It was a real thrill for PHS coach Mike Loutzenheiser and me to enjoy a short visit with University of North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams.
Last week, the legendary coach flew into Payson, played golf at The Rim Club, and left that evening for Las Vegas, where he was going to scout three showcase high school tournaments-- the Adidas Super 64, Reebok Big Time and Nike Main Event.
Prior to teeing off at The Rim Club, the coach was kind enough to spend a few minutes with Mike and me.
Coach Williams left a huge impression as being genuine, sincere and a man who hasn't forgotten his roots.
His coaching career began in 1973 when he took a job at Swannanoa (N.C.) High School. There, he coached basketball, boys golf, freshman football and eventually served as athletic director.
Although he now is the winningest active college coach in the country, heads probably the most prestigious program around and is one of the most well-respected coaches in the game, he told us, "I've chaperoned a lot of junior proms in my coaching career."
Williams became the UNC coach April 14, 2003, just one week after leading the Kansas Jayhawks to the NCAA championship game and back-to-back appearances in the Final Four. In 15 seasons at the University of Kansas, his teams won more than 80 percent of their games and by all accounts, his players were model student-athletes.
A Philadelphia Inquirer reporter once wrote about Williams "Not so much as a whiff of scandal has touched the Kansas program during his tenure."
Considering today's social climate and the pampered nature of some athletes, that is quite an accomplishment.
Like his mentor, former UNC coach Dean Smith, Williams has made academic success a priority. His teams also are noted for their fast-break offense, unselfish play and tenacious man-to-man defense.
Williams' teams have made 15 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, the fourth-longest streak by a coach in NCAA Tournament history.
His winning percentage of .805 is third best in history behind only Clair Bee (.826) and Adolph Rupp (.822).
The 1972 North Carolina graduate has been National Coach of the Year in 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1997 and Big Eight/Big 12 Coach of the Year seven times. In April 2003, he received the John R. Wooden Legends of Coaching Award by the Los Angeles Athletic Club. He also will help coach America's Olympic basketball team.
Mike and I departed our meeting with Williams in awe of the basketball legend and grateful he found the time in his hectic schedule to meet with us.
I don't know if it was the adrenaline-rush of the visit or our unfamiliarity with the prestigious Rim Club grounds, but upon leaving the course, Mike and I found ourselves lost, bewildered and scrambling to find an exit.
As we wound over the roads near the pristine course surrounded by million-dollar homes, we passed coach Williams and his playing partners several times.
I think it was obvious that amidst the glitz of the club, Mike and I were out of our element.
Each time we passed coach Williams, he waved graciously as if to say, "you boys don't make it out here too often, do you?
Basketball on the reservation
Having been raised in Winslow surrounded by the Hopi and Navajo Reservations and coaching in Show Low against Alchesay High School teams, I know basketball is a big part of Indian communities.
I can remember after coaching a football victory over Alchesay, a young Falcon player said to me, "That's all right, we'll get you in basketball."
And they did just that, sweeping SLHS later that year.
Drive by any reservation playground and you'll see kids playing basketball.
When reservation high school teams reach the state tournament at America West, the towns basically shut down so fans can travel to Phoenix for the games.
Last winter, the crowds for the 3A state tournament were larger than those for 4A and 5A games.
That kind of support again showed up for the Second Annual Native American Basketball Invitational played last week in America West Arena. More than 40 Native American teams from around the country turned out to play in the tournament.
The championship round drew the traditionally huge crowds that show up for reservation games.