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Oct. 19, 2012
By Bill Hass
CHARLOTTE (theACC.com) – Roy Williams winced as he coughed during an interview at ACC Operation Basketball earlier this week.
“This stitching,” he said, “all of it has not dissolved completely so sneezing and coughing is not the best part of my day.”
The stitches are the remnants of a 3½-hour operation in September after doctors discovered tumors on both kidneys. He was told the odds were greater than 95 percent that the tumors were cancerous, and they scheduled a second operation for a month later.
But Williams beat the odds. Although the tumor removed was the size of a tennis ball, it was benign. A biopsy on the second kidney turned out benign as well. Instead of undergoing a second surgery, Williams took part in Operation Basketball, a day-long round of TV, radio and print media interviews that he welcomed.
“It’s the only time in my life I’ve really loved coming to media day,” he said with a laugh.
For 24 days, Williams lived with the fear that he had cancer. It was tough on his players, too.
“He’s like a father figure in our life,” said junior Reggie Bullock. “I just knew that he was going to be able to push through it. That’s all he wants his players to do is overcome adversity, so I knew he would be the one to set the example and let us know (not to) worry about him, focus on school and basketball.”
Williams has been able to run practices every day, although he has to watch lifting his arms over his head or getting too excited. Bullock said the players try to run the drills exactly the way they’re supposed to go “to take some of the tension off of him.”
Still, the coach leaves no doubt who is in charge.
“The doctors advised me I need to take it easy and not go wacko,” he said, laughing again, “and that lasted about 10 minutes into the first practice – the second drill, I think it was.”
Sophomore James Michael McAdoo said it’s as if Williams was never gone.
“Trust me, he’s the same coach, he still has the same fire about him,” McAdoo said. “He’s the same old coach Roy, firing us up each and every day.”
Even a long-time adversary like Mike Krzyzewski of Duke wants Williams to take his return as slowly and easily as possible.
“You can come back too soon from that and it’s in a very sensitive part of your body,” Krzyzewski said. “He looked good today and I didn’t realize that for 24 days he had it in his mind he probably had cancer. That’s an ordeal, too. Just be smart about coming back. He’ll be stronger in a month, so don’t try to do everything right now.”
Easier said than done.
“Nobody has ever told me that,” Williams said. “If you want to get better dribbling the ball, you go dribble. If you want to get better in your bunker play, go hit a bunch of shots. And now they’re telling me if you want to get better, do nothing.
“But I truly believe that I have changed and I think I will stay changed. I’ve always been so focused and so driven, this little buzz saw. I want to enjoy the moments a little bit more. I want to take some time to smell the roses as they go along.”
Following are glimpses from the other ACC teams during Operation Basketball.
BOSTON COLLEGE: Coach Steve Donahue gave a lot of playing time to a lot of freshmen last season. But the team was so young he only put in a small amount of his offense. This season, they’re getting the full array.
“We’ve already probably tripled the amount of stuff that we’re doing compared to what we did,” Donahue said. “When we got into games we had to change the tempo and pace of our game just to survive 40 minutes. That was no fun, that’s not what we are.
“We’ll be able to play 40 minutes of basketball and keep it a high pace. We’ve got to be a team that really scores the basketball efficiently. We can’t average in the 60s, we’ve got to be at 75, pushing 80. It’s starting to click, it’s a great pace, a great understanding of what we need to do.”
CLEMSON: Seniors Devin Booker and Milton Jennings need to shed their complementary roles and become go-to players this season.
“It’s their turn,” said coach Brad Brownell. “Now we need them to produce at a high level and I think they’re in a position where they’re ready to do that. Milton is a guy
who wants to do well. He’s had some good games but he just hasn’t been as consistent as we need him to be. He gets frustrated quickly and things bother him and it affects his play. When he’s confident, comfortable, he can play very well.
“I think Devin has improved and I think he’s worked harder on his game than in years past. Everyone sees his ability and wants more, myself included, and Devin is at the point where he’s hopefully ready to do that. He needs to take one more big step. I need him to be comfortable, to be confident and to unload and really play with reckless abandon at times out there and use his athleticism on every play.”
DUKE: Mike Krzyzewski said he feels energized from leading Team USA to a second consecutive Olympic gold medal. He also learned some things from the international game and is looking forward to incorporating them with his team.
“They see the game a little bit differently than the NBA, especially on the offensive end,” he explained. “They see things in continuities on the offensive end, where five guys are working together, trying to create shots for one another. There’s some really good concepts on how you get your players open. You study it and you try to use something they do exactly or you put your own spin on it.”
Duke could score the ball well last season but Krzyzewki wants to see better defense, although not the kind that many of his best teams played.
“We weren’t really athletic and our perimeter was small so sometimes we got hurt by that third big perimeter man, or we got dominated by that guy on defense,” he said. “This year we’re a lot bigger and more athletic. We’re not a team vintage-wise where you pick up full court, but it’s a little bit more like our 2010 team that was really rock-solid in a half-court defense, where it was tough to get second shots or open looks. That’s where we have to move to with this team.”
FLORIDA STATE: Coach Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles were picked fourth by the media and fifth in the first-ever coaches poll. Not much respect for the team that won the ACC Tournament last season. But Hamilton enjoys flying under the radar and wants his team to be picked as low as possible. He said he voted his team last in the coaches poll.
And he believes this team, with five veterans and seven new players, has the potential to be really good.
“Winning the league makes a statement that we’re a player in the best basketball conference in America,” he said. “But from my standpoint, in order for last year’s title to be significant, we need to go back and do it again. We need to defend our crown, and that’s something no one expects us to do.
“If we can avoid injuries and not have any of those basketball demons, as I call them, raise their ugly heads and create issues, I think we have the makings of a pretty good team.”
GEORGIA TECH: The Yellow Jackets were a team without a home court last season as old Alexander Coliseum was gutted, rebuilt and renamed McCamish Pavilion. Only the roof and support beams remain from the old arena. Brian Gregory, now in his second season, saw some similarities with how he’s rebuilding the program.
“Every couple weeks I would bring our players and walk them through the arena as it was being renovated,” Gregory said. “I talked to them about the fact that this, in a lot of ways, symbolizes our program. We had to tear some stuff down, we had to clean some stuff out, we had to understand that we have a great tradition but we needed to make some changes in our program.
“And although you don’t always see the end result right away, you see bits and pieces and intermediate changes happening and you have to be OK with that. It’s not all going to happen at once. The building wasn’t going to be gutted and rebuilt in a week, it was going to take some time. They could see themselves every couple weeks improving as a team and they could also see the arena changing, so I thought it was kind of a mirror image of what we were trying to do.”
MARYLAND: In his second season Mark Turgeon wants the Terps to play better defense, rebound better and learn to win in league games on the road. With top scorer Terrell Stoglin no longer part of the program, the offensive approach will change.
“Last year we were an outside-in team and this year we’ll be an inside-out team,” he said. “Whoever we throw on the floor is going to be a good scorer. We’re not putting a bad scorer out there. We’ll have a lot of different options late in a close game, whoever is playing well or whatever our best matchup. I do think some go-to guys will be Alex Len, James Padgett on the block and Nick Faust.”
The Terps will open the season with a nationally televised game against defending national champion Kentucky, to be played in the new arena of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets.
“It will be two young teams so it could get ugly,” Turgeon said, “but what a great opportunity for our program.”
MIAMI: The Hurricanes went 9-7 in the ACC in Jim Larranaga’s first season, the first winning record since it joined the league. Now he’s looking for more. A quality starting backcourt of sophomore Shane Larkin and senior Durand Scott is a good starting point.
Larranaga loves Larkin’s on-the-ball defense and his quarterback skills as a point guard. But Scott is the key player.
“Durand Scott is the heart and soul of our team,” the coach said. “He’s a great leader, a tremendous competitor, plays great defense, one of better rebounding guards in our league and he’s a threat every time he catches the ball.
“He spent a great deal of time this summer working on his mid-range game. He has always been a threat from 3-point land and driving to the basket. We’ve asked him to work more on shot fakes and pull-up jump shots. If he adds that to his game, we think he can lead us to a championship.”
NC STATE: The Wolfpack was picked to finish first, breaking a preseason stranglehold by UNC and Duke who have been preseason favorites every year since 2004. The Pack made it to the Sweet 16 last year despite being one of the last selections for the NCAA Tournament field. NC State finished with 24 wins, the most since 1983 when Jim Valvano’s team won 26 games and the national championship.
“That’s not a bad thing,” said C.J. Leslie, the pick as preseason player of the year. “We just have to know how to handle that. We handle it by doing hard work in practice, going hard, listening to coach (Mark Gottfried) and getting better each day, step by step.”
Senior Richard Howell said that while the team doesn’t want to shy away from the high expectations, it doesn’t want to fall prey to the hype, either.
“We want to prove that where we finished last year wasn’t a fluke,” he said. “Being picked No. 1 is cool but we want to go out there and prove that we know what we’re doing. We can’t just wake up every day and say we’re going to win. We have to work for it, and that’s what coach Gottfried puts into us every day.”
VIRGINIA: With senior Jontel Evans out for about six weeks (surgery on a fracture of the fifth metatarsal), point guard is being handled by committee. Malcolm Brogdon is also recovering from surgery and not available, so juniors Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell are running the offense until Evans returns. Coach Tony Bennett believes Harris could have a big season.
“He has some big-game capability in him,” Bennett said. “Joe has done it in stretches as a freshman and a sophomore. Now that he’s an upperclassman, he knows what’s going to be required. He’ll do whatever we ask and we’ll certainly need that. He has the ability to take a big next step and be very productive.”
VIRGINIA TECH: New coach James Johnson is a bundle of energy, starting with practices early in the morning.
“He walks in there, he’s singing to Kanye West, he’s jumping up and down, he’s chest-bumping at 5:30 in the morning,” said senior point guard Erick Green. “We’re not used to that. But he brings it out of us by being enthused at practice.”
Johnson was an assistant for 19 seasons, including five with the Hokies and two at George Mason under current Miami coach Jim Larranaga.
“He wants to have his own coach Johnson era,” said junior Jarell Eddie. “He wants us to run more, have a lot of confidence and make plays. He’s demanding but he doesn’t want you to stress about mistakes.”
WAKE FOREST: In Jeff Bzdelik’s first season as head coach in 2010-11, he inherited a highly touted, five-man recruiting class. But with very few veterans on hand, the team took its lumps. It improved last season and adds another marquee class – this time seven deep – to go with veterans Travis McKie and C.J. Harris.
“I’m a prime example of what happens when you feed into the hype,” McKie, a junior forward, said. “We were a top 5 recruiting class, the Fab Five, and within to years I’m the only one left.
“I tell the freshmen now that you’re going to have your bumps, you’re going to have your arguments with your teammates, arguments with your coaches. But it’s adversity. Everybody goes through it. You have to stay strong and keep moving.”
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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