In recent years, UNC’s fall conditioning program has consisted of running twice a week with a final test of 12 33’s – down and back on the basketball court three times. As grueling as that may sound, players like Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins faced a tougher program nearly 30 years ago.
Just ask Roy Williams. After all, the current UNC head coach was in charge of organizing the conditioning program under Dean Smith in the ‘80s. In the fall of ’81, he instituted a program that ran four weeks long, three days a week. The first week included a mile run and four 200-yard sprints, then the players progressed to an 800 and 10 200s, before the final test of 12 200s.
Williams admits that he has gradually loosened up as the decades have passed by, but he didn’t like the toughness his team displayed last season. As a result, the ’10-11 roster endured the exact same conditioning program that Jordan and Co. were dealt back in the fall of ’81.
As it turns out, the conditioning program was only the beginning.
Williams told the media last winter about how he was having to go over the same details with certain players time and time again. That’s no longer the case.
Tyler Zeller indicated on Monday that his head coach told the team earlier in the week about telling someone how to do something “741 times” last season. This year, the players will only be told two or three times, and after that, the team will hit the baseline for sprints.
“Enough is enough – if I say you’ve got to do something, and keep saying it and keep saying it, eventually it’s not me,” Williams told reporters during ACC Operation Basketball at the Renaissance Hotel in Charlotte. “Eventually, you’ve got to change your behavior or come over and sit down.”
Williams told the story of how former Tar Heel great Mike O’Koren took two bad shots that went in during a game, and then missed a third attempt that was even worse.
“It was a dead ball and he was standing over there in front of Coach Smith and he said, ‘Coach, I’m sorry, but I just had the feeling,’” Williams said. “About that time the buzzer went off and there was somebody taking Mike out and [Coach Smith] said, ‘Well, see how that bench feels right there.’
“There’s going to be a little bit of that this year, too.”
The players have already taken notice of Williams’s more intense, demanding approach through just four practices since Friday’s “Late Night with Roy” event.
“I think he’s working harder to get us focused on the right points, as far as just doing what he says and listening to him better so he doesn’t have to repeat things,” Zeller said. “Just very detailed things, but things that will benefit us tremendously when it comes to games… It’s understandable, completely, because it’s one of those things that if he says it, you’ve got to be able to do it. And if you do it, we’ll be a great team.”
It would not appear that Williams has much flexibility in following up on his threats with only 10 scholarship players on the roster, but the eighth-year UNC head coach has already made one statement this October in dismissing fifth-year senior Will Graves for breaking team rules.
And despite low numbers in the frontcourt, Williams said he wasn’t concerned with that group because those players tend to listen better than their counterparts in the backcourt.
“On the perimeter, I would have no problem taking anybody and sitting them right over there with me and letting them stay there,” Williams said.
Williams exploded on his team during Tuesday afternoon’s practice, and then turned to assistant coach Jerod Haase (Kansas ’94-’97) and asked his former player how that tantrum rated on a scale of 1-to-10, based on his time at Kansas.
Haase replied, “That was a two.”
“There will be some more of that this year because I didn’t enjoy last year,” Williams said. “Still, in saying that, it’s part the coach’s responsibility to get them to do it. That’s the part that I really struggle with as a coach.”
Thus far, the players have held up their end of the bargain. They very well could be scared to do otherwise.
“In the conditioning program, I was very pleased with what they did, and with a couple of exceptions, I was ecstatic with what they did,” Williams said. “And I went wacko only one time in four practices – that’s pretty good.”