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Sunday Punch

Smith gets coach and wrath of alma mater

By HUBERT MIZELL, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 20, 2003


Roy Williams skipped out. He's not in Kansas anymore. A basketball wizard took a Carolina Blue brick road. Needing a tail gunner to handle the flak.

A smart, sensitive basketball coach, Williams knew Jayhawks hearts would splinter, triggering angry shouts of "hypocrite" and "liar" and "traitor."

Jamaal Wilkes felt jilted. A swingman called Silk, memorable star from an incomparable UCLA era, Wilkes grinned as KU signed his gifted teenage offspring, Omar. Dad said, "We trust Coach Williams with our son." But now, for his own good, will Williams try to steal young Wilkes for UNC?

Often, there is turbulence and ire when an accomplished coach departs for a new job. But the Williams move, with Kansas hearts still pounding from another national championship near miss, has thousands screaming, "Benedict Arnold!"

Hoops is a huge deal at KU, but is anything in athletics more passionate than the sport of Michael Jordan at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill?

Chapel, how appropriate the name, as many Tar Heels pray for a return to glory days, like when Dean Smith was coach. An art North Carolina fellows perform in a temple called Dean Smith Center, with the legend still making major impact in his 70s, a half-dozen seasons since retiring as college basketball's winningest (879-254) coach.

Smith chose his 1997 replacement, lifetime assistant Bill Guthridge, who did well but wasn't quite old Dino. UNC backers drool for a return to Final Four power.

When another coach was hired in 2000, with Williams turning down the job, the Tar Heels godfather wouldn't endorse former player Matt Doherty. Smith's choice was Utah coach Rick Majerus.

Doherty, a former KU assistant to Williams, came home to UNC after one season as boss at Notre Dame. He was immediately successful -- named national coach of the year. Recruiting got better. But in 2001-02, Doherty went sour. His people skills were scratchy. Two weeks ago, after a mediocre season, Matt was dispensed.

Smith, disturbed at the slide from his kind of UNC greatness, made a raspy voiced appeal to former Heels assistant Williams. KU's coach felt a religious kind of pull, even if meant making Jayhawks seethe.

Expect the ACC, within two seasons, to again be the NCAA's strongest basketball conference. Rival schools will push harder with Williams at the UNC throttle.

Duke and Mike Krzyzewski won't back down. Maryland, the 2001-02 national champ, and Gary Williams will shift into a higher gear. Challenges become stiffer for Wake Forest, N.C. State, Georgia Tech, FSU, Clemson and Virginia.

This time, Smith got the man he wanted. His name may be muddier in Kansas than even that of defector Williams. Old Dino played for a KU national championship team in 1952. Now he pains his alma mater, pilfering a coach who'd become beloved as the Untouchable Jayhawk.

FREE THROWS: When a patron leaps on a playing field of a major sport, especially with threatening attitude, I don't think a mandatory $5,000 fine and 30-day jail term plus appropriate rehab is too stiff. ... Bill Bravick of New Port Richey writes, "Will you now admit that you were wrong or will you continue to press for a (college football) playoff?" Bill, my mind is unaltered, seeking far deeper excitement with basketball-like playoff brackets; no matter how much Ohio State earned its No.1 celebration. ... Recent whatever happened subject Lou Michaels, wondrous Kentucky defensive end/placekicker who achieved in the NFL with the Rams, Steelers and Colts, lives in Swoyersville, Pa., working at Luzerne County Prison and watching, at age 67, a son coach football at nearby Wyoming Valley West High School.

MARK McCORMACK: He, not George Steinbrenner or Paul Tagliabue or Tiger Woods, has long been the most powerful person in sports.

Beginning with Arnold Palmer as his sole client more than 40 years ago, McCormack built International Management Group (IMG) into a sports-management organization that dwarfs all others combined.

With headquarters in Cleveland, the McCormack company has 85 offices in 33 countries with a spectacular list of clients that includes Woods, Derek Jeter ands Venus Williams.

A lawyer with golfing talents so sharp he once competed in British amateur championships, the 72-year-old McCormack went to New York in January for what was to be low-risk medical maintenance. Something went terribly wrong. He has been in a coma since.

Mark's second wife is Betsy Nagelsen McCormack, a St. Petersburg native who played professional tennis more than 20 years. For three months, she has been at her husband's bedside as challenges keep evolving, including recent cardiac arrest.

McCormack, who represented Pope John Paul II during a North American tour, has personal wealth estimated in the billions. He and Betsy have homes in Cleveland and at Isleworth, the Orlando enclave where neighbors include Woods.

"We're still hopeful positive signs will come soon," IMG executive Bev Norwood told me at the Masters. "It's a difficult time for all who are close to Mark. Worldwide reaction has been extraordinary."

Whatever happened to Vince Coleman?

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