Recruiting Column: Interview with North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams

Photo: JD Lyon Jr., UNC Athletic Communications

Recruiting Column: Interview with North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams

Recruiting Column

Recruiting Column: Interview with North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams


USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the recruiting process. This isn’t about where just the top five-star athletes are headed but rather a guide to the process and the pitfalls for student-athletes nationwide from This week’s article is written by Ross Hawley, the president of the company. is an industry leader in college recruiting. Their technology based recruiting service identifies the right colleges for potential recruits to pursue and provides a recruiting system that is second to none for student-athletes of all talent levels and ages.

It’s not often that I’m lost for words. But, as I sit here and attempt to introduce North Carolina Basketball Coach Roy Williams, I really have no idea what to say. I mean, how do you introduce a coach that has won three national championships, been elected into both the Basketball Hall of Fame and the College Basketball Hall of Fame, has a career coaching record of 816-216 and is largely responsible for recruiting the greatest basketball player of all-time, Michael Jordan?

Well, maybe it goes something like this: This week I had the bucket-list opportunity to talk college recruiting with one of the greatest coaches of all-time, Roy Williams. From what an athlete controls during the recruiting process, to the character it takes to be a Tar Heel, here is what Coach Williams had to say.

Q: What does a student-athlete control during the recruiting process?

A: They control everything. It’s a lot like sales in the sense that the customer is always right. Before you buy anything of value, you want to make sure you’re getting what you really want. You want to feel good about what you’re buying. That’s recruiting. As a high school kid, you need to feel good about where you go to school, on and off the court. Are you going to a place where you will truly be happy? Do your beliefs align with the beliefs of the coaching staff? With the rest of the program?  I always tell the young men I recruit to be truthful with what they want out of this process. Be honest about your intentions and tell no lies. If you can do that, then you won’t have to remember what you said or how you may have misrepresented yourself. You’ll end up in a program that wants you, as much as you want them.

Q: What’s something every athlete should know before they start the college recruiting process?

A: You’re dealing with people in this process. You’re not dealing with buildings or arenas or what kind of shoes you’re going to wear. You’re dealing with the men and women that make up this university. Recruit us too! Don’t think that recruiting is all one-sided in the sense that it’s all about North Carolina getting to know you. We want you to get to know us, too. Get to know me. Get to know North Carolina. Get to know the people that want to get to know you. Focus on the relationships, because that’s what you take with you when it’s all said and done.

Q: Physical talent aside, what qualities are you looking for in a recruit?

A: I think it’s fair to be clear on this point to the young men and women reading this article. To play at this level, talent always has to be No. 1. Because without the physical talent, you won’t get our attention. Now that said, the three things we recruit in a player are talent, character and academics. And in that order, too. I once had an elementary school principal question why I put character before academics. My response to her was that being a great player and a great student doesn’t mean you won’t be a pain in my rear. If you’re going to be a pain in the rear to coach, I want you to be someone else pain in the rear to coach.

Coach Dean Smith and my high school coach Buddy Baldwin taught me the importance of team. I learned early on from both of these men that you can achieve your individual goals by putting the goals of the team, first. If you can sacrifice what you’re wanting for what the team is needing, you’re going to be a winner. That’s success of the ultimate kind.

Q: What red flags do you pay attention to when recruiting a young man?

A: It’s easy to spot the player that plays for himself. He plays selfishly, he acts selfishly. I always like to see a prospective athlete play at least twice before I decide on what I think of his ability-level. Often, we’ll watch guys numerous times before we make any decisions on them. When it comes to a player exhibiting that selfish character, all it takes is one time. Once is more than enough to turn us off a guy when it comes to something like that. For every talented kid with poor character, there’s two other kids with excellent character. It’s a decision and it’s something every good coach pays attention to.

Q: You were instrumental in recruiting Michael Jordan. Can you give us some insight into that experience?

A: It was a lot of fun! We brought him into a summer camp after his junior year of high school. We were running an open gym format where we would just let the kids play. I remember watching him for maybe an hour or so and thinking to myself how good this guy was. It’s just not something you see every day. When I got back to the offices, Coach (Eddie) Fogler asked me if I saw anyone good. I remember telling him, ‘I think I just saw the best 6-4 high school guard I’ve ever seen.’

No one ever knew when Michael was at North Carolina he would become the greatest basketball player to ever play the game. We all knew he was a winner and that he was going to play for a long time, but none of us knew it would turn out like this. That’s a testament to him. He was so amazingly gifted, but his competitive nature and will power turned him into what he became. His drive and his focus were unmatched because he was always competing to be the best at whatever he did. And he’s still that way after all these years!


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