Raleigh, N.C. — After several state lawmakers praised the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill basketball team Wednesday for winning the NCAA championship last month, Tar Heels coach Roy Williams told the assembled legislators that they needed to exhibit the same type of teamwork in trying to move the state forward.
The House and the Senate met in a joint session to adopt a resolution honoring the team for rising above a last-second loss in the 2016 national championship to capture the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season crown and then fight their way back to the NCAA title game, where they defeated Gonzaga University.
"We may have had some more gifted, more talented teams but none that played as well on game night, none that played as well under difficult circumstances," Williams said. "This team made sacrifices toward a common goal. You folks in here [the General Assembly] are faced with decisions every day, and I hope that you'll think about the common goal and be disciplined and make sacrifices."
Education needs to be improved in North Carolina, and lawmakers need to work together to accomplish that goal, he said.
"What you do to help our state is the most important thing going on," he said. "We need your help in a lot of ways. We need you to reach across the aisle to work together as a team."
Williams also tweaked lawmakers during his speech, especially those who are fans of North Carolina State University or Duke University.
"It was very satisfying to coach this team, and it's really very satisfying to look around here and see a few people wearing red, because I know you really don't want to be here today, and I tell you, that satisfies me right down to my core," a chuckling Williams said, eliciting loud laughter and applause. "There may be some other ones not necessarily just wearing red. It could be a darker shade of blue, and that's OK, too.
"I love the fact that you're sitting there saying, 'I wish he'd shut up and get the crap out of here.'"
Earlier, nine lawmakers, some of whom graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill, lauded Williams and his players for their hard work and determination to get back to the NCAA championship after a heartbreaking loss.
"More than any other team that I remember since 1966, you embody what we mean by the 'Carolina way,' not just for winning but for winning the way you did," said Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange.
Rep. Greg Murphy, R-Pitt, read his own version of the poem "Twas the Night Before Christmas" to recap the Tar Heels' season, garnering a standing ovation.
Sen. Tamara Barringer, R-Wake, said she has had many basketball players in the classes she teaches at UNC-Chapel Hill, noting they "are just as fierce in the classroom as they are on the court."
Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, thanked the players for the work they do in the community, such as working with youngsters at various basketball camps.
"I congratulate you for your big victory this year, but I also congratulate you for the men that you're raising, Coach Williams, and the family that you are," Jackson said.
Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, jokingly tried to add an amendment to the resolution honoring the team that would require junior guard Theo Pinson and freshman forward Tony Bradley to return to the 2017-18 Tar Heels team. Both had said they would explore their options in the NBA Draft, but Pinson this week said he would be back for his senior season.
Williams predicted Pinson would one day be sitting in the legislature as a member instead of as an honored guest.
"He has a game, but he can talk better than anyone, so just get ready because Theo Pinson is going to be sitting beside you," Williams said, with Pinson nodding his head in agreement.
Gov. Roy Cooper also hosted the team at the Executive Mansion on Wednesday morning, signing a proclamation in their honor.
"We're grateful for the perseverance and the dedication and the courage that this team showed, even with when they got behind and were playing poorly, they kept working hard. That's an example for all of us in everything we do," Cooper said.