I met a lot of North Carolina folks last week. Good folks. Friendly. Hospitable. Regular people. My favorite kind.
I met 60 or so more North Carolina folks on Monday. Not so friendly. Very angry. These were Tar Heel basketball fans, with a passion any Nebraska football fan could relate to, upset with the Omaha columnist who would tell them Creighton wasn’t playing dirty in Sunday’s NCAA tourney game.
The emails poured in. They continue to pour in.
I hope the good folks listened to North Carolina coach Roy Williams’ radio show on Monday night.
I’ve known coach Williams for over 20 years. Met him on a hot July day when he was introduced as Kansas basketball coach, the successor to Larry Brown’s throne. That first year at KU was tough. Danny Manning was in the NBA. The Miracles remained. The NCAA hit Kansas. But Williams was the same that year as he is today. Without question, he’s one of the finest gentlemen I’ve met in coaching, or anywhere else.
My take on Sunday was simple: the plays involving Grant Gibbs and Ethan Wragge were not worthy of federal investigation. Gibbs slapped at the ball repeatedly. He happened to hit John Henson’s injured wrist. I believe Gibbs when he said he wasn’t trying to injure Henson but get him all riled up. That’s what Gibbs does. Know, too, that Gibbs has a bum knee. He plays in pain. He’s not out to cause anyone else pain.
As for Wragge, his play on Kendall Marshall was a hard foul, but not illegal. I’ve seen the replays. Heck, I see them at least once a week in the Big Ten Conference. And in the Big 12, too. Collisions like that are not rare. This one caused an unfortunate injury. But it was a fair play.
Gregory Echenique’s play was another story. I saw more of that replay on Monday. When I saw it Sunday, it looked bad, but I didn’t think it was with an intent to hurt. I still don’t think Echenique plays that way. I think he got riled up and crossed the line. A flagrant foul should have been called there. Two free throws, the ball and we move on. And hopefully The Big E learns you can’t do that.
I gave my opinion. I heard half of North Carolina’s. But the one Tar Heel opinion that I wanted to hear, the one that mattered the most, was from Williams. Well, the coach offered some thoughts on his radio show Monday night. Here’s what he said, according to the Greensboro News-Record:
1. Williams said he thought Wragge’s foul was hard, but not dirty. He said when it happened he thought “I wished he hadn’t hit him so hard.” He added that he often gets on Marshall for not hitting opponents harder on breakaway lay-ups, so he couldn’t get mad at Wragge.
2. He said Echenique’s hit was “uncalled for” and should have gotten a flagrant foul. Williams added that Creighton coach Greg McDermott called him Monday morning to let him know that it wasn’t their intention to hurt anyone or be dirty. And Mac said he told Echenique that that sort of thing was “unacceptable.” Williams said he appreciated to hear that.
3. Finally, Williams said he didn’t see Gibbs do anything more than swipe at the ball and hit Henson’s wrist. And didn’t see anything wrong with that. Then there was this quote from Roy:
“If you’re asking me would Roy Williams wink at the bench after drawing a technical, probably not,” Williams said. “But Michael Jordan would.”