Local News

Williams' Kansas Farewell Marked By Cheers, Tears, Jeers

Posted May 2, 2003

— Sure, Roy Williams thought about staying in North Carolina.

Why, he wondered, should he risk the wrath of the Kansas fans, whose cries of "We love you, Roy" turned to howls of outrage when the longtime basketball coach decided he couldn't turn down the Tar Heels for the second time in three years?

But come back he did, for Kansas' team banquet and awards ceremony Thursday night - and not even a lone cry of "traitor" from the audience could spoil his evening.

He received a standing ovation from the crowd of about 2,000, signed autographs and shook hands for about 15 minutes after the 2 1/2-hour ceremony - and spent a good part of the night close to tears.

"I will admit that it's difficult," Williams said. "The easy way out would have been not to come, but I would never do that to these players, because that would not show the respect for these players and what they did and what they mean to me."

Williams flew to Chapel Hill on Monday for the announcement that he was going back to his alma mater after 15 seasons in Lawrence.

He returned Wednesday after receiving an invitation to the ceremony and banquet from Kansas chancellor Robert Hemenway.

On Thursday, several players from past Kansas teams were on hand to greet Williams with hugs when buses carrying the former coach and the team arrived at the university's Lied Center for the Performing Arts.

"Here's a man who gave us 15 years of his life and had enough guts to come back and pay his respects to what this team was able to do," said former Jayhawks guard Rex Walters, who played seven seasons in the NBA after graduating in 1993. "A lot of coaches would have headed out of town and not come back."

Still, Williams was nervous when he sat down at the start of the ceremony.

"When I walked in, I was sort of a chicken," he said. "I wanted to come in in the middle of the players because I didn't think people would boo the players."

When Williams was introduced, several people rattled newspapers in front of their faces, as fans at Allen Fieldhouse do during the announcement of an opponent's starting lineup. As the ovation died down after Williams' remarks, a man in the second balcony of the concert hall yelled, "traitor!"

Dave Collison, father of star forward and team MVP Nick Collison, drew cheers when he stood and told the protester: "You should be ashamed of yourself."

Nick Collison defended his former coach during the ceremony.

"This is the same man I said all those nice things about on Senior Night," Collison said. "I still feel the same way."

Kansas' returning players, many of whom looked grim when Williams was introduced, hugged him after his speech.

"I ain't going to lie," point guard Aaron Miles said. "I was kind of mad at first ... but everyone's got dreams and goals, and you going to North Carolina is a dream of yours. I wish you well, but it's unfortunate you're not going to be a part of this special program anymore."

The Jayhawks (30-8) advanced to the NCAA title game before losing to Syracuse. It was the fourth Final Four appearance for the school in Williams' 15 seasons there.

Some Kansas fans viewed Williams' return to Lawrence as a class act. Others called it another slap in the face of the players.

"People say: 'He's just out to get attention,'" Williams said at a news conference after the awards ceremony. "Anyone who says that doesn't know Roy Williams."

Williams said he planned to leave Lawrence early Friday - but not for Chapel Hill.

"I'm going to the beach," he said, his voice breaking again. "I'm just going to sit there and think of 15 great, great years."


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