Roy Williams to '05 Championship Team, 'You Are UNC Basketball'
When Roy Williams accepted the role as head coach at North Carolina in 2003, he entered a shadow of greatness. Williams was not only a player under legendary head coach Dean Smith, he was also an assistant coach and close confidant. Common wisdom suggests that is a recipe for success.
Williams was convinced by Smith to return home from Kansas to bring back a winning culture to UNC, and Williams delivered. After three forgettable years for the program prior to his arrival, Williams turned the the Tar Heels around in two years and brought home some special hardware -- the NCAA Championship.
The 2004-05 season was a special season in Carolina history. The season was brought on by some of Carolina’s most memorable players, Jawad Williams, Jackie Manuel, Raymond Felton, David Noel, and Melvin Scott, a team full of potential and experience.
I got a chance to sit down with some of the members of the 2004-05 championship team to take a trip down memory lane.
The former players and Williams reflected on one of the most memorable times of their lives and recounted each memory with such precision. They couldn’t help but smile about the time they brought UNC a national championship, and they couldn’t help but smile even harder when they talked about each other. As the Tar Heels work through the early part of the season that saw them as a national favorite, what can the past offer for the future?
Note: Although many answers reflect each other, all interviews were conducted separately. Their commonality in their answers just shows you how in tune they are with each other.
Roy Williams on the 2004-05 team:
"We were insulted when that article came out 'Team vs. Talent' (published by the Associated Press) for the national championship game because we felt we were very much a team; we were talented. That was a motivating thing for us the final game. The motivating thing for the season was Jawad, Melvin and Jackie, how far they had come themselves from 8-20 as freshmen and what had happened to them and where they were.
I kept telling them, we are this close, lets go and get this thing. Especially when we got in the NCAA tournament, 'We are not here to just make it, let's go get the whole blessed thing.'
The feeling of satisfaction after the game, the emotional toll that it had taken on us the entire year. Everyone was emotional from the court to the locker room.
The key thing for me was in the locker room after the game. I told them 'UNC basketball was Dean Smith,' and Coach Smith was standing there, 'UNC Basketball is Michael Jordan,' and Michael was standing there with me. Then I looked at them and said 'Now, for the rest of your life, you’re North Carolina basketball.'”
Fondest memory you have of that season:
David Noel: The time we had in Hawaii after we just lost to Santa Clara. The time in Hawaii refocused us and made us realize we had a special team and couldn’t let games deter us from our goal of winning it all.
Jawad Williams: The Final Four banquet was a great memory. We sat at our table and laughed at the other teams for being so serious. We were just enjoying the moment. We knew then that our mindset would separate us from the competition.
Raymond Felton: The obvious is winning the championship. That’s probably the most memorable moment ever.
Damien Grant: Probably when we got to Hawaii. That practice was pretty intense, probably the toughest of the year. I remember thinking back that we can accomplish so much as a team, and how good we were.
What were your expectations for that season?
David Noel: As a player, it was to be the best player I could be. I needed to be a better defensive player and be the hustle for my team. As a team, we knew we had a special team. We knew we had the talent. The expectations were very high.
Raymond Felton: The goal was to win it all. That was our expectation. I knew we had the team to win. The fact that we came together and pulled together as one, that’s something special.
Jawad Williams: We went into the summer before the 2004-05 season with a championship-or-bust mentality. We put in a lot of work that was mixed in with the motivational talks, which fueled us even more. I will never forget Mahktar Ndaiye calling us the Chapel Hill Lakers. He said, “We had all the talent and still couldn't win."
I personally wanted to be the best possible leader for my teammates. After an 8-20 freshman year, there was no way I could have imagined leaving without winning.
Damien Grant: We wanted to win. It was national championship or bust. I was finally healthy and lost 32 pounds. I wanted to go in to contribute and play my role.
In your opinion, why is this team memorable to fans?
Raymond Felton: We were a team, and we went through a lot together. We had been through so much, we are family, brothers. We all still hang out and keep in contact. It’s a bond you can never really take away.
Jawad Williams: Probably the bond we still share. Our bond was, and is, bigger than basketball. Thirteen of the 17 guys from that team still live within 30 minutes of Chapel Hill. We still hang out with each other; our kids are growing up together and we genuinely are like a family. We even take family vacations together every summer. It's almost kind of sickening how much we are still around each other, but it's the Carolina family bond.
Damien Grant: When you look at the leaders of this team Jackie, Melvin and Jawad, they were really strong leaders that came from an 8-20 season. Fans were able to see a progression of these guys over four years and a national championship. Within that short four years, they saw it go from really bad to winning it all.
What was going through your mind the last 10 seconds of the championship game?
Raymond Felton: We're almost there. Just stay steady and keep our composure. When Sean (May) got that last rebound, we knew that was it.
Jawad Williams: I was trying to figure out how I was going celebrate on the court. I had a quick flashback of all the work that was put in to get to this point.
David Noel: Don’t let these jokers hit a three. We were up five, and if you look at the guys on the floor at the time, we had a defensive team on the floor. When Sean grabbed that rebound, all I could think about was grabbing the closest person to me because we just won a national championship.
Damien Grant: We were up by five. I knew we had it; it was just a matter of closing out the game. When Sean got that rebound at the end of the game and held on to it, I knew it was game over. Everything we fought hard for that whole season, we accomplished.
What’s your current advice for this team?
Raymond Felton: Stay together and make sure you have each other’s back on and off the court. Continue to get better and make each other better. That’s why the guys on the bench were just as good as the ones starting, because we went after each other in practice, we held each other accountable.
Jawad Williams: My advice to the young guys would be to play for each other and to cherish every moment you step on that court together. Can't remember who told me this, but I was told not to just be remembered, but to leave a legacy behind.
David Noel: Don’t take it for granted. Those four years go by so fast that you’re not only learning how to become a better basketball player but also a better man. I think that’s what college teaches you: responsibility, managing your time and decision-making. Don’t take advantage of not only playing at a high level but also at the University of North Carolina.
Damien Grant: Coach Williams probably already said this but “Play Hard, Play Smart, Play together”. Never take a night off or a play off, always keep that intensity. If you get tired, take yourself out of the game. Never underestimate a team because that one play can be a huge deciding factor in many aspects. You have that name on the front of your jersey; you have a lot to live up to. They cant be better than the ’04-’05 team, but they can try (laughs).