Whether you’re a fan of professional or college sports, certain teams carry an air of expectations. In recent years, for example, the New England Patriots simply win the AFC East; while things might have changed in the last decade, the New York Yankees spend money and take home the World Series title. In college basketball, the University of North Carolina men’s basketball team is one of those programs; come March, Roy Williams and his Tar Heels are usually chasing the championship.
This season, however, has been a bit different in Chapel Hill. In fact, Williams recently had to give his players a harsh ultimatum: either dig in and work or leave the team.
The UNC Tar Heels’ tough 2019 campaign
Coming into the 2019-20 NCAA men’s basketball season, the University of Carolina was going through a bit of a transition. While every big-time college basketball team experiences plenty of turnover—that’s simply the nature of the beast—the Tar Heels seemed equipped to handle to transition.
The Tar Heels entered the season with only one returning starter, but still had plenty of talent on the roster. Cole Anthony and Armando Bacot came to Chapel Hill as highly-rated recruits; Anthony Harris and Jeremiah Francis might not have carried the same cache, but still seemed like legitimate players. Those freshmen, combined with some graduate transfers and returning role players, seemed to leave the Tar Heels in a good spot; even if they had some bumps and bruises along the way, they were still expected to be in the hunt for an ACC title.
In reality, however, the squad has fallen short. After breezing through the opening stretch of the schedule, the Tar Heels started to struggle. December began with a four-game losing streak; January featured five consecutive losses. While there have plenty of injuries along the way, no one expected Roy Williams’ squad to be sitting at the bottom of the ACC midway through February.
The Tar Heels blow another game at the buzzer
When a team beds in new players, they’ll often struggle to close out games and manage tough situations. This season, the UNC Tar Heels are experiencing that reality first hand.
In the team’s first meeting with Duke, North Carolina seemed to be cruising to victory only to fall at the final two hurdles. The Blue Devils intentionally missed a free throw and hit a buzzer-beater to send the game to overtime; in the extra frame, the Tar Heels seemed to have the game wrapped up, but a last-second layup gave Duke the win.
While UNC’s defeat on Monday night might not be as painful as a heartbreaking loss to Duke, it was arguably even worse. The Tar Heels led by as many as 15 points and held a nine-point cushion with five minutes remaining, only to lose on another buzzer-beater.
Roy Williams gives his UNC squad an ultimatum
During his 32 years at Kansas and North Carolina, Roy Williams has piled up an 881-250 record. Unsurprisingly, he isn’t taking this season’s struggles too well. The veteran coach, however, isn’t about to let his players start feeling sorry for themselves.
“You got two choices: You can compete your butt off, or you can get in the fetal position and curl up and start crying,” the veteran coach explained. “I’m not going to freaking do that. We’re going to f—ing—excuse me, I apologize to everybody—we’re going to freaking compete. That’s what we’re going to do. We play Saturday. You feel sorry for yourself, and you’re going to do that the rest of your freaking life.”
He also gave his players an ultimatum: come in willing to work even harder or leave the program.
“You’ve got to be all-in, or you’ve got to leave,” Williams continued. “Come on. It’s not the easiest thing in the world, but you’ve still got to compete. It’s frustrating, it makes you angry, and every little mistake you wonder why, but the bottom line is we’re going to play a game on Saturday and see what happens.”
The Tar Heels have five regular-season games left, followed by a trip to the ACC Tournament. They might not be chasing a title, but Roy Williams isn’t going to let them slack off down the stretch.