During that meeting in the players’ Smith Center locker room, Williams told his team that he was having surgery on Wednesday morning to remove a tumor from his right kidney.
“When we all heard, it was just an awkward silence in the room,” Strickland told reporters on Wednesday afternoon. “We didn’t expect that at all, especially from him. I can’t really explain it.
“It was heartbreaking for me.”
The emotional scene was difficult for both Williams and his players.
“It obviously hasn’t been easy for him, but he’s been dealing with it,” assistant coach C.B. McGrath said. “I think he was nervous about telling [the players], based on just his emotions and everything and how they would react. But it went well. I thought he did a great job talking to them, just telling them the facts.”
Williams found out that he would need surgery on Sept. 10, according to McGrath.
Dr. Eric Wallen, professor of urology at UNC, and co-surgeon Dr. Mathew Raynor led the surgical team that performed the robotic partial nephrectomy at UNC Hospitals. In a press release, Wallen said Williams should be able to coach when the Tar Heels begin practice on Oct. 13. There is a possibility that he may need a second surgery to remove a tumor from his left kidney at a later date and could be sidelined for a few practices.
“It’s been about a week or so since he found out that he was having some issues,” assistant coach Steve Robinson said. “I think it’s been going on a little longer than that. I think they ran some tests and he got the results back and then it was a matter of getting it scheduled.”
Robinson indicated that Williams had "felt a little uncomfortable over the last couple of weeks and felt like something wasn’t quite right.”
The NCAA Recruiting Period runs from Sept. 9 through Nov. 11, posing a scheduling conflict for Williams’s hectic travel schedule. The 10th-year UNC head coach canceled a trip to Chicago on Tuesday and had Florida and Boston penciled in as destinations for the weekend.
In typical Williams’s fashion, he told McGrath prior to surgery that he expected to be released by Thursday, but that decision will be left up to the doctors.
Williams missed a handful of practices after having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in the fall of 2009.
Robinson, who has coached alongside Williams for 18 years, doesn’t expect his boss’s absence to pose much of a problem in running the program.
“I don’t think it’s going to be very disruptive at all,” Robinson said. “I think you go through an adjustment phase right now, based on just the magnitude of what it is and the magnitude of Roy Williams and the University of North Carolina basketball program. But I think we’re all very competent people that will be assigned the duties of the task at hand on a day-to-day basis…
“I think we’re all very confident in our abilities to keep things moving forward and keep it running at a normal pace.”
Williams did not appoint an assistant to run the program in his absence.
“You know who’s in charge – Roy Williams,” Robinson said. “That’s who’s in charge.”
Neither the players nor the assistants had spoken with Williams as of 3pm on Wednesday. Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said the surgery started around 8:15am and ended around 11:45am.
Both players and coaches expect Williams to be ready to go by the time practice begins in three-and-a-half weeks.
“Definitely the assumption is that he’s going to be ready,” McGrath said. “He’s going to coach this team. He might miss some practices, which is unusual for him to do, but he is set on coaching this team.”
“Hopefully he’ll be back,” Strickland added. “The type of guy he is, he’s very competitive and he has so much passion for it, I think he’ll overcome it. But if not, we have a little experience with him having surgery on his shoulder and not being able to come to practice.”
The tumor was sent to a lab following the surgery and results could take as long as a “week or so” to come back, according to Kirschner.
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