UNC coach Roy Williams won his 800th game as a college basketball coach Monday, which got me thinking about an interview I did with Williams a few years ago about how he got started at Chapel Hill.
Williams grew up near Asheville, raised primarily by his mother. He was a standout basketball player in high school but did not think he was going to college originally. I will let him tell the rest, including the part about the square dance he performed at Cameron Indoor Stadium as a high school senior 50 years ago.
This is how Williams remembered it:
“When I was growing up in western North Carolina near Asheville, I never even thought about going to college until I was in high school. It just wasn’t part of what we talked about in my family. I thought I would go to work in a sawmill like everybody else.
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“But Buddy Baldwin was my high school basketball coach and my history teacher, and he was also a UNC graduate. He loved the Tar Heels....
“The first time I set foot on the UNC campus came in 1967 during the fall of my senior year. I was on our high school square-dance team. I know it sounds comical, but it’s true. We came to Durham for a performance at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Yes, I square-danced at Duke. It was the Duke Folk Festival. Joan Baez and Janis Joplin were there, too, as headline acts. You can bet the Roberson High square-dance team wasn’t a headliner, but we did perform on stage in Cameron.
“I had never been to either Duke or UNC. The next day after our performance, Miss Weir, the teacher who was the sponsor of the square-dance team, brought us to Chapel Hill. She pulled me aside after we saw the campus and said, ‘This is where I want you go to school. This is where you belong.’
“By then, I had decided that I wanted to go to college. So I came to Carolina, mostly because Buddy Baldwin and people like Miss Weir felt it would be a great place for me.”
Williams ultimately would make the UNC freshman basketball team and would learn how to coach from another beloved mentor in Dean Smith. And now 800 wins later, at age 66, he’s ‘Ol’ Roy’ – a legend in his field. If not for those high school teachers and coaches who encouraged him – and that square-dancing trip – none of it would have happened.