably aren’t as good of a story line now.”
Self has certainly made it easy for KU fans to move on. By beating No. 16 seed Western Kentucky Friday, Self became the first coach in history to guide his team to four consecutive 30-win seasons. (It should be noted that John Calipari accomplished the feat from 2006-09, but the Tigers’ wins from the 2007-08 season were vacated.)
Kansas has also won nine straight Big 12 titles under Self and one national championship. Self is 299-58 (.838) during his tenure at KU, while Williams is 282-78 with six ACC championships and two NCAA titles at North Carolina.
As much as he hopes to win Saturday’s game, Williams has made it clear that he doesn’t enjoy playing Kansas.
“It’s not immoral to love two schools,” Williams said. “Someone asked me the other day if I would ever consider coming and playing a home-and-home against Kansas. I said no. My athletic director would understand and the Pope will understand, because I will never walk out of that far tunnel. That will never happen.
“I said this before I left Kansas: 'The day I ever walk into Allen Fieldhouse and don’t get cold chills, I’ll know it’s time to stop.' I feel the same way about the Smith Center. If I walk out on game night and don’t have cold chills, I’ll quit."
Kansas City news and notes:
North Carolina’s switch to a smaller lineup earlier this season could make things difficult for KU center Jeff Withey, who will likely have to guard players such as James Michael McAdoo outside of the paint from time to time. Withey said the shortage of true centers in the Big 12 has forced him to become a better perimeter defender. “I’ve definitely gotten used to it,” Withey said. “I’ve had to learn to guard and move my feet.”
Kansas leading scorer Ben McLemore is averaging just seven points in his past three games -- more than nine points below his average of 16.2. He had just 11 points in 32 minutes against Western Kentucky on Friday, when he only attempted five shots. “He’s young,” Self said of McLemore, a redshirt freshman. “Obviously this is his first time on a big stage. He’s capable of doing it all. When he’s aggressive, we’re better. We’ve just got to get him to be more aggressive.”
Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson celebrated Friday’s victory over Wisconsin by hanging out with some of his friends at a bar across the street from the arena. Photos of Henderson (who was holding a clear cup containing a red drink) ended up on Twitter, which prompted Rebels AD Ross Bjork to summon Henderson back to the team hotel. “It wasn’t like he was guzzling a beer,” Bjork said. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy was asked if he approved of Henderson hanging out in bars in between NCAA tournament games. “He’s 22 years old,” Kennedy said of Henderson. “I didn’t give him an alcohol sobriety test. We didn’t make him recite his ABCs backward, but I know this. I know we had a pretty intense 10 o’clock meeting and he was involved in it, as they all were.”
LaSalle coach John Giannini said playing in the “First Four” has been beneficial to his team. The No. 13 seed Explorers upset No. 4-seeded Kansas State on Friday. “You’re certainly in a better rhythm,” Giannini said. “If you look at yesterday’s game, it perfectly demonstrated the advantages and disadvantages. One team was really in a rhythm in the first half. There is an advantage to having played, working out some nerves and being comfortable on the court.”