RALEIGH, N.C. – When Roy Williams called timeout less than 3 minutes into a game against Elon last week, it was the latest sign that something very strange is going on among the area’s two most prominent coaches.
The North Carolina coach, notably, is not a great believer in timeouts. Even at the end of games, he believes his team should be better prepared to handle those situations than the opposition, let alone the quick or presumptuous timeout. If he wanted, Williams could devote a room in his house to a gallery of uncalled timeouts. When he was trying to call a timeout late in an NCAA Tournament loss to Iowa State a few years ago, none of the officials was even looking at him.
Seeing Williams call the kind of machine-gun timeout typically associated with some of his more impulsive peers suggested he was acceding to the ransom demands of a kidnapper: Call an early timeout, and we’ll release the hostage.
“Earliest one in my history, I’m sure,” Williams said.
It was, beyond any doubt, the kind of thing more often seen a few miles down the road at Duke, where Mike Krzyzewski has never hesitated to call timeout if he thought there was a clipboard that demanded a good thrashing.
There’s something strange going on here, the Triangle’s own version of Freaky Friday. Roy is acting like K. K is acting like Roy. Cats and dogs, living together, mass hysteria.
Because normally, you’d say fine, even Roy gets to call an early timeout once in a while. But then you look over to Duke, where Krzyzewski is playing a dozen players on a regular basis at a time in the season when he’s usually started to narrow his rotation down to the seven or eight guys he trusts, which is something Williams always does.
Meanwhile, Williams, partly by necessity and partly by choice, is only reaching seven or eight deep in November, a month in which everyone from the UNC junior varsity to random band members usually get an audition, just in case they’re needed in March. Cole Anthony is on the J.J. Redick 38-minute plan, and NBA scouts are salivating over a Triangle player as a potential top pick, except he’s at North Carolina instead of Duke for the first time in a while after Zion Williamson and all the rest.
As eerie as it may be, these unusual behaviors are more likely derived from teams that have generally switched places, not coaches that have secretly and/or magically switched bodies.
After a long run of seasons when Duke was full of elite one-and-done talent, North Carolina has Anthony while the Blue Devils have an older, deeper team that relies more heavily on defense than freshman talent. Krzyzewski has to see who can do what, because there isn’t an obvious go-to player (or two). Williams, because of injuries and a thinner bench and an unexpected exodus at point guard, has no choice but to run Anthony (and others) harder than he’d like.
But this is also probably the natural evolution of a subtler, longer-term dynamic. Williams and Krzyzewski are peers as much as rivals at this point, among only a handful of coaches with multiple national titles in the glare of the brightest spotlight in college basketball – and it’s not like either is calling John Calipari to commiserate.
The gravity of their situations has pulled them and their programs closer together as time goes by. If they’re starting to act like each other a little bit, that seems like a more likely explanation than witchcraft.
As long as nothing really bizarre happens, like Krzyzewski dipping into Williams’ quiver of golf metaphors.
“This isn’t golf where someone is stopping you from putting,” Krzyzewski said after the Blue Devils’ win over Colorado State in their home opener.
Maybe witchcraft isn’t that far off.
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