A pretty emotional and terrific press conference moment happened Wednesday night.
The backdrop: ninth-ranked North Carolina walloped a good Monmouth team. A 102-74 final, which will almost certainly amount to Monmouth's worst loss of the season. The 10-3 Hawks were snubbed of an NCAA Tournament bid last year, but they're good enough to run the MAAC and get an auto bid in 2017. Hopefully we'll get to see such an entertaining and fearless team in the Big Dance.
The team's coach, King Rice, is a North Carolina alumnus. He played point guard for the Tar Heels from 1988-1991. Roy Williams was an assistant at UNC in the 1980s. He recruited Rice, who was once a cocky kid. But since 2011, Rice has built up one of the best mid-major programs in America. When Rice got the job, Williams told him he would schedule Monmouth -- which he's done multiple times -- in effect helping the school in the form of a buy game. UNC literally pays Monmouth to come and play a game that Monmouth is expected to lose.
All of this led up to Rice crying at the postgame presser on Wednesday night. Thankfulness here. His quotes are transcribed below.
"Start off by saying thank you to Coach Williams. He treats me ... he treats me like I'm one of his sons. He always tries to take care of me, since I was a kid. I''m the luckiest guy that, in 1987, Coach Smith gave me a scholarship and it's made me have a great, great, great life. Sometimes I still let things bother me too much, but I'm the luckiest man, that I got the chance to play at North Carolina. The relationships I have; tonight I had Jimmy Black sitting with me. J.R. Reid, Coach Ford and many, many more had came today 'cause I was here with my team. And I'm thankful to all of the coaches. ... All of them helped me be a ... they took a hardheaded young kid and turned me into a man. Took me a little longer than some of the people. So, tonight, I can take losing, truly can take losing. I thought we would be closer in the game. I thought the game was closer than the ending. And sometimes it's, you just gotta write it as a learning experience. I have to become a better coach and not let other people on the court, besides the players, affect me so much. And I am working on it extra hard.. And when I get that part done, our team's going to be a lot better."
You'll often see older coaches deflect from having to play their former players/colleagues (Mike Krzyzewski famously avoids it), but Williams and Rice certainly have a powerful relationship.
"I hope people appreciate what they have in him," Rice said of Williams. "'Cause sometimes I think, even from the inside, people don't understand how lucky you are to have a man like Roy Williams run your program. He is top-notch as a man, as a coach, as a mentor, and we are lucky that he's the coach at North Carolina. We should always remember how much he loves this place."