Bulls' Coby White wishes UNC coach Roy Williams well in retirement

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K.C. Johnson
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How Roy Williams helped prepare Coby White for NBA, life originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

On the day Roy Williams created seismic news by retiring as one of college basketball’s titans, Coby White spoke to his North Carolina coach.

But in a telling sign of the loyalty Williams bred with his players -- current and former -- Williams called White.

“What’s crazy is he called me because he didn’t see me in the (Bulls') box score, so he was making sure that I was OK,” White said via Zoom from Salt Lake City in advance of Friday’s Bulls-Jazz matchup. “He didn’t even call to talk about everything that had happened. He called to see what was wrong with me.”

White is questionable for Friday’s game because of the sore neck that has sidelined him from his first two NBA games. But there’s nothing questionable about the impact made on college basketball as coach at Kansas and North Carolina.

“I don't think you could put it into words,” White said. “I don't think there will ever be another Roy Williams.”

White, who spoke to Williams for about 20 minutes, said he was shocked by the news.

I'm happy for him and kind of sad at the same time because he will forever be my coach and forever be that role model, that guy, that figure I can go to in my life,” White said. “But he's done this a long time and he's one of the best ever. So now he gets to enjoy time. He gets to enjoy his family.”

White, the leading scorer in North Carolina high school history, averaged 16.1 points and 4.1 assists in his lone season at Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels went 29-7 and won the ACC regular-season championship before losing to Duke in the conference tournament and Auburn in the NCAA tournament.

The Bulls selected White with the seventh overall pick in 2019 after he left school early, a decision Williams made easy for him.

“Not coming from the best situation, he told me to go because he knew I had a chance to go in the top 10,” White said. “But he also told me there's nothing wrong with going back to school, told me if I was to come back, I'd be the best point guard in college basketball. That would have been fun just going back to school. But first thing he said to me was I think that you should go.

“We met right after the season and he told me I should go, due to my circumstance. That kind of helped my decision right there. Just getting his blessing was major for me, because at that point I still didn't know if I was leaving or not. All that stuff people talk about Coach Williams holds players back... that’s false accusations.”

Williams and White created a memorable moment on Nov. 12, 2019. Williams sat in the United Center stands as White sank seven 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to set an NBA rookie record and franchise mark. White finished with 27 points in his breakout performance and shared a poignant postgame moment with his former coach.

White credited Williams for constantly challenging him and, in that regard, said he sees some similarities between Williams and Bulls coach Billy Donovan.

“Coach (Wlliams) had been recruiting me since I as a sophomore, so he knew me. He knew the person I was and when something was wrong with me. He knew when I was tired, knew when I was hurting,” White said. “One day he kind of took me to the side and said, 'You've got a chance to be great. But the great ones take on the challenge every day and they come ready to compete every day. Any time they have a chance to play, they're going to play. They're going to play hard.’ He just said, 'You play hard every night, but I've got to get you to see the picture of the greats do it every single day. It's consistent. They don't take any days off. In practice, they're first in sprints, they're first in everything.'

“I think that was the biggest advice he gave me. And as a person, that translates to life -- attacking every day, being the best you that you can be. When you're not having the best day, being able to turn it around and look at the positive. So he's taught me a lot.”

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