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That KU Comparison

That KU Comparison

You can listen to all of Art’s “Sports Notebook” radio spots here


Carolina and Kansas are in the college basketball news again, this time over the commitment of top recruit Andrew Wiggins to play for the Jayhawks and not the Tar Heels in his obvious and upcoming one-and-done season.

It’s becoming a small irritant to many Tar Heel fans, who expend most of their energy hating on Duke and scoffing at N.C. State. Kansas is in the Big 12 and a time zone away, but KU and UNC have remained tied at the hip since Roy Williams left Lawrence in 2003 to return to his alma mater.

First, there was the hoo-ha over ol’ Roy coming home after he had first turned the job down in 2000. Williams pledged to remain at Kansas until he “died or retired.” But KU angered him by forcing out his mentor and the man who had gambled his entire career on hiring Williams in 1988, athletic director Bob Frederick. Then the school’s new AD, Al Bohl, fired football coach Terry Allen in mid-season. That’s a no-no in ol’ Roy’s book of loyalty.

Had Williams come back in 2000, UNC would have been spared the Matt Doherty era. But Roy turned the resentment he felt from some Carolina fans into resiliency as the Tar Heels won his first, and the school’s fourth, NCAA title in his second year. Now Jayhawk Nation remained mad at him, especially since successor Bill Self struggled early with two embarrassing first-round outs from the Big Dance.

The manure hit the fan in 2008, when the two top-seeded programs met in the Final Four at San Antonio, where the Tar Heels inexplicably fell behind by 28 points in the first half and fell short in their second half rally. Williams then stayed in Texas to cheer on his old school against Memphis, wearing a KU sticker while sitting in the UNC section (among Tar Heels who also stuck around town).

Carolina won another national championship in 2009, but the worm has turned since then. Kansas continued its current string of nine straight Big 12 regular-season championships, returned to the Final Four in 2012 and routed the Tar Heels in the second half of their NCAA third-round game last March after KU dispatched the hurting Heels in the regional championship game the year before. That makes the head-to-head score Self 3, Williams 0.

And, this week, Kansas beat UNC, Kentucky and Florida State to reel in what jubilant Jayhawk fans are calling the biggest recruiting catch in KU history.

That’s a little much for the talented 6-7 Wiggins, who according to NBA scouts would be the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft if he were eligible. Claiming Wiggins’ expected one year at Kansas is bigger than the signing of KU legends Clyde Lovellette and Danny Manning is pure hype, unless Wiggins can lead the Jayhawks to an NCAA title as Lovellette and Manning did their senior years.

But Wiggins not coming to Chapel Hill, when Reggie Bullock’s departure opened up a starting position, is troubling for a couple of reasons.

One is that the Tar Heels have slipped in recruiting since signing Harrison Barnes in 2010. Heretofore, Williams hasn’t seemed interested in the acknowledged one-and-dones, but he did go after Wiggins hard to help rebound from what was a disappointing season in 2013. Carolina has another good freshman class coming in, led by North Carolina Player of the Year Isaiah Hicks, a 6-9 super-talent who may be too slim to be an impact player his first season.

The other, more subtle, problem is comparing Williams’ first 10 seasons back at UNC to his first 12 at Kansas, where it took him a year to get the Jayhawks rolling after inheriting a probation-laden program in 1988 – the same year KU won the NCAA championship, graduated Manning and lost coach Larry Brown to the NBA.

At Kansas, Williams’ run between 1990 and 1998 made him the winningest active coach in America and the fastest to reach 300 career victories. His Jayhawks went to two early Final Fours and suffered some heartbreaking defeats tying to get back there in the late 1990s. But his program tailed off in 1999 and 2000, losing 10 games each season and its second game of the NCAA Tournament both years. Most strikingly, neither team’s leading scorer averaged as many as 14 points. That was a sure indication of a loss in star power.

Williams says he would have returned to Carolina after the 1998 or 1999 seasons had Bill Guthridge decided to retire earlier than he did. Williams had become disillusioned with recruiting in the Big 12, where a crooked AAU coach named Myron Piggie was controlling a lot of top prospects. But the signing of freshmen Nick Collision, Drew Gooden and Kirk Hinrich restored his faith in recruiting, and ol Roy’s last two Jayhawk teams returned to the Final Four.

At UNC, a similar scenario could be unfolding with the new conundrum over taking one-year players. Last season, the Tar Heels were caught short on talent after losing four starters to the first round of the 2012 NBA draft. They had more than nine losses (25-11) for the second time in four years or since the 2010 team went 20-17 after losing four more starters to the NBA.

No player averaged 15 points last season, with Bullock, P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo hovering around 14 ppg. Like during the dip at KU, that also shows a lack of star power, and the Tar Heels will be counting on Hairston and McAdoo to step up their games and become big-time scorers this coming season.

Carolina has certainly been close recently, reaching two Elite Eight games and avoiding disaster last season by going to a four-guard lineup and shooting more three-pointers than usual. But Williams needs to follow through on the pattern he set at Kansas – that is, rebounding from a mediocre stretch by recruiting and/or developing some true college stars and getting back to more Final Fours.

And, if they should meet again, kick KU’s butt.


Feature image by Todd Melet


  1. Charles

    Great article! I am a North Carolina native and die hard UNC fan. I currently live in Kansas. No one knows better than I do about ourr struggles against K.U. as of late. I were Tar Heel Blue proudly in the heart of Big 12 country. Go Heels!

  2. Jim

    Art, Another great article. I was surprised when Reggie decided to leave early for the NBA and I thought Wiggins might opt for Carolina. I am not a fan of the Calipari system either, but was reall y puzzled by Roy’s seeming indifference toward John Wall several years ago.

  3. Tom C.

    For a guy who is pretty good at doing your homework, you sure did swing and miss on the Self vs Williams stat. It’s 3-0, not 2-0.

    • Art Chansky

      Oops, duly corrected. I had repressed the 2012 loss because we were so injured.

      • Brett Z.

        Actually, its 4-1 Self. They went 1-1 against each other when Self was at Illinois and Roy at Kansas.

  4. BobLee Says

    Legitimate one&dones are rare. Every year has its Top Ten recruits and UNC has traditionally always been on their short lists (unless they are obvious academic “thugs”).

    If next years UK recruits were distributed among 4-5 programs, each would have Final Four dreams. The college bkball landscape is ever-evolving and UNC has to decide if it really wants to run its program “that way”. The university and its more rabid fans may not agree on that.

    • Jordan Rogers

      How about the BobLee Way?

      • BobLee Says

        UNC’s “more rabid fans” DEFINITELY would not agree on that. 🙂

        “The BobLee Way” would be to always have a core of upperclassmen (Jr & Srs) and augment them with the one and dones). The Butlers have proven that “good upperclassmen” can beat “great one&dones”.

        But board monkeys love the marquee recruits who pull caps out of gym bags.

        • Jordan Rogers

          The same monkeys you count on for reads?

          • BobLee Says

            No. I don’t cater to the board monkey market. My readership would be much higher if I did, but I leave that demographic to Rivals and Scout.

  5. William

    KU fans weren’t upset Roy left

    We were upset because in the middle of a final four and title run against Syracuse Dean Smith was talking to Roy about coming to chapel hill – which, in our minds, went against the way we thought Roy and Dean would have conducted themselves.

    Then, to make matters worse, Roy snuck out at night and didn’t have the respect to simply hold a press conference in Lawrence to say “Hey, I loved my time here, but UNC is calling and UNC is home” – Nope we got none of that.

    But – to your article – This was an all too familiar pattern at KU (same as holding on to time outs or not calling them to stem a run) that we all saw. At KU it was much more about Roy believing Kansas was a fly over state (which is true) and that recruits wouldn’t come here (which is false)

    There is also a very large contingent of KU fans that believe Roy agreed to not recruit the East Coast (at Dean’s request) – that belief if boistered by the fact that during Roys tenure he signed one player from the east coast area. (Self has signed 8, in less time)

    • CM

      I agree completely with your post. Dean Smith was the real villian. The fact that he couldn’t wait until after the FF to go after Roy says it all about him. And you are right about the recruiting. Had Roy recruited all players and not acquiesced to King Dean he might have had an NCAA title or two during his fifteen years at Kansas.

      • Art Chansky

        William and CM,
        You guys are nuts and unknowing. Carolina knew Roy was interested in coming back in 2003, but Coach Smith did not speak to him about it until 2 days AFTER the Syracuse game. Smith was at the game and sat with his old Kansas buddies, and consoled Roy in his suite afterward. He asked Roy if he could call him Wednesday night. That was their first conversation about the Carolina job.

        And Roy DID hold a press conference after he told the team he was leaving. Plus, the recruiting restrictions? You think Roy Williams would have taken the Kansas job under those terms? If he didn’t go after any East Coast recruits it was likely that he didn’t think he could get them.

        • CM

          Fact; Roy told the team at Allen Field House, got in his car and drove to the airport to get on a private jet for NC. There were reporters trying to ask questions in the hall as he was leaving but he was crying and didn’t want to talk. There was a presser at UNC after he arrived there but not in Lawrence.

          If you believe all of that about no contact from UNC before and during the final four I have a bridge for sale. I know you folks love Dean and that’s great but the bottom line is he threw his alma mater under the bus to make sure he got Roy.


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