UNC coach Roy Williams underwent surgery on Wednesday to remove a tumor from his right kidney. ROBERT WILLETT
CHAPEL HILL -- North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams underwent surgery on Wednesday morning to remove a tumor from his right kidney, according to the university.
Steve Kirschner, a UNC athletic department spokesman, said it was not yet known whether the tumor is malignant. Kirschner said it could be a week or more before doctors make that determination.
Williams might have to undergo another surgery next month, but he is not expected to miss any time once the regular season begins in mid-November.
Williams underwent a robotic partial nephrectomy that removed the tumor from his kidney. Dr. Eric Wallen, a professor of urology at UNC, led a team of surgeons that performed Williams’ surgery at UNC Hospitals.
“The surgery went well and according to plan,” Wallen said in a statement. “Coach Williams did great. I fully expect him to coach this season and for years to come.
“He could miss some practice time if we perform another procedure sometime in October, but he would be able to resume his coaching duties prior to the start of the regular season.”
Williams, 62, should be able to coach when the Tar Heels begin practice on Oct. 12, Wallen said. Williams is preparing to enter his 10th season as UNC’s head coach.
Williams planned to go on a recruiting trip on Tuesday but never could because of inclement weather, Kirschner said. Williams called a team meeting at 10 p.m. on Tuesday night and informed his players about his impending surgery.
“It was heartbreaking, very surprising,” said Dexter Strickland, the Tar Heels’ senior guard. “I didn’t expect that because nobody knew what it was about. I can’t really explain it.”
Strickland said Williams “didn’t get into detail too much.”
“He didn’t want us to worry too much to where it affects our play and him not being here affects us still building as a team and having practice and stuff like that,” Strickland said.
Doctors discovered the tumor during a physical examination earlier this month, according to a statement the university released on Wednesday. Williams then informed his staff of assistant coaches.
Until the surgery on Wednesday, Williams hadn’t had to miss any work because of his medical issues. He has been traveling to recruit in recent weeks, and has been preparing to enter his 10th season as UNC’s head coach.
If Williams does have to miss practices – or games – it’s unclear who will assume his leadership role over the basketball program. Steve Robinson, the UNC assistant coach, said Williams’ assistants would likely work together, if necessary, to fill Williams’ void.
“I don’t think we have just one single person to say, OK, this guy – you’re in charge of everything,” Robinson said. “You know who’s in charge? Roy Williams. That’s who’s in charge.”
Robinson last spoke to Williams on Tuesday night. Williams went into surgery on Wednesday morning at around 8, and the procedure ended shortly before noon.
“I think he was just concerned,” Robinson said. “I think he’s concerned just because it’s surgery itself. And I think that this is a situation where he would certainly would like for it not to have to happen. But I don’t know of anyone that’s pretty excited about having surgery and having somebody cut you open.
“But I think he can handle it.”
Williams has endured health issues before. He has frequently been affected in recent seasons by vertigo, which has caused him at times to kneel on the sideline while retaining his balance.
He underwent shoulder surgery in November 2009 and then coached the first two months of that season while wearing a sling. Robinson, who has spent 18 seasons – first at Kansas and then at UNC – as an assistant under Williams, said Williams hadn’t been feeling well in recent weeks.
“I think he’s felt a little uncomfortable over the last couple weeks and then felt like something wasn’t quite right,” Robinson said. “But he still is who he is, in terms of he’s going to laugh, he’s going to be firey and you know, he just does a great job in some of the situations in a recruiting standpoint that we’ve been involved with.”
C.B. McGrath, another UNC assistant coach, said it was “emotional” earlier this month when he learned that Williams would have to undergo surgery.
But, McGrath said, “The way he’s built this program is on consistency. He’s been at the best. He’s been at Kansas and North Carolina. And so everything we do is pretty regimented and everybody knows what they’re supposed to do” if Williams has to miss time.
McGrath said that Williams told him he expected to be released from the hospital on Thursday. It was unclear on Wednesday, meanwhile, when doctors might determine whether Williams needs an additional surgery.
According to several medical and hospital websites, the procedure that Williams underwent on Wednesday is common for kidney cancer patients.
Staff writer Laura Keeley contributed to this story.