CHAPEL HILL -- The momentum of the dance contest was so strong even Roy Williams couldn’t resist: Freshmen in ballet tutus, salsa moves and a Broadway kick line. When the entire team came to the bench and tried to pull Williams onto the floor, he obliged with a shuffling sort-of shag, never mind the still-healing scars from his kidney surgery.
“I was surprised,” Leslie McDonald said. “I didn’t know he was going to do it at first. But coach Williams is a lovable, passionate type of guy, so when he hears the crowd going, he’s going to get up and dance.”
Williams was caught up in the moment at a Late Night with Roy that was very much a tribute to the coach after his recent cancer scare. His appearance on the court was greeted with a standing ovation, and his official introduction prompted another, prolonged ovation that left Williams visibly emotional.
“It’s a moment he’s never going to forget,” Reggie Bullock said. “I know it meant a lot to him, for everybody to stand up for him.”
Later, Williams sat at the scorer’s table with the Dexter Strickland and watched a very different North Carolina team, one without the four first-round picks who left and counting very heavily on two freshmen -- point guard Marcus Paige and forward Joel James -- as well as two veterans coming off serious knee injuries, Strickland and Leslie McDonald.
P.J. Hairston was the scrimmage’s offensive star with a game-high 12 points, one failed and presumably painful attempt to draw a charge on James Michael McAdoo and a floor-burning dive for a loose ball at midcourt, but North Carolina fans will probably be more excited about the play of Paige, who showed some ability to score both from the outside and going to the rim.
“He’s a great point guard who can shoot and find his teammates,” Bullock said. “He’s athletic. He can get a lot of steals and defend, slide his feet on defense.”
Another freshman caught McDonald's eye: Brice Johnson, who along with James will see heavy minutes in an inexperienced frontcourt.
“I was very impressed with Brice,” McDonald said. “Brice is an athlete. He can get around the rim and dunk.”
It ended up a 37-27 win for the Blue team, which included McDonald, James, Paige, Hairston and Johnson, over the White team including McAdoo, Luke Davis, Bullock, J.P. Tokoto and Desmond Hubert.
Strickland was held out of the scrimmage for precautionary reasons, a team spokesman said, but in an unusual and unexpected move, he and McDonald came out together when they were introduced, sharing the spotlight instead of entering individually.
“It was something that we thought about,” McDonald said. “We both coming out, having the same situation, with the ACLs, why not come out together?”
There were other moments of significance as well -- a moment of silence to honor Bill Friday, the former UNC system president who died and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell’s impromptu tribute to embattled outgoing chancellor Holden Thorp, pulling him out of the stands when she was introduced and walking with her arm around him onto the floor, where her players hoisted Thorp onto their shoulders.
But it was the two ovations for Williams that the fans in the stands and the players on the court will remember for a long, long time.
“I was there,” McDonald said. “It was history. Just to see that icon, and everybody support him, not only gave him applause but a standing ovation for a long time. Being able to see the fans and the support, it brought a lot of happiness to me.”