CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina coach Roy Williams has begun recovering from surgery Wednesday to remove a tumor from his right kidney and is expected to be on the sideline when the season starts.
Still, the coach might need another operation to remove another tumor from his left kidney.
“I fully expect him to coach this season and for years to come,” Dr. Eric Wallen said in a statement. “He could miss some practice time if we perform another procedure sometime in October, but he would be able to resume his coaching duties prior to the start of the regular season.”
It’s unclear exactly how much time the 62-year-old Williams will miss leading up to the start of preseason practice Oct. 13.
In a news release, the school said doctors discovered the tumor during a physical earlier this month. The release also said Williams underwent a 3½-hour procedure Wednesday morning.
The severity of the tumor that was removed is unknown and team spokesman Matt Bowers said test results could be back in about a week.
Tar Heels players and assistant coaches expect don’t expect the Hall of Famer to miss any of preseason practice.
They also know Williams might have to go a little slower than he would like.
“Coach is Coach, he’s going to be anxious and he can’t sit still very long,” longtime assistant Steve Robinson said, “but we just want him to ... make sure he has full recovery.”
C.B. McGrath, a Tar Heels assistant who played and coached under Williams at Kansas, said everyone wants Williams to return quickly, but there is no hurry.
“You know, coach has always built every program he’s ever done on consistency and he’s run a program,” McGrath said. “All of our veterans know what they’re supposed to do. All of us working for coach all these years know what we’re supposed to do. So things are going to be fine as usual with the program. We just obviously are more worried about coach Williams and his health.”
Williams has had minor health issues in recent years, including occasional bouts with vertigo and back problems.
He had shoulder surgery three years ago to repair a torn labrum, which left him to coach several weeks with his left arm in a sling.
The coach told his assistants a few days ago that he would have surgery for the kidney tumor, then called a team meeting Tuesday night to tell the players he would have surgery the next morning.
“When we all heard, it was just that awkward silence in the room,” senior guard Dexter Strickland said. “We didn’t expect that at all, especially from him. You can’t really explain it.”
Still, junior guard Reggie Bullock sounded optimistic that Williams would be ready for the start of the season.
“My assumption is he will be back for practice,” Bullock said. “I just know this is the game he loves and he’d do anything to be here with us.”
Williams is preparing for his 10th season at his alma mater, where he spent 10 years as an assistant to Dean Smith before taking over at Kansas and leading the Jayhawks to four Final Fours. Williams, who has 675 wins in 24 seasons, won NCAA championships with the Tar Heels in 2005 and 2009.
The Tar Heels have won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title and reached an NCAA regional final the past two seasons.
North Carolina must replace four NBA first-round draft picks (Kendall Marshall, John Henson, Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes) from last year’s preseason No. 1-ranked team.
In a statement, UNC athletics director Bubba Cunningham said he has stressed to Williams “that he returns only when he has been given the medical approval and he is ready to do that.”
McGrath – who along with Robinson and director of basketball operations Joe Holladay came with Williams from Kansas in 2003 – said the coaching staff wouldn’t likely update Williams on anything going on with the program for at least a few days as he recovers.
“I think all of us are in charge,” Robinson said. “We’ve all got our duties and our responsibilities, and I don’t think we have one single person where we say, ‘OK, this guy is in charge of everything.’ You know who’s in charge of everything? Roy Williams is in charge.”