EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was originally published in The Spokesman-Review on Monday, April 3, 2017, prior to the National Championship game between Gonzaga and North Carolina, won by Roy Williams’ Tar Heels 71-65. Williams announced his retirement on Thursday, just two days before GU coach Mark Few’s Zags take on UCLA in Saturday’s Final Four matchup. The friendship between Williams and Few reaches back years.
College basketball coaches have become prominent, polarizing figures and it can be hard to remember that they are also human. So, here is a reminder.
Coaches Mark Few of Gonzaga and Roy Williams of North Carolina go way back, so there has been little but praise between the two in advance of the matchup between their respective teams in Monday’s national championship in Glendale, Ariz.
But both coaches also told a seedy story during their podium sessions on Sunday. A story about a small town, just outside of Memphis, Tennessee, where the teams played each other in the 2009 Sweet 16. This is a story that involves late nights, illegal activities, gambling and betrayal.
Both coaches are master storytellers, so we’re going to let them tell the story, by weaving excerpts from their own accounts into one lightly-edited tale.
MARK FEW: I defer to him as the best-kept secret forever, because I think we probably would have got crucified at the time for doing that.
ROY WILLIAMS: So I call him Monday. I said, when are you going in? He said Wednesday. I said, me too. I said, what time do you put your guys to bed? He said midnight. I said me too.
I said don’t give me an answer for 24 hours, but I want to take my staff down to Tunica and shoot craps, and go down there after midnight, stay two or three hours. I just want to see if you can bring your staff and go with us. He said I’m in. I said, no, think about it for 24 hours.
I’m an older guy, I’ve been around a while. Somebody might say something negative. He said no, I’m in. I said no I’ll call you tomorrow. I called him the next day and he answered the phone and said, “Gamblers Anonymous.”
FEW: We all piled into, I think I had six, seven guys in a Ford Fiesta. And I think Roy had the same. We rallied down there. We got our table all to ourselves, played craps. It was awesome. We all got our butts kicked and handed to us and lost some money but we had fun.
WILLIAMS: We get back in the car and heading back to Memphis. It’s about 3 in the morning. I get pulled over. And I wasn’t really – I was speeding, but it was like 2 or 3 miles, and I was really surprised. And I realized I had the NCAA logo thing on the side of the car.
And the guy comes up and he said, Coach, and he said, I wondered if somebody had stolen a car or something like that. So we talked a couple of seconds. I said if I could bribe you, I’ll give you $100 if you’ll stop Mark Few. He’s about 15 minutes behind me.
FEW: But they missed us. So he came running up to my assistants the next day: “Did you, did you?” And my assistant was looking at him, what are you talking about? I told the cops to pull you guys over. So we skated through there, luckily.
WILLIAMS: Just ruined my day. But that’s the story. I think coaches should be able to have fun with each other and he’s a good guy.
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