CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – It wouldn't have been "Late Night with Roy" at North Carolina without Roy Williams — and the Hall of Fame coach sure looked thrilled to be back.
The Tar Heels opened preseason practice Friday night with their annual evening of silliness and scrimmaging. For Williams, the event became extra special because of his recent cancer scare.
In his first public appearance on the Smith Center sideline since the scare, Williams received three distinct, extended standing ovations from the crowd. The coach repeatedly waved in appreciation, then attempted to deflect the attention toward his players.
Doctors discovered tumors on both of the 62-year-old's kidneys last month. He says 24 days passed before it was ultimately discovered that both growths were benign. That led him to say earlier this week that he plans to "smell the roses a heck of a lot more" and that he couldn't wait to get back to work on the practice court.
"I know it meant a lot to him to have the fans standing up for him," swingman Reggie Bullock said.
Williams watched his team's 20-minute informal intrasquad scrimmage from the scorer's table, with the Blue team beating the White 37-27. Official statistics weren't kept, but P.J. Hairston unofficially finished with 12 points for Blue, which also had shooting guard Leslie McDonald and freshman point guard Marcus Paige. Bullock and James Michael McAdoo each unofficially had seven points to lead White.
"We had some great plays. We still have some things we need to work on, with defending the pick-and-roll and players just becoming comfortable at what they were doing in high school and transferring it to the college game," Bullock said. "We'll work those wrinkles out when practice comes."
Dexter Strickland, who like McDonald is coming back from a knee injury, sat out as a precaution but team officials said he was expected to practice Saturday.
After Williams mentioned he had heartburn during a routine physical last month, doctors discovered a tumor on his right kidney. He had surgery to remove that growth Sept. 19, and doctors told him it was likely cancerous. Tests later 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.
A biopsy was performed on the left-kidney tumor, and it was determined last week that it was also benign. It was not removed, though Williams said doctors will monitor that growth every six months for the immediate future.
Williams said he heard from every coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference, with Duke's Mike Krzyzewski calling three times and Wake Forest's Jeff Bzdelik sending ice cream from Cincinnati. That prompted Coach K to quip earlier Friday that "I didn't want to send him anything that would melt."
Williams and the Tar Heels will get to work on the practice court on Saturday. They must replace four first-round draft picks — Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Kendall Marshall — from a team that made two straight trips to the regional finals.
But that challenge could wait until Saturday. On this night, the Tar Heels kept things mostly light, with each player — and a few assistant coaches — cutting loose with some dance moves. Then, while the rest of their teammates were introduced individually, McDonald and Strickland came out together.
"We call ourselves the 'ACL Boys,' so why not just come out together?" McDonald said. "We worked together, and we already feel like we're brothers."
And then came the players' comic skits, which turned the event into a full-fledged dancing contest. Groups of players performed various dances — from the four freshmen donning tutus for a ballet to an Adele song to the entire team busting into a "Gangnam style" dance.