Williams cementing his own legacy

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Roy Williams can't escape Dean Smith's presence.

The legend's name is on the building. His bust is in the hallway. His picture and the lineage of stellar players adorn the walls.

He even walks through the building at times.

But Williams' second national title last April tied him with Smith at North Carolina. One more, which could even come this season, will push Williams past Smith.

Think about that for a second. Williams has two titles in six years and could get a third in seven. Smith coached for 36 seasons, winning 879 games and two titles.

"Oh man, if I could win another one, I won't even think of it in those terms," Williams said on the eve of the start of the 2009-10 season. "I'm not the coach Coach Smith was. Roy Williams and Dean Smith shouldn't be in the same sentence. I'm not being humble. All I ever wanted to be was to be like my high school coach and coach kids."

Over the years, Williams has observed with adoration the way Smith has maintained his relationships with his former players.

"I try to do those things, and I can't get it all done," Williams said. "He's an innovator, and I'm a copier. I've stolen some things from coach [Bob] Knight and stolen some things from John Thompson and so many other coaches that I liked.

"I grew up as a guy in North Carolina idolizing coach Smith, and if I were to coach at the same place for 35, 36, 37 years and be able to have that relationship with all the players like coach Smith does, it'd be so far out of my dreams it would be unbelievable," Williams said.

Nevertheless, it's amazing to see how much Williams has taken over this storied program. He led Kansas for 15 years, coming close to a national title in 2003 when a blocked shot by Syracuse's Hakim Warrick on Michael Lee's game-tying 3-point attempt ended that chance. In 1997, Williams had one of the best teams in recent history not to win a title. He went to the Final Four four times at KU (1991, 1993, 2002 and 2003).

"It was almost a desperate feeling of wanting to win a national championship when I was at Kansas and when I first came here, and in some ways it's even more now," Williams said. "You see what it's like, and then you want to do it again. You don't have that desperate hunger, but it drives you to do it again. It drives you to work even harder, to do more this year, to go on the road recruiting more than last year. Maybe that means I'm a little sick, too."

In 2008, the Tar Heels were one of the best teams in the country when they reached the Final Four, only to be slapped around in the national semifinal by Williams' former program, Kansas.

Once Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green returned from flirting with the NBA draft and joined national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough, the goal was to win the 2009 title. Nothing less was expected. The team was hyped up too much early as the greatest ever; weathered a leg injury to Hansbrough, a foot injury to Marcus Ginyard and a toe injury to Lawson; and ultimately became a dominant team in the last three rounds of the NCAAs.

"I've never wanted a win, never wanted an honor, never wanted a championship for any individual as much as I wanted it for him," Williams said of Hansbrough, who he said was easily the top player of the concluding decade. "I really thought it was good for college basketball for Tyler Hansbrough to win a championship. It showed everyone that it's OK to have a dream to come back. He sat up at the podium and said, 'You can call me a lot of things, but call me a national champion.'"

Williams said he's not sure he'll coach another player like Hansbrough. If he does, it will be a player who focuses and dedicates himself to college basketball as much as Hansbrough from the outset.

"If there is somebody out there like that," Williams said, "hopefully I'll be lucky enough to coach him."

Williams said he came back to North Carolina for a few reasons, mostly because Smith called to tell him that he needed him to return. He said he works every day to ensure that Smith is proud of the job he is doing.

To Williams, Smith will always be the patriarch of North Carolina basketball.

"I don't want to take that place," Williams said. "But each and every year, it does become more my program."

It's hard to ignore the dominance of the Williams era when you peruse the wall outside the North Carolina locker room rather than the more historical area on the second level of the Dean Smith Center.

The photo collage from the 2005 national championship team was first. The newly blown-up pictures from the 2009 title were next, leading to the outside door of the Tar Heels' players lounge.

There was symmetry, almost as if they should clear wall space for the next title in … 2013?

Is that too long? This is a different era at Carolina -- a time when winning a title is not followed by a complete overhaul. There are no more four-year plans here. While Williams dismisses the notion that UNC has separated itself from the masses, the Tar Heels are reloading, reshuffling and retooling at a faster clip than any other program in the country. There is no more rebuilding here. Under Bill Self, Kansas is on a similar trajectory now, as the 2008 title team is being repackaged as a title contender two seasons later with two players who were role players on the championship team (Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins) now as the team's stars.

Florida is still trying to find that formula again after the '04 class (Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Taurean Green) turned down millions to stay for another title run and actually did win in consecutive seasons in 2006 and '07. But the Gators also lost two key seniors in Lee Humphrey and Chris Richard from that '07 team and were completely gutted. They didn't have someone like Hansbrough to enter in the immediate aftermath of a title; nor did they retain the talent of players like Ed Davis, Deon Thompson and Ginyard. UF didn't bring in a top-5 recruiting class the way North Carolina has done in advance of this championship run.

"[Florida coach] Billy Donovan can coach his rear end off, but if it was so easy, he'd been back in the tournament," Williams said of the difficulties of staying in the title chase after winning one. "They lost so much. For us, we were fortunate in 2006 to have Tyler Hansbrough be an impact player from the first time he stepped here. I don't know if there is an easy answer or it's being lucky, but every year you have to bring in someone that will help you."

There is a sense among the players and staff that the Tar Heels are a legitimate title contender again, even after losing Hansbrough, Ellington, Lawson and Green.

Williams said the 2005-06 team had to start anew with David Noel as the lone player who had played any significant minutes. The infusion of the freshman Hansbrough in 2006 led the Tar Heels to the NCAA tournament in that first year and got them on their path toward an Elite Eight when he was a sophomore (when Lawson and Ellington were freshmen), a Final Four as a junior and then a title as a senior.

Thompson, Davis and Ginyard are joined by another highly touted recruiting class, led by forward John Henson, guards Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald, and forwards Travis and David Wear. That plus the return of point Larry Drew II and a healthy forward in Tyler Zeller means the Tar Heels have more talent than they did in 2006. They don't have the superstar college player like Hansbrough, but they are deeper in the frontcourt. And, of course, they've got a few potential NBA players, as they always do.

"The biggest difference between now and 2006 is we have players returning who played significant minutes," Ginyard said.

"They had no starters returning," Thompson said of the '06 team. "We've got myself, Ed Davis and Marcus Ginyard. We're way better off than the '06 team."

Davis and Thompson said they sat together after the title in Detroit and talked about how much they wanted to win another one, one in which they would be the focal point.

"We were a part of that team, but it would mean a lot more to us if we could win it this year," Thompson said. "We have every piece possible to do it."

Davis easily could have left for the NBA after teasing scouts with his ability to be a scorer inside. But he dismissed being a lottery pick now and a player with potential down the road for someone who can enter the NBA and contribute with a little more seasoning. He said his body is in better shape, as he's bulked up to 230 pounds and added much more of a face-up game.

Williams said that how he manages the minutes upfront with Davis, Thompson, Henson, Zeller and the Wear twins isn't a concern. The players don't seem to be too worried, either. They all expect it to work out.

Williams said the Heels will play bigger, possibly with three bigs and a combination of guards who rotate in with Ginyard, McDonald, and the points of Drew and Strickland.

And don't expect North Carolina to shy away from its famed secondary break under Williams. Even though Drew isn't Lawson and doesn't possess his end-to-end speed, he's still going to show he can push the basketball. Lawson's low turnover rate, though, will be hard to match (230 assists to 66 turnovers).

"Larry Drew is a lot faster with the basketball than people realize and may also do a better job pitching ahead," Williams said. "My challenge is to get us to run as much as we have been and to do it effectively."

The reason Carolina is so optimistic about challenging for the title is that there is no one dominant team -- no Carolina -- going into this year. Kansas, Texas and Michigan State are all formidable, but none strikes that kind of fear into an opposing team.

"There's nobody that's looking to clean everybody out," Ginyard said. "It's a fairly balanced year. There are tough teams and teams that are good, but there is more balance."

Williams said he's driven by the competition, to see the newcomers like Henson, Strickland, McDonald and the Wear twins stand on the podium and hear "One Shining Moment." Williams openly calls himself corny. But he also hasn't ignored his passion.

He's 59 now. He said that when he retires, he'll play golf and hang out in the North Carolina mountains or by the beach, listening to the sounds of the ocean.

"I don't know how much longer -- I could see six to 10 more years," Williams said of his career. "It depends on your health. If you don't have your health, you don't have anything. If I'm healthy, I'll keep enjoying the dickens out of it. I get out of bed every morning and I get to do what I enjoy doing, while most people have to go to work."

And when he heads to work again this weekend, he'll be on a reachable quest for his third national title overall and second consecutive one. Williams, like his beloved mentor, is already in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

Winning another title wouldn't change how he views himself in comparison to Smith, but it certainly would alter the perception of his standing in the game, whether he wants to admit it or not.

But he doesn't have to claim another title to prove that he has upheld the standards Smith set.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.