North Carolina coach Roy Williams can't wait to start practice this weekend — and for years to come — after his recent cancer scare.
"You always have people say when you hear that word that it knocks you for a loop," Williams said Thursday. "And it does. You're off the charts in every different direction. But I told my team that I was going to coach this team. And I felt that way."
Speaking at the team's preseason media day, the Hall of Famer described a "whirlwind 24 days" between the time doctors discovered tumors on both his kidneys and when they determined the growths were benign.
The 62-year-old said that while he plans to "smell the roses a heck of a lot more," his recent health issues haven't changed his plan to coach another six to 10 years at UNC.
"It does change you," Williams said. "Anybody that says it doesn't, they're a lot stronger or more wacko than I am. I really want to coach this team. And you know what's going to happen next year? I'm really going to want to coach that team again, too."
When Williams had surgery to remove the tumor on his right kidney on Sept. 19, doctors had told him it was likely cancerous. But tests soon determined it was an oncocytoma, a benign growth often indistinguishable from kidney cancer on X-rays that doesn't spread like a cancerous tumor would.
Doctors later performed a biopsy on the left-kidney tumor and determined last week that it was also benign. They didn't surgically remove it. Williams said doctors will monitor that growth every six months for the immediate future.
UNC opens preseason practice Saturday with the challenge of replacing NBA first-round draft picks Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller from last year's team that reached an NCAA regional final for the second straight year.
"When he told us the other kidney (tumor) was benign, it was just like a big relief," sophomore guard P.J. Hairston said. "We wanted him to get better. We want him to be on the court to practice. Now it's just a great feeling to have him around now. He can move around more. He's doing a lot more now."
Reserve sophomore Jackson Simmons said the team tried to keep Williams' spirits up as he recovered. That included sending a video the day of his surgery with all the players mimicking Williams' fists-clinched, squatting pose he often strikes while motivating his players during games from the sideline.
"We were told it was going to be a positive outcome, but you just worry about that," Simmons said. "Those couple of weeks were really tough, but at the same time, there was a different focus around here that we sort of had the sense that we needed to work a little bit harder because Coach was working hard to get through that."
Williams has had minor health issues in recent years, including occasional bouts with vertigo and back problems. He had shoulder surgery three years ago to repair a torn labrum, which left him to coach several weeks with his left arm in a sling.
The coach said he's been working about five hours a day leading up to the start of preseason practice and would work a reduce schedule until about six weeks after surgery. He said he feels good and is not in any pain, but added he might've worn out his wife, Wanda, by spending all the extra time recovering at home.
"She's been after me to retire for 10 years," Williams said. "And after she's had all that time with me, she thinks she may want me to coach a little bit longer to get away from me."