Everyone remembers the goat from the 1993 NCAA Championship Game. Chris Webber is still living down the fact he called a timeout Michigan didn’t have, resulting in a technical foul. But few remember it was UNC’s Donald Williams that calmly sank the resulting four free-throws in the waning seconds to deliver Carolina’s third national championship.
Williams finished with 25 points and Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors after playing the game of his life as just a sophomore. But he was never the same player, riddled the rest of his college career by injuries.
Destined to be a lottery pick two years earlier, Williams instead went undrafted in 1995 and settled for a career that took him everywhere from the Philippines to the Harlem Globetrotters before retiring in 2007.
Now Williams is back stateside, looking to add another branch to the Dean Smith coaching tree as head man of Denmark Tech Junior College. He just completed his first season with the Panthers, who went 7-13.
We recently caught with Williams to talk about his three daughters, what made Dean Smith special and those sorry Washington Generals:
Lost Lettermen: How did you get into coaching?
Donald Williams: It was something that I wanted to do especially in the later stages of my career, so I always came home in the summer and coached AAU basketball and ran my own basketball camp.
So I kind of got into it like the last 10 years. It was just crazy because this job opened up at the last minute. A friend of mine knows the president here at the school and the coach quit on them. The job was available and it just worked out.
LL: Your first gig was coaching the women’s team at Raleigh Charter High School last year. What was that experience like?
DW: It was different coaching girls but at the same time my camp’s always been for boys and girls. So it’s not like I can’t adapt to girls. I have three daughters of my own, all girls, so I’m used to females. But on the basketball side, they’re more fundamental than guys. The guys rely on their athletic ability a lot and the girls are really fundamental.
LL: Did it help you grow as a coach?
DW: Yes it did, especially from an Xs and Os standpoint. On the boy’s side, if you have a real dominant athlete, sometimes you can just get by. But with girls you have to really execute the game plan. And girls too, they’re real, real emotional. You really have to watch what you say to them.
LL: Speaking of your three daughters: Can we expect to see them in Carolina blue soon?
DW: Yeah, all of them are going to go Carolina! My oldest is nine. Nine, seven and three. They haven’t gotten into (basketball) yet. They like track. They’re real fast.
LL: What’s it like going from the ACC to a junior college?
DW: It’s different but at the same time you’re trying to deliver the same message to student-athletes on and off the court.
LL: Are you a coaching lifer and are we going to see your name under the Dean Smith coaching tree with the likes of Larry Brown and Roy Williams?
DW: That’s my goal. I think I have a lot of basketball knowledge and not just basketball, but off-the-court (knowledge) as well. That’s what made coach Smith so special – he cared for his players off the court. And I think that’s important with these kids today – because a lot of these kids aren’t going to make it in basketball and you want to put them in a position to succeed away from basketball as well.
LL: How often do you keep in touch with coach Smith?
DW: A lot. He’s probably tired of me (laughing). That’s one thing that made him special too, he always had his door open and his ears open to listen and talk to you.
LL: What are your memories like from the ’93 title game?
DW:It makes you smile and feel good – but at the same time, you try to tell your players that I didn’t just wake up and do that. I put in the work as a kid and I dreamed of doing it, of course. But to get to that stage I put in a lot of work throughout my career.
LL: Were those free-throws the most pressure you’ve ever been under in your life?
DW: I mean if you look back now, yeah, of course it was the most pressure. But in the moment there wasn’t any pressure because of the zone I was in.
LL: Do you ever thinking to yourself, “What if” you had left after your sophomore year?
DW: Yeah, that’s one thing about life though. Hindsight is 20-20. I think probably the only disappointment is (not achieving) my life dream of playing in the NBA, you know what I’m saying?
I tried to things the right way. I did get a degree from the University of North Carolina. Of course if I would have left, I would have been in the NBA. But at the same time the only reason I didn’t get there is because I got hurt – that’s something you can’t control.
And when I look back now, if I would have made the NBA, I probably wouldn’t be here today.
LL: How tough was it being so close to making it?
DW: I think the biggest disappointment was seeing your peers playing… they’re there and you’re not. And going overseas, I had fun playing but it’s not the same because your fans and family and friends can’t see you play.
LL: What was it like being part of the Globetrotters?
DW: Man, it was great. At the time I didn’t want to go to Europe and I had a close friend that was one of the coaches for the Globetrotters. And he always asking if I would come on tour with them, and I think I was about to have my first or second kid.
So I signed with the Globetrotters and it was amazing. We sold out every arena, every night. It was unbelievable to see the fan-base they have. But they are hard workers too. The whole tour, the only day I had off was New Year’s.
LL: Did you learn a lot of ball tricks?
DW: Oh, you have to do that – it’s mandatory I think. During training camp you have to do that. It’s crazy because you really have to make the team. You had to tryout to make the Globetrotters – so you had to learn the ball-handling tricks and do all that. It was a crazy experience. I think I was blessed to make that team and make the tour.
LL: Did you ever feel bad for the Washington Generals and how they got pounded every night?
DW: No, we never felt bad for them. It was our job to try and pound them!