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Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Woodling

Woodling: Family ties influenced decision

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Many of those who wondered what Roy Williams would do -- including me -- figured if Williams followed his heart he would go to North Carolina, but if he used his brain he would remain at Kansas University.

If Williams bolted for North Carolina, it was reasoned, he would have to operate under the considerable shadow of Dean Smith as just another successor to a legend, whereas at Kansas he was in the process of forming his own legacy, if he hadn't already.

Someday, it was assumed, Williams' statue would flank Phog Allen's outside Allen Fieldhouse. Who knows? They might have renamed the venerable barn Allen-Williams Fieldhouse. At the very least, they would have renamed the interior Roy Williams Court.

None of that will happen now. No memorializing. Just a painting of Williams hanging among the many other KU Athletic Hall of Famers on the walls of Allen Fieldhouse.

Frankly, I was shocked Williams left.

But that was before I knew there was an X-factor -- a reason I hadn't known about until Monday when I talked to Dana Anderson, the Los Angeles businessman and KU benefactor who played host to Williams during the weekend.

Anderson mentioned Williams was concerned about his father and sister in North Carolina, that his father was ill and his sister was in need of assisted-living care. When Williams met with his players on Monday afternoon, he told them about his father and sister and how they had played a large role in his decision to leave.

When Williams had mentioned his family in the past, most people assumed he was talking about his wife Wanda, daughter Kimberly and son Scott. Also in the mix, however, were his ailing father and his sister -- 57-year-old Frances Baker who lives in Charlotte and is suffering from dementia.

Many people know Williams' wife Wanda also has been ill from time to time and suffers from degenerative hearing.

So what is the X-factor? Mortality. Williams' agony was primarily caused by weighing his immediate family against his Kansas University basketball family. When he had to pull the trigger he finally chose blood over Crimson and Blue.

"I think the family issue was the biggest thing in his decision," a person close to the basketball program told me. "I think that had more to do with it than anything else. It's not the money. He's always said money doesn't matter."

Williams' mother died of cancer at the relatively young age of 66 in 1992, and Williams was devastated. Lallage Williams had worked at a shirt factory in Asheville, N.C., for 25 years, and had raised Roy and Frances as a single parent after his father left. Williams, in fact, did not reconcile with his father until about 10 years ago.

Sunflower Broadband Channel 6 sports director Kevin Romary put together a timeline piece Monday night that featured tape of Williams on the day he was hired back in 1988. Williams was 38 years old then and he looked more like 28. Today Williams, while still trim and vigorous, looks all of his 52 years.

Then again, maybe Williams has aged a couple of years in the last couple of weeks. He looked haggard and spent Monday afternoon as he dodged the media on his way from his office to the basketball dressing facility in Allen Fieldhouse. He had to have been exhausted.

Before he left the fieldhouse for the last time as KU's basketball coach, Williams made a surprise return visit to where the media camped out waiting for the players to emerge from a meeting with Chancellor Robert Hemenway.

Williams could have slipped away because he had parked right next to the closest entrance to his office in Parrott Complex. Instead, he took a circuitous route and thanked the media, telling them to turn off their recorders and cameras, that he just wanted to thank them, that's all.

He didn't have to do that. But he did. And he did because he is, well ... because he's Roy Williams.

Some 25 or so years ago, Kansas State men's basketball coach Jack Hartman had a hankering to return to Oklahoma State, his alma mater. Hartman went so far as to go to Stillwater for the news conference announcing he would take over at OSU.

On the flight back to Manhattan, Hartman changed his mind and remained at Kansas State.

In a similar vein, who can forget that strange week in 1995 when Kansas football coach Glen Mason went to Athens, Ga., for a news conference announcing he would become Georgia's new football coach? Seven days later, Mason changed his mind and KU took him back.

I'm sure many heartsick Kansas basketball fans are hoping today that Williams will emulate Hartman or Mason, realize he made a mistake and return to continue his legacy at Kansas.

Right now, that's about all they have to cling to.

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