Let me start off by being 100% honest… I did not grow up wanting to play college basketball at UNC. Actually, I wasn’t even a fan. I cried when UNC beat the Fab Five. I grew up in Cleveland, OH. Some of things that I’m going to reveal to you all might shock most, but that’s what makes a good story.
Coming out of high school I was recruited by almost every division one college in the nation. The one school that didn’t recruit me was Kansas, weird how things turn out, I will touch on that later. Since Steve Fisher was no longer at Michigan, I knew I was going to the University of Cincinnati. My former high school teammate and one of the best guards in college basketball at the time, Steve Logan was playing there. He played along some very talented guys, Kenyon Martin, Dermarr Johnson, Kenny Satterfield, Pete Michael, and a cast of other talents. I went to a UC game almost every weekend with one of my AAU coaches, Mike Duncan of OBC. Bob Huggins became one of my favorite coaches. It amazed me how he would get on his players so hard, exchange curse words with his guys and then after the game hug them with love, like the arguments never happened. After seeing this, I figured I would follow my former teammate to UC, but my mother cut that short quick! It was reported that at the time, Cincy had a 0% graduation rate even though the rate didn’t take into account how many guys left school early or how the JUCO transfer players didn’t factor into the rate. My mother wasn’t having it. So I had to take them off my list.
With my first option out of the picture I had to begin paying attention to other schools. UNC caught my eye after watching a Carolina, Duke game that was played in Chapel Hill. They had this guy by the name of Antawn Jamison who killed Duke with 35 points, this super crafty PG who never made a bad play, and this high jumping dude named Vince Carter. After watching the hype that surrounded that game, seeing the high level of talent, and knowing that UNC had a history of winning because I witnessed them beat the Fab Five, they started to intrigue me, but I still wasn’t sold.
When the recruiting process started to pick up, I actually found it annoying and wanted to get it over with, but I took the advice every coach gave me, “take your time young man. This is the most important decision in your life”. One staff that seemed to follow me everywhere I went was the staff from Notre Dame. The head coach there was Matt Doherty, and he had the coolest assistant coach in the world, named Fred Quartlebaum. I liked them as people a lot and I didn’t want to string them along, so when they came to see me at my high school. I told Matt Doherty face to face, “with all due respect coach, there is no way in the world I am coming to Notre Dame. I’ve been in this all boy Catholic school for four years and Notre Dame seems like it will be the same”. He laughed and told me that he understood and we both moved on. Maryland was another team who showed a lot interest in me. My other AAU coach, Richard Smith of Cleveland Top Prospects, drove me to Maryland for an unofficial visit and I loved it. The team was super cool, DC was nice, and I had never seen a college campus like that before. With everything around me looking so good and me having a good time, I did what any impressionable teen would do. I verbally committed to Maryland.
Days after telling the staff I was coming to play for them, I told them not to tell anyone because I wanted to still use my official visits. Later that week, the great, Bill Guthridge was seen walking the halls of my school. My coach came and got me from class and said I had a visitor. The head coach of UNC was there to talk to me. I was excited. We talked for maybe ten minutes. Later on, I learned that Coach Gut was going to retire. Soon after, I got a call one night andt he voice on the other end of the phone said, “is this Jawad?” I replied, “Yes”. Then the caller said, “think I can come get you to play for me now?” Coach Doherty had just taken the head coaching job at UNC. Right after I thought to myself, “maybe the team that knocked off the Fab Five isn’t that bad”.
My official visits were set, I was going to UNC first, Maryland second, and then USC (Southern Cal). UNC scored major points immediately. My mom and I heading to the wrong airport, knew I had a flight to catch, but thought there was an error in the itinerary. It had the name of the airport in Cleveland wrong. It wasn’t wrong though. I had a private jet waiting for me at the address they sent. When I arrived in Chapel Hill, the staff and another recruit, Jackie Manuel, met me. The day was magical. Saw the campus, got a history lesson of the famous alumni and their involvement with the program and ate on Franklin Street. The nightcap was going to a night football game. As I walked to my seat along the track in front of the crowd, I saw signs with my name everywhere and the crowd began chanting “JA-WAD WIL-LIAMS”. I called my parents as soon as I got back to my room and said, “I’m going to be a Tar Heel”. My mom said, “I thought you loved Maryland?” I replied, “mom this is different”.
Ever since that day, it has been all about the Tar Heels. How could I turn down the same program that produced the greatest basketball player of all time? How could I say no to a place where I would have 22,500 fans screaming at every game? I told you the only school coaching staff that didn’t recruit me was at Kansas, well my junior year that same coaching staff came to UNC and a year later we won a National Championship together. Some things are just meant to be and I believe, I was meant to be a TAR HEEL!
Till next time… GO HEELS!