CHAPEL HILL —All this talk of rivalries lately in the Triangle, and there has been no mention of North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams’ one true nemesis in this world.
Open to discussing his dislike of N.C. State — rivalry or not — Williams has taken his blood feud with timeouts to a new level in the past two weeks, shunning the timeout for more than 140 minutes of game time. Williams last called one to set up a shot with four seconds remaining in the first half of Carolina’s win over Pittsburgh on Feb. 3.
Williams was unaware of his streak until Friday afternoon, when the coach met with reporters before the Tar Heels’ visit to Louisville tonight.
Viewed by many as a way to stop momentum for opponents, let players catch a break or just to talk things over, Williams shrugged off the importance of calling for a break.
“If I call timeout, I’m just going to yell at them,” he said.
Not when Duke ran out to a 40-28 lead in Chapel Hill, not when N.C. State drew within 2 points late in the game Feb. 10 in Raleigh and not even in the first half of that game when the Wolfpack ran off a 19-0 run to take the lead.
“I was so mad then, I wasn’t going to call timeout,” Williams said.
He said he could sense his assistants might have wanted to call one, glancing over at Steve Robinson, who had sat up in his chair looking at Williams. But he never sensed that his players wanted him to call one, and according to Kenny Williams, no one on the court expected a bailout from the sideline.
“I know his philosophy,” the junior guard said. “If we can play ourselves into that hole, we can play ourselves out. That’s what we had to do, come together on the court and figure it out.”
Because of rule changes, only players on the court are allowed to call timeouts when the ball is in play. So, even with the power to make the call to head to the sidelines and get their bearings, the thought never crossed Kenny Williams’ mind.
“Honestly, I’ve never — since I’ve been here — thought about calling a timeout,” he said. “Ever. It’s not even because Coach says not to, it’s just he’s going to call it when he’s ready.”
Williams pointed to an anecdote from his book, back to his last high school game at Asheville Roberson, when his coach, Buddy Baldwin, drew up the final play for him.
Williams was to inbound the ball and would get it right back with the direction of “make a play.”
“I coach for the moment, I really do, and timeouts have never been a big thing for me,” he said.
He added another feather to that cap in March 2017 when, previously questioned for not calling a timeout by assistant Brad Frederick, Williams decided to let Carolina run after Kentucky tied the score in the South Regional final of the NCAA tournament. Theo Pinson took off, and made a play, finding Luke Maye for the game-winning shot.
Against State, with the Wolfpack closing within 2 points late in the game, Williams chose not to run a set and Kenny Williams knocked down a 3-pointer.
“We played basketball and Kenny made a big shot,” he said.
That flows into a philosophical discussion of what coaching actually is. Is it managing every variable of a possession and running a strictly regimented system? Or is it preparing your team to work within a basic framework, putting more onus on the players through trial and error?
Both have been successful in college basketball, but Williams certainly leans toward the latter.
“I do try to put them in situations where I can give them a little advantage and let them play,” he said. “I feel I have just as much control over my club as I do a guy that calls a play every time, because we work on talking about the quality of the shot.”
So, when Williams hangs it up, he can add the three-game winning streak over timeouts to his laundry list of accolades.
But that streak might not be over any time soon, with dreams of possibly finishing the whole dadgum season without one.
“Oh, I could,” he said, laughing.
Or maybe, he’ll take it the other way to stick it to his critics.
“One of these days I’m going to call four timeouts in the first four minutes just to see what the hell it felt like,” he said.