Roy Williams’ “lamp story” best illuminates how much in need the UNC basketball offices were of expanding and upgrading.
“When we moved into the Smith Center,” Williams said of his days as an assistant in 1986, “I carried a lamp into Coach Smith’s office and put it on his desk.
“When we moved out to begin the renovations,” said the man who had ascended to the head-coaching job in 2003, “I picked up the same lamp and carried it out of the office.”
Williams and his staff moved to temporary quarters and immersed themselves in turning the inconsistent 2010 NIT finalists into a squad that won the 2011 ACC regular season and reached the East Regional championship game before losing a close one to Kentucky. Williams walked through the construction site one time, saying, “Just tell me when we can move back in.”
They returned to their enlarged and renovated suite a few months ago, and it is difficult to imagine any nicer coaching digs in the country. A majestic outside entrance has replaced non-descript glass doors from the 1980s. A bust of Dean Smith sits outside the luxurious, welcoming main lobby with a large front desk and a giant acrylic interlocking NC behind it, high definition flat screens on the walls to the left.
A 70-inch screen is the center piece of the lobby, which is more like a mini-museum. On game days and recruiting weekends, it shows hi-def highlights of recent Carolina basketball teams. Along the right side of the lobby are monuments to each of UNC’s six national championships, from 1924 through 2009, overlooked by a magnificent photo collage of Tar Heels heroes of the last 40 years.
It cost more than $7 million to push out the glass exterior wall into the walkway between the Smith Center and Koury Natatorium and turn the once cramped coaching space into a palatial state-of-the-art suite in every imaginable way, from that front lobby to a wide hallway with assistant coaching offices on the right, kitchen and meetings rooms and more offices to the left.
The head coach’s headquarters, about three times the size of Smith’s original office, is at the end of the hallway. It has couches, comfortable chairs, a large desk, pictures and memorabilia galore, and opens to a patio with grills and tables, where Williams can entertain players, his staff, recruits and their families.
The patio looks out over the narrowed walkway between the basketball arena and natatorium. A brand new bricked pathway has replaced cracked concrete squares and has been renamed “Lettermen’s Lane.” Each decade of Carolina Basketball since 1910 is honored by Alexander Julian-inspired, argyle-covered columns and silver metal weather-proof plaques with the names of every Tar Heel player and manager during those years.
The office suite, renovated locker room and training facilities downstairs, plus the Carolina Basketball Museum in the adjacent Williamson Center that opened three years ago, cost about $12 million dollars and are the major work done to the basketball complex in the last 25 years. Compare that to the $100 million spent on the so-called “de-emphasized” football program since 2007, during which the Tar Heels posted a losing ACC record while the basketball team won five ACC regular-season and/or tournament championships and Williams’ second NCAA title.
One could hardly blame Williams for thinking that, under such a comparison, anyone claiming football at UNC is being deemphasized only embarrasses his basketball program.
Inside the arena, since Williams arrived, many of the baby blue seats have been replaced, the four video boards upgraded from the old screens that had broken panes, murals added over all four entrances and the lighting and sound system enhanced, but there remains a lot to be done with the most visible aspect of UNC Basketball.
One LED board is on each side of the fascia to the upper deck. These are single panels unlike full ribbon boards that encircle most new or renovated arenas. Instead, UNC has two that show amateurish messages like “Make Some Noise” along with the graphics of UNC players after they do something special on the court. The Smith Center’s version of the “office lamp” still remain — two outdated, washed out blue University of North Carolina signs alongside each LED panel. Like the lamp, they’ve been there from Day One and have got to go.
But at least the movement into the 21st century has begun with the extreme makeover of Williams’ suite, which by all reason should impress visitors and recruits as much as Duke’s six-story basketball tower, where Coaching King Mike Krzyzewski sits at the top in his glass-enclosed office, accessible only by a pre-programmed thumb-print outside the elevator, as he surveys the courtyard in his name below, the next-door practice facility in his name and the entire campus, which some day may be also in his name (kidding, I think).
“I don’t know,” Williams said when asked what impresses young recruits and their families these days. “Everyone knows how I feel about Coach Smith, but he was reluctant to make major changes everywhere but on the court.”
The protégé wonders how Smith could have handled it today, with the Internet tracking recruiting flights, instantly reporting what questions coaches ask during supposedly private home visits, and generally everyone who follows it knowing something about everyone else’s business.
Williams, who turned 61 this month and maintains the same rigorous recruiting schedule he has always kept, has what is expected to be another “big-time team” with all five starters back bolstered by a deep bench, the near-consensus pick for No. 1 in the preseason polls.
As a reminder to an ever-bright future, walking into his Star Wars style suite every morning must make him feel like a Jedi Master. May the force be with him, especially when taking on the dark side from Durham.