MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Roy Williams was in an even better mood than usual Thursday, and why not?
He got to be duckmaster for a day.
At the grand Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis, the ducks are almost as big a tourist attraction as Graceland. They are herded from their rooftop coop to the elevator in the morning, brought down to swim in the lobby fountain all day and returned upstairs at night. On Thursday, Williams – whose North Carolina Tar Heels are bunking at the Peabody – was asked to do the honors.
“I’m corny as all get-out, but I thought that was neat,” he said. “They gave me one of the canes that you sort of pop to the ground a little bit to huddle them over there in the right spot. I was surprised they let me keep the cane because I’ve got a deal with my team. Every time Ed Davis makes a mistake, I’m going to hit Mike Copeland with the cane.”
But Williams also seems happy to find himself in an NCAA tournament Sweet 16 game tonight against Gonzaga and Mark Few, who he counts as a treasured friend – a feeling that’s obviously mutual.
“He’s been a phenomenal mentor to me, and he probably doesn’t even realize it,” Few said.
“When I took over as head coach, we emulated his transition basketball, his secondary break, his approach offensively and in a lot of cases defensively. His footprint, handprint, everything is all over our program. He’s always been so open and welcoming and allowed me, when I was just in my first or second year, to pick his brain.”
Their relationship has grown at Nike coaches trips in the summer as well as on the recruiting trail – and Williams teasingly suggested, as have others, that Few “overachieved greatly when he married his wife, Marcy.
“In fact, she was in the golf tournament and on my team and I tried to help her,” Williams said. “She said I was awfully nice – but I was just trying to win.”
Williams said he takes the “oldest posse anybody’s ever had” with him to Las Vegas for the annual summer recruiting showcase – his old high school coach, a former baseball teammate, another ex-classmate and his next-door neighbor. They watch games for 10-12 hours a day and then shoot craps at night.
“And Mark has been so gracious to my high school coach,” he said. “That’s really special to me because that man was and is extremely special to me.”
But as much as he enjoys Few’s company, Williams likes to watch Gonzaga play.
“They share the basketball,” he said. “If a guy slips a screen, they throw him the ball. If a guy breaks open, they throw him the ball. It’s not, well, maybe I can take another dribble.
“You never see Gonzaga – I hope I’m not giving out too much information – fake a pass to the open man. It’s one of the plays in basketball that drives me crazy, because you fake a pass to the open man hoping your guy will leave you so you can shoot. You never see that.”
Still, his mission this week has been to find a way to beat the Bulldogs. It’s hard to imagine he had more cooperative subjects at practice than he did on Thursday morning.
“The ducks were really coachable,” Williams said. “They went where I told them to go. They didn’t balk at it. They didn’t fake a pass to the open duck.”