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Roy Williams wonders: Where's the love, Jayhawks?

SAN ANTONIO, Texas

Thirty-six years in Chapel Hill, N.C., and they named an arena after Dean Smith. Twenty-eight years in Los Angeles, and they rededicated a basketball court in honor of John Wooden.

Fifteen years in Lawrence, Kan., and Roy Williams has the Roy Room to show for it.

Admittedly, this particular room at the Downtown Barbershop is small and the ambience ain't all that special, but it does have a place to sit with a view of a Williams portrait on the wall.

"Let's be honest," Williams said Friday on the eve of the Final Four, "if somebody puts your picture up over the commode, that doesn't make you feel good."

Now there's no need for Williams to get his Jockeys in a knot, said John Amyx the proprietor of the Downtown Barbershop. It was done more in jest than bitterness. And, besides, the portrait isn't directly over the toilet.

"The only rooms we had were a bathroom and a closet, and putting him in the closet gave it a whole different sound," Amyx said. "We always thought if he stayed here long enough, he'd have a building named after him.

"But he left us feeling like a jilted lover. He was the thief in the night who stole our hearts."

•••

Five years later, you would think they had gotten over Williams in Kansas. Five years later, you would think the past had been forgotten and the wounds had healed.

"You would think so," said Jeremy Case, the lone Williams recruit still playing for Kansas. "But it doesn't seem that way."

Welcome to the 2008 Final Four, also known as the nightmare that won't end. Just when Williams, 57, thought he had put enough distance between himself and his old job, North Carolina and Kansas meet tonight in the national semifinals. It is the first Final Four for the Jayhawks since Williams left, and the first time the Tar Heels coach will cross paths with the school that gave him his big break 20 years ago.

Back then, Williams was a nondescript assistant coach at North Carolina who was, amazingly enough, hired to take over the defending national champions in Lawrence.

Over the next 15 years, Williams would win nine conference titles, make it to four Final Fours and reach 400 victories faster than any coach in history.

For folks in Kansas, his success had a certain symmetry. A generation earlier, a Kansas grad named Dean Smith had left for North Carolina and became the most prolific winner college basketball had ever seen. So now a North Carolina grad had come to Kansas to seemingly repay the debt.

"Those people gave me a chance," Williams said. "It's a place I loved for 15 years."

They say in Kansas that it wasn't Williams leaving that hurt so much, but rather the way he left. In 2000, the Carolina job had opened up and Williams famously debated for a week whether to take it.

When Williams called a news conference late on a Friday night, more than 15,000 people showed up at the Kansas football stadium to watch a video feed on the Jumbotron.

"I'm staying," he said, and the rest was drowned out by cheers.

His loyalty to Kansas was tested once more in 2003 when Carolina came calling again. He had taken Kansas to the Final Four and had just lost in the championship game to Syracuse when reporter Bonnie Bernstein asked Williams on network television about his interest in the Tar Heels job.

"I could give a s- - - about North Carolina right now," Williams said.

A week later, he was the new Tar Heels coach.

"I think most people are over it now, but there are still the ones who want the T-shirts that say, 'Let's beat the Tar out of Roy,'  " said Janet Muggy, owner of the Jayhawk Bookstore in Lawrence. "We all knew that North Carolina was his home, so I don't think that surprised anybody. It was the way it happened that bothered so many people. Saying, 'I don't give a s- - - about Carolina' and then leaving a few days later."

For a basketball coach, Williams is remarkably thin-skinned. He cares what others think of him. Cares way too much. It's why he stewed over the Carolina decision for too long in '00 and again in '03.

It's why he told a Kansas City Star reporter that he couldn't sleep and was throwing up in the middle of the night in the first days after arriving at North Carolina.

There were other factors in his decision to leave Kansas. Williams had not gotten along with a recently departed athletic director and acknowledged that was a frustration. He also wanted to get closer to home because his father and sister were in poor health. Both have since passed away.

Mostly, Williams cannot understand the fixation on his departure instead of his tenure. He loves what Kansas offered him and wishes Jayhawks fans could love him in return.

"I can put it to you this way: In my summer camp we have a lot of little kids running around and they're instructed on the first day, they can wear North Carolina stuff or they can wear Kansas stuff, but they can't wear anybody else's stuff," Williams said. "And that's the way I'm always going to be. I'm always going to be a huge Kansas fan. There were some things said or done that hurt at first, but time has a way of healing things and I am hopeful it will heal with some people that still have some bad feelings.

"Some of the greatest memories in my life were at Kansas. I'm never going to lose that. I'm never going to lose their appreciation for basketball, their passion for basketball."

Even when that passion is used against him.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Tonight's semifinals

6:07: (1) UCLA vs.

(1) Memphis

8:47: (1) North Carolina vs. (1) Kansas

TV/radio: Ch. 10; 1010-AM

How they match up

Who has the edge? Brian Landman breaks down the games. 10C

Hansbrough is top player

North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough has a busy day picking up player of the year awards. 10C

Roy Williams wonders: Where's the love, Jayhawks? 04/04/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 7, 2008 12:12pm]
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