Three minutes into UNC’s game with UCLA Saturday, Coach Roy Williams benched forward Brice Johnson. He did more than bench him, though, he sent Johnson to the end of the bench, down with the trainers, got into Johnson’s face and berated him for a good 10 seconds or so while the game continued.
And there Johnson sat for eight minutes — eight game minutes — while UCLA seemingly toyed with the Tar Heels. This wasn’t any routine benching. Johnson is one of the team’s two big men starters. And the other, Kennedy Meeks, was out with a bum knee. The second-string forward and center were in the game as UCLA built its lead to double-digits.
What offense had Johnson committed?
“I kind of used some bad language and Coach was really pissed-off at me about it,” Johnson said. “Coach told me, he said, ‘Hey, you go sit at the end of the bench, [and] if you say anything else you can go to the locker room.”
Williams said after the game that he didn’t appreciate the language, and “we’re not going to be like that.”
Let’s pause for a moment to take this in. A team with its eye on the national championship, a team that had just lost its second game in the young season to Texas, and a team that was getting beat all over the court by UCLA loses one of its best players because he cussed?
How many coaches have you seen on the sidelines let out a string of profanities? Answer: More than you can count. YouTube has the videos.
Williams isn’t immune. Back in 2003 when he was the coach of Kansas and was asked about the UNC coaching vacancy, he famously said, “I don’t give a shit about North Carolina right now.” (His team had just lost to Syracuse in the title game.)
Maybe Williams was simply trying yet another way to motivate a player who sometimes loses focus. After all, Johnson responded to the benching by scoring 27 points as the Heels beat UCLA relatively easily.
But I think Williams is continuing the lesson of his mentor Dean Smith in teaching yet another facet of “the Carolina Way.” From Smith’s book: “Former player Scott Williams on Coach Smith: Winning was very important at Carolina, and there was much pressure to win, but Coach cared more about our getting a sound education and turning into good citizens than he did about winning.”
I don’t want to make too big of a deal about this. After all, it is prudish in this day and age. But I like the lesson and the example.