LEXINGTON – Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams has been around a lot of teams. He’s won two national championships at North Carolina and knows what it takes to lead a special team to the promise land.
Following the Tar Heels’ 84-70 loss to top-ranked Kentucky last Saturday, Williams admitted it “may be even more of a challenge for John (Calipari) than anything I’ve gone through” to lead a team that features the size and depth the Wildcats possess this season.
“I’ve always said I could get nine guys enough playing time, eight easily,” he said. “Nine guys enough playing time to keep them happy. John was trying to get 10. I don’t know what he’s going to do because that’s the reason they pay him all that money, to make those big decisions like that.”
Williams said it takes a unique team, one that has “special kids” to accomplish the feat of playing unselfishly for the common good of the team and buy into the team concept.
“They have to be concerned about the name on the front of the jersey,” he said. “They have to be willing to give in. I’ve got wonderful kids in my locker room, and we’ve got to be concerned about the name on the jersey a little more.”
Williams also knows teams of destiny know how to overcome adversity. The Wildcats (11-0) rolled past North Carolina (6-3) two days after learning junior Alex Poythress had torn his ACL in practice, which turned out to be an unexpected emotional stretch for Calipari’s squad.
Williams said Kentucky’s size and athleticism make the team nearly unbeatable. Willie Cauley-Stein scored 15 points against the Tar Heels and Devin Booker knocked down three shots from long range, displaying Kentucky’s ability to play inside and out.
Williams also likes the way the Wildcats share the ball. Against his Tar Heels, Kentucky dished out 19 assists. Freshman Tyler Ulis had eight of those, followed by Andrew Harrison with five. Overall, seven of Kentucky’s nine players that played finished with at least one assist each.
“(Another) thing that’s most impressive about John’s club to me is how unselfish they appear to be,” he said. “That’s a pretty doggone good trait. When you add the size and athleticism, and add their willingness to work really hard defensively, now you’re painting a very complete picture. I think it’s the character of the kids.
“They trust John, John’s staff, and all those guys have been around for a while. I think they appear to trust the staff. If you give in, of your own selfishness, and become more unselfish with playing time, with shots and everything, at the end, players will be taken care of. I’ve really believed that.”
Williams said Kentucky’s current team reminds him of the 2009 North Carolina team that won the national championship.
“All those guys tested the waters, and they came back and trusted each other, and everybody worked out OK,” he said. “I think they’ve done a nice job with good kids.”
So far, Kentucky has bought into the team concept and is 11-0 going into Saturday’s showdown against UCLA on a neutral court in the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago.
Keith Taylor is award-wining sports editor for the Winchester Sun in Winchester, Ky. Keith was named Top Newspaper Columnist in the 2014 Readers Choice awards in Winchester and has won numerous awards from the Kentucky Press Association, with first-place awards for Best Column in 2000, 2009 and 2012. He has won 19 first-place awards and several second-and third-place awards in his 23-year career. He was runner-up for Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year 2008-10. Keith resides in Richmond with his wife Rhonda and is a member of the Berea Church of God, where he serves on the church board.