It’s safe to say Roy Williams’ annual preseason meeting with the media Thursday was the strangest of his 25-year head coaching career.

Obviously, the first question was about Williams’ health, and he revealed some details of the scary 24-day period when there was a “95 percent chance” he had  cancer in one or both kidneys.

And, after that was over, more than half of the Q&A with the assembled media was taken up by questions from News & Observer investigative reporter Dan Kane, who heads up coverage of the UNC academic scandal for the Raleigh paper.

Williams said he suffered from heartburn discomfort over the summer and, after his regular check-up and two X-rays, was told he had a mass in his right kidney that was likely cancerous. Surgery was scheduled for September 20, and Ol’ Roy went on a pe-arranged golf trip with his Foxhole Buddies.
“I’ve always said when I croak, I want to birdie the last hole I play and then keel over,” he joked, adding that he had a short birdie putt on the final hole of the trip and was torn over making it. He missed and admitted being relieved.
As we know now, the mass was benign, an oncocytoma that looks like a cancerous renal carcinoma in most x-rays and scans, and is not in only 3-7 percent of cases. That increased the chances that tumor in his left kidney was also benign, which it turned out to be after a biopsy taken two weeks later.
“The doctors said I was a lucky guy,” Williams sighed, “and I already knew that. I’ve always said I have lived a charmed life.”
For now, Williams is working 4-5 hours a day but pledges to be at full strength by the season so he “can coach this team.” That’s what he promised his players when he gave them the dire diagnosis, and while he still plans to coach 6-10 more years he also said the experience has “changed me, and I will try to smell the roses a lot more.” The time with his family during the ordeal was especially poignant.
Mike Krzyzewski called three times, Wake Forest’s Jeff Bzdelik sent ice cream and Williams received well-wishes from dozens of other coaches and hundreds of fans. That story over, Williams was eager to talk about his young team which lost 4 of the top 17 players drafted by the NBA in 2012 and will be one of the youngest he’s ever had at point guard and in the middle.

He likes 6-foot freshman Marcus Paige, who wears No. 5 and is a lefty, which are the only similarities to departed assist-meister Kendall Marshall. But the “little rascal” is expected to be Carolina’s floor leader when the season opens against Gardner Webb on November 9. Williams also promised fans will love freshman center Joel James, who is 6-10 and slimmed down from 310 pounds to 270.
“He only started playing as a sophomore in high school and he’s had less basketball instruction than any player I’ve ever had,” Williams said. “But I told him Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Apparently the upside, like James, is enormous.
In between kidneys and coaching, Williams spent about 10 minutes answering Kane, who seems bent on extending the academic scandal from the football program into basketball and other sports at UNC. Kane asked Williams if he knew why some of his players had been in the so-called aberrant AFAM classes before 2009 but none since. “Did you find out something?” Kane said.
Williams had been briefed that Kane was there and remained patient with his answers, repeating that “some mistakes were made” but he has been proud of what the university does academically since his days as a student there.
Asked about the scandal for months, Williams maintains that he’s not as concerned with what courses his players take as if they attended class, do the work assigned and get a passing grade. That hasn’t been good enough for Kane, who sees this as some kind of conspiracy to help athletes.
I spoke with him afterward and, acknowledging that Chancellor Holden Thorp has admitted classes were not taught as described in the UNC catalogue and has fired at least five people over it, wondered did Kane get the distinction Williams has been making. Kane wouldn’t answer; guess he likes asking better.
He was defensive, understandable while chasing such an unpopular story in a room full of sports media, but Kane reiterated that these classes were “bogus” and some athletes were in them. Clearly, he was not satisfied with the steps UNC has taken to correct what Thorp described as certain students being “cheated out of a Carolina education.”
But not necessarily cheating. Kane would not tell me where he went to college, as I tried to determine if he understood that the problems at UNC are not only endemic to athletics but to college life in general. Most students find the crip courses and easy teachers and they cluster in those classes, whether athletes, fratty baggers or dorm rats. Who among us hasn’t taken at least one of those courses?

Students find them from other students and, sometimes, from their academic advisors. Now, they can find them on the Internet.
Athletes find them from other athletes and, yes, may have been steered toward them by their advisors. Especially athletes who come in as academic exceptions and need help to make progress toward graduation and stay eligible. It happens at Carolina, N.C. State and even at Duke, believe it or not!
It is Dan Kane’s job to stay on the story, but given how Carolina has responded, canned the culprits and made the changes, it is fast becoming a non-story that has hurt a university’s reputation far beyond what is deserved. If you want to say something stinks, it’s the moneyed pressure of big-time college athletics.
Even Kane implied the story was likely at a dead end because many of those so-called bogus classes did not meet more than once and assigned students to write papers to turn in at the end of the semester.
“Do you know what the retention rule for keeping those papers is?” Kane asked. “One year.”
In other words, Governor Martin and the similar committees investigating past academic transgressions aren’t going to find any proof of anything. And the university is doing what it should be doing – fixing the problems and moving on.