SPRINGFIELD, MASS. Between a morning ceremony when he received his official Hall of Fame blazer and an afternoon speech to a group of sixth- and seventh-graders, Roy Williams had just a few minutes to gobble down a lunch of chicken nuggets inside the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. But before his departure for that speaking engagement, the North Carolina coach paused to greet an old friend strolling through the lobby.
There was no mistaking the towering presence of former Kansas University great Clyde Lovellette. The two Hall of Famers shook hands and posed for photos. Lovellette congratulated Williams and told the coach he was proud of him. And for that instant, it seemed Lovellette was speaking for Jayhawks everywhere.
The timing couldn't have been better for Williams. The former Kansas coach who broke so many hearts when he returned to his alma mater in 2003 desperately wanted his enshrinement weekend to be a shared experience.
"It's hard to say a lot of great things about Kansas and then say a lot of great things about North Carolina," Williams said before delivering his enshrinement speech. "So I'm just going to focus on the people. And if I had to pick a hat (to wear in the Hall), I'd have one special made that would be half-Tar Heel, half-Jayhawk."
Williams - whose credentials include 530 collegiate coaching victories and a winning percentage of .802 - was surrounded by more than 80 family members and friends, including 21 of his former players.
Williams, 57, called the response from his former players "the most unique and most touching" part of his induction into the Hall of Fame. Other than memories of his mother, he said, the most emotional part of preparing his speech was balancing the feelings he has for the two schools where he has served as head coach.
Those emotions brought back memories of 2000, when he turned down the opportunity to return to Chapel Hill, and 2003, when he changed his mind and accepted an offer to succeed Matt Doherty as coach of the Tar Heels.
"Those were the two most difficult times in my life," he said Friday. "I hope to never have anything like that again. Other than sickness, injury, or death with your family, I can't imagine anything that would bother me more than that."
Joining Williams in the Hall's Class of 2007 were NBA coaching legend Phil Jackson, the 1966 NCAA champion Texas Western team, four-time WNBA championship coach Van Chancellor, former NBA referee Mendy Rudolph, and international coaches Pedro Ferrandiz of Spain and Mirko Novosel of Yugoslavia.
Williams still has many close friends in Lawrence, including Bob Frederick, the athletic director who hired him off Dean Smith's North Carolina staff and brought him to KU. Frederick arrived in Springfield on Thursday to share the weekend experience with Williams.
But Williams acknowledges there is a contingent of Kansas fans who remain "really upset with me" for leaving - and for winning the national championship in 2005 at North Carolina after four trips to the Final Four with Kansas.
"They say that time heals all wounds, and I hope that they see the kind of attention I try to give Kansas here in this process and how proud I am to have been the head coach at Kansas for such a long time," he said.
A particularly sore spot for Williams are the highlight reels that appear on the Allen Fieldhouse video board before basketball games. The editing of those videos intentionally bypasses the 15 years Williams served as KU coach.
"I've heard about that, and my initial reaction was that it did hurt me," Williams said. "In some ways, it still does. But if you look and you think about this, I'm still coaching. And we're recruiting some of the same kids. In some ways, it might not be the wisest thing to do, to put Roy Williams up on that video if a prospect that happens to be coming to visit that weekend is also considering North Carolina.
"I tend to look at that huge majority that I think is supportive and appreciative of the 15 years. I've said it, and I believe it I never cheated that place one second of one day. I gave my heart, body and soul. Perhaps over time, it will get more recognition but I think the people do appreciate it.
"Some of the things they've done, there's no question that it's hurt. But at the same time, I love that place so much. If somebody says 'Rock Chalk Jayhawk' when I'm walking through an airport, I still say, 'Go KU.' I have no problem doing that because I truly loved my 15 years. In fact it's probably the happiest 15 years of my life. I hope 20 years from now, I'm still not saying that."
The Kansas athletic department placed a full-page ad honoring Williams on page 67 on the Hall of Fame enshrinement program. The ad read: "Congratulations Coach Williams! Thanks for 15 great years from your friends at Kansas."
Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins, who wrote a congratulatory note to Williams when his election was announced in April, said there is no ill will intended toward Williams from the current administration.
"Outside of Bill (Self) the only other coaches in that video are the ones who have won national championships here at KU," said Perkins, who was unable to attend the Hall of Fame ceremony because of a commitment to a banquet in Lawrence on Friday night. "The second thing is he is an active coach, and we don't want recruits coming here and all of sudden (Williams) is up there on the screen. That didn't make any sense at all.
"The day he's not coaching any more, we would definitely put him up. Roy's a big part of our history here. People have no ill feelings toward Roy. We wish him the best. This is a well-deserved honor. Being on the board of directors at the Hall of Fame, I obviously endorse it. We're proud of Roy here at Kansas. Quite honestly, outside of winning the national championship, he's done more here at Kansas."
Williams, the fastest coach to 500 victories in Division I history, won 418 games at Kansas. He was named Big Eight or Big 12 Conference coach of the year seven times and led the Jayhawks to the Final Four in 1991, 1993, 2002 and 2003.
More than once on Friday, Williams used the term "mind-boggling" to explain the experience of being welcomed into the Hall of Fame.
Perhaps more mind-boggling for those who shared in the celebration was the fact that Williams picked up the tab - $475 to sit on the floor of the Hall of Fame - for everyone in his party.
"We didn't send out a letter to everybody asking them to attend," Williams said. "I had a hard time asking my former players to come and honor me - and paying for that ticket."
Smith and Brown escorted Williams to the podium for his speech, which lasted just over nine minutes. His voice trembled with emotion on several occasions, but he never was reduced to tears.
"People told me it wouldn't hit me until I stood up here before you," Williams said. "And they're right because this is pretty cool."
Williams spoke first about his family, starting with his mother, father and sister, who all are deceased. He referred to his mother, Lallage, as his "hero," and he expressed his love for his wife, Wanda, and his children, Scott and Kimberly. Williams also gave special recognition to his high school coach, Buddy Baldwin, who spent the day with him. He thanked Frederick and former KU chancellor Gene Budig for taking a chance on him when, "I was not even a household name in my own house."
Williams gave special notice to the fathers of Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison, both high school coaches, who traveled to the Hall of Fame for the ceremony. He credited Smith, his mentor, most of all. "Ninety-five percent of what I do came from you," he said.
Perhaps the most emotional moment came during comments to his former players. He called Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz and Jacque Vaughn "the leaders of great teams that I feel I failed because I didn't get you to the Final Four." He called Vaughn the best student-athlete he had ever known and expressed the pride he felt when Vaughn won the NBA championship this season with the San Antonio Spurs.
In conclusion, he thanked all the people there who had "made Roy Williams." Then he paused and added, "And I know Mom is watching."
¢Faces in crowd: Several former KU players attended including Hinrich, Collison, Pierce, LaFrentz, Vaughn, Lovellette, Adonis Jordan, Rex Walters, Steve Woodberry, Greg Gurley, Patrick Richey, Wayne Simien, T.J. Pugh, Ryan Robertson, C.B. McGrath and Jerod Haase.