KU, players on edge as their coach ponders job

Friday, April 11, 2003

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- For the next few days, it appears that even the Jayhawks who play basketball at Allen Fieldhouse will have to wait right alongside those who watch it from the stands.

"I'm trying not to watch too much TV right now," reserve guard Michael Lee said Thursday afternoon. "I want to get it from the source. When the time is right, he'll tell us."

The source, of course, is basketball coach Roy Williams. The subject is North Carolina and the time, it appears, will be next week.

"How can I be torn if they haven't offered me the job yet?" Williams said Thursday, a smile on his face, during a brief conversation with reporters.

Williams spoke just a few hours after North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour, in a statement, said the wildly popular basketball coach wasn't quite ready -- after two days of talks -- to make a decision about returning home to take over the storied Tar Heels program.

It's a decision the could have repercussions beyond whose name headlines the program's letterhead. One of Kansas' top returning players, sophomore Keith Langford, raised the prospect Thursday of transferring if Williams decides to move on after 15 seasons, nine conference championships and 418 wins at the school.

"I just want to play basketball and hopefully to continue to play for coach Williams," Langford said. "I can't see myself playing for anybody else at this school."

The talks between Williams and North Carolina will continue through the weekend, Baddour said, although Williams is leaving Friday night for the Wooden Awards in Los Angeles and said he won't again speak with Tar Heels officials until Sunday.

"There are so many other things going on right now," Williams said. "And again, it's less than 72 hours away from the national championship game, so why would I be in a hurry to run off some where?"

Knowing Williams, whose tears following Monday night's loss to Syracuse were as much a reaction to the end of a four-year run with seniors Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich as to losing his second national title game, he won't run off without talking with his Kansas players first.

And that, Lee said, hasn't yet happened.

Said Langford, "Right now, as far as I'm concerned, I'm just as much in the dark as everybody else."

If Drue Jennings has any more insight than Langford and Lee, he didn't choose to tell anyone Thursday afternoon. On his first day as the school's interim athletic director following Wednesday's dismissal of Al Bohl, Jennings met with Williams for 30 minutes after Baddour issued his statement.

The subject? A simple reiteration of just how much Kansas wants Williams to pass up a second chance at Chapel Hill.

"As much as I want and we all want Roy to stay, I respect his decision making," Jennings said. "Roy is not the kind of guy that you push and prod.

"I don't want to pressure him, but I don't want him to think he is unloved either."

The response from Williams, Jennings said, was plenty of love for the Jayhawks.

"He absolutely loves this school. This is his program. He didn't build the tradition at Kansas, but he sure as heck has embellished it," Jennings said.

"He loves the kids. Loves his players. He's no less endeared to them than he was three years ago when he had this same issue. It truly tugs at him."

And for a campus, city and state that are waiting for Roy Williams to tell a football stadium full of fans "I'm staying" a second time, those words might just get everyone through the weekend. It was Williams' devotion to Collison and Hinrich that kept him in Lawrence when North Carolina first came calling three years ago.

"I'm not worried at all," Langford said. "I'm staying confident he'll be back here next year."

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