UNC Basketball: Jawad Williams relives intimate moments with UNC

CHAPEL HILL, NC - JANUARY 8: Jawad Williams #21 of the North Carolina Tar Heels runs upcourt against the Maryland Terrapins during their game on January 8, 2005 at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CHAPEL HILL, NC - JANUARY 8: Jawad Williams #21 of the North Carolina Tar Heels runs upcourt against the Maryland Terrapins during their game on January 8, 2005 at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /
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UNC Basketball
CHAPEL HILL, NC – FEBRUARY 12: Jawad Williams #21 of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Tar Heels is defended by Derrick Byars #5 of the University of Virginia Cavaliers during the game at Dean E. Smith Center on February 12, 2003 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The Tar Heels won 81-67. (Photo by Craig Jones/Getty Images) /

QL: During your time at UNC, what’s your favorite memory?
JW: Had to be winning a national championship in 2005. Outside of that, my greatest memories from Carolina come from my teammates. I played with a great group of guys and we all still keep in touch and raise our families together. So, it’s hard to just separate everything from basketball. Everything boils down to that.

QL: We hear this “Carolina Family” term from players to the coaching and even social media. What does family mean at UNC?
JW: It’s what we are now. I mean before we were teammates and everything, but you don’t really fully understand Carolina family concept until you leave school. For myself, for example, I’m 14-years removed but I’m still here every day working out and working out with the younger guys. I’m meeting up with Sean May and his family and we’re going to dinners. It’s just you never lose the people that you met at school. That’s what Carolina Family is all about.

QL: You were in the transition from Doherty to Williams, what was that like for you? And the rumors you heard.
JW: The media and all that stuff. I don’t read any of that. So, I didn’t know anything about it and I’m going into my sophomore year. We were better. My freshman year was 8-20, but I didn’t think he was going to get fired. There was a period where I didn’t know what I was going to do; I didn’t know if I want to stay in school, if I want to leave, transfer or just declare for the draft. I didn’t know what I wanted to do at the time.

And then with hearing about Coach Williams coming (we heard a thousand other names) and I was still uncertain. It was weird because going into my senior year in high school before I committed to Carolina, I was recruited by every school in the country except for Kansas. And now I got to play for the coach that never recruited me, and I didn’t know how it was going to work.

QL: And how did that shape you?
JW: If anything it made me a leader, it came with my upbringing growing up in Cleveland. I grew up in a tough environment. There’s nothing that compared to what I went through growing up. So, I don’t back down from much. I’m not scared to step into the fire and do what I need to do to get things done.

QL: Was there ever a moment outside of Coach Williams being introduced as head coach that made you question your commitment to UNC?
JW: Only time I questioned being at Carolina was after that 8-20 season. I initially committed to Maryland and I backed out of that commitment to sign with UNC. It bothered me because that same season, Maryland won a national championship.

I’ll never forget I had 10 points 7 rebounds at halftime. I’m like, okay, because I watched ESPN the night before and some of my guys I played with in the McDonald’s All American, i’m watching the numbers they put up and I’m like “that’s nothing. I’ll kill that”, but I had 10 and 7 in the first half and was benched for the rest of the game; Coach told me I wasn’t being a team player and you know, that was different for me.

After that I had to change everything, and buy into the Carolina system. That was the one time I thought “I probably shouldn’t be here”, especially watching my counterparts have great success.

QL: What exactly is the Carolina System and why do so many outsiders have a problem with it and initially some players?
JW: It’s an equal opportunity offense. No one who plays at Carolina just plays one way. You can’t just play offense, and not play defense. You have to play both ends of the floor. You got to remember you’re out there with other guys who are high-caliber players. So you can’t just have one guy taking 20 shots; you’re probably going to get eight shots. You’re probably going to have 20 minutes and you have to spread that love out and that’s what the Carolina way is. That’s why the teams are always successful because you can’t focus in on one guy without another guy stepping up. But the system is tough especially for ‘superstars’ or ‘one and done’ players.

QL: Did you always know that basketball was going to be it for you?
JW: Yea, I made my mind up about that a long time ago.

QL: Who is Coach Williams and how has he changed from the moment you met him in 2003 to 2019?
JW: I think he’s gotten a little softer on the guys. And that is not a knock on him, It’s just the way things are now, you know? Everybody is real sensitive about everything so he can only be so tough on a guy before he runs and tells the parents, and now they (parents) are super involved. My mother nor my father ever called a coach and said “you are doing this to my son and my son has to play” but I understand that’s the new thing; you have parents calling and trying to coach the team. I feel like he’s adapted to know where we are now as a society. Not everyone is mentally tough anymore.

QL: What separates the 2005 championship team from everyone else?
JW: Our toughness. We were different. Like really different. Coach Williams came in and tried to drop the hammer on us; pretty much just trying to break us. He felt like we were that Doherty era that was coming to an end, and he had to make a statement, and he had to kill us. And we never folded. If anything, we responded, and we got better as a team. We got better individually, and that’s what led us to win his first national championship. We were pretty tough.

QL: Are Carolina fans the best in the world?
JW: Absolutely, I’ve traveled around the world and there hasn’t been a country I’ve been to yet where I didn’t have a Carolina encounter. They always treated me like family, and that’s something I’ll never take for granted.