Scott Carmichael Williams ’99 – My Carolina Story

For many years, a member of the GAA Board of Directors has presented a “My Carolina Story” at each of the board’s quarterly meetings, and we are sharing their stories with all of our alumni. Hark the Sound.

“Me, Brad Frederick, Jacque Vaughn, Paul Pierce, Rex Walters, and Steve Woodbury …  all they wanted to hear about was what it was like playing here, and what the games were like, and what the Duke rivalry was like.”

June 10, 2023

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We’ve seen Paula, Veronica, Meg, Lowry, Alge up here doing these Carolina Stories and they’re always very meaningful experiences.  They talk about deep relationships, academic excellence, overcoming obstacles—all really motivational stories. So, prepare to be disappointed.

I remember seeing Mike O’Koren playing basketball in the late ’70s. He’s from Jersey. I remember seeing him, for all I know it could have been a celebration of Coach Smith’s life at the Smith Center and says [in Jersey accent] “Ya know, dey call us stoodent athletes, and we was athletes, but I don’t know that we was da greatest stoodents!” I only bring that up because I think part of my success in life generally has been lowering expectations. So hopefully, your expectations are appropriately lowered for these next several minutes.

I will give you two of my earliest childhood memories.  One was being at the old Carmichael Auditorium—couldn’t tell you anything about the game, but we had a band conductor at the time named Major Y. I literally remember being two-foot nothing and Major Y would let me grab the baton and direct the band during time-outs in the game.  My other earliest childhood memory is back when my old man was assistant coach here. At the time, there wasn’t quite the money in the business as there is today, so one of his “side hustles” was during the time when the Dean Smith Coach’s Show was on 8 mm film.  The only way it got to different networks was that somebody had to drive it. I remember being awakened by my dad, thrown in the back seat—buckled or not, I have no idea—and we would drive the 8 mm film from Chapel Hill to Greensboro, we’d get to Asheville in time for my grandmother to make us biscuits and gravy—I woke up for that—then down to Charlotte to drop off the last film, then back to Chapel Hill. So all of my really early memories I think are somehow related to the beginning of my Carolina experience.

I grew up in Kansas. I only applied to three schools: Carolina, University of Texas at Austin, and Arizona State. I wanted to get away from home, and I figured when the acceptance to Carolina came in, that was the easy answer—maybe not because of what you’re thinking, but I have kin all over this state which meant that I had a free meal and a load of laundry that somebody could be helping me out with! That was about as scientific as I got with my college acceptance.

I ended up coming here with my best friend Brad Frederick, who’s now on Coach Davis’ staff on the basketball team. His dad, several years earlier, had hired my old man at KU because Coach Smith told him to. That was it.  Coach Smith told Bob Frederick to hire Roy Williams, and it happened. Again, my life and the direction were being shaped by the Carolina experience.

We lived in Granville [Towers].  The first week of school, Brad and I are in our room, 11:30 or 12:00 o’clock at night, lights off—we are asleep. Door goes flinging open (we forgot to lock our door) and Shammond Williams is standing there.  Shammond flips on the light and says, “Hey, I hear you two Kansas boys wanna hoop. Get dressed and meet me outside in five minutes.” Shammond Williams tells me to meet him outside in five minutes, I’m gonna meet him outside in five minutes!

So we meet him outside, he drives us down to the Smith Center, we break in—physically break in—we turn the lights on, and within 10 minutes there’s probably 15 other guys there. Some guys had been playing JV, some guys had been playing Varsity, and we hooped from midnight to 2:00 am. That was my indoctrination into Chapel Hill. We did that for that entire 1995 preseason: Left our door open because we were not going to miss if Shammond wanted to get in and take us down to hoop. That led me making the JV team. Four of the groomsmen in my wedding were from JV basketball.

Another story:  Coach Smith always wanted his JV guys to experience what it was like playing an “away” game. So we go down to Myrtle Beach. I couldn’t tell you who we found to play—some community college or something down there—and we’re sitting in the lobby.  There was a piano. One of our guys, Alton Mitchell, from the metropolis of Wilson NC, starts playing the piano. Alton’s a black kid. I would never in a million years have expected what was about to happen. Alton starts playing the piano and he is phenomenal! He starts taking requests. We all had our Discmans at the time and we put “Boyz II Men,” “Shy,” whatever, on his head [headphones]. He’d close his eyes and listen to 30 seconds, take it off and he’d play. Those type of experiences made my Carolina experience.

During summers we’d take classes, we’d work camp, and we’d go up to the Smith Center at night and we’d hoop. I’m looking up there on the court and it’s me, Don Williams, Dante Calabria, [Jerry] Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, two of my teammates—Vincent [Carter] and Antawn [Jamison]—and in any given game, I’m the only dope out there that is clearly not ever going to make a dime playing basketball!

Then I’d go home to Kansas for second session summer school. I’d work camp, work out in the morning, referee games at night, then we’d go down to the field house at night. Me, Brad Frederick, Jacque Vaughn, Paul Pierce, Rex Walters, and Steve Woodbury—and again, I’m looking up at the court and I’m the only dope that is not going to be making his living playing basketball. But after those games were over with, sitting there talking to those Kansas guys about my experience at Chapel Hill, there was a mysticism around this place—even from Kansas, who has a pretty good reputation and a pretty big history in the space—but all they wanted to hear about was what it was like playing here, and what the games were like, and what the Duke rivalry was like. It’s just magical when you see that coming from peers.

My favorite parts weren’t really playing basketball. It was the bus rides, the hotel room, it was being in Washington, DC telling the Blue team (all the suckers who weren’t going to play) “Boys, we’re going to meet at 11:00 tonight by the elevator on that end. Just be quiet because we can’t wake up the coaches.” We snuck out. We’re all in. All we wore was Carolina warm-ups. A bunch of our guys had never seen the Mall, so we snuck out so we could go see the Mall. This was not my idea, but we ended up walking past a bar. If you’ve ever been to or worked in DC, you realize that the [DC] colleges are like 8 to 1 girls to guys. There’s a bouncer outside. We are all clearly Carolina basketball players. The bouncer says, “Hey, do you guys want to come in? We’d love to have you come in, give you all the free drinks you want.” I’m like, “Let me stop you there. That’s not the headline we want, but you’ll let us in for free? Yeah, we’ll come!” And we go in. This is probably one of my two basketball related highlights.  I see Brendan Haywood—Brendan stood 6’ 11 ½”, Bryan Bersticker was 6’ 10”, and this very attractive young lady comes up to the two of them and says, “Oh wow! You guys play basketball for Carolina!” And you can see them both puff up their chest a little bit. “We do.” And she goes, “Do you know Scott Williams?” I swear this actually happens, and I’m close enough to kinda see this—just the look of sheer disappointment, confusion on their faces! It ends up that she had a roommate that was originally from Kansas or something. But again, it’s those moments that I imagine probably more. Again, it wasn’t like I was getting on the court much anyway, so I don’t have a ton of highlights there but THAT was my highlight!

I think it was a hurricane that knocked out power and water to Carmichael dorm my sophomore year, and again, being able to take my entire floor and break into the Smith Center so that we could all take showers [was another highlight].

We took a trip to the Federal penitentiary. Some of our guys ended up knowing some of the guys that were in there as they were walking past. Seeing the elation on our guys’ faces when we walked out—some of them got down and kissed the ground. You want to be set on the “straight and narrow,” go to visit a Federal penitentiary.

Doing doughnuts in the back parking lot at the Smith Center when it would ice over—that’s the stuff I remember. I took out a bush one time, made it four years until somebody ratted me out to the maintenance staff. That’s the type of thing that was my Carolina experience.

I do have one actual [basketball] story. We were in Anchorage, Alaska for the Great Alaska Shootout my junior year. We were stacked. We had the best team in the country. For the Championship game, it’s number one Carolina versus number three UCLA. Now we’ve covered the fact that I’m not adding a lot to the actual game, but I was a prolific pregame meal eater. When I knew that I was not smelling the court, I would go deep! It’s the number one team versus the number three team in the country, and I go through the pregame line like three times. Brendan Haywood is sending me his food because that’s how much I ate. So, I’m walking to the game as happy as a fat cat can be, just ‘cause I get front row seats to number one versus number three. At halftime, we’ve got them by 30 and my stomach is so nervous, it is absolutely turning in knots because I might actually get in this game! We get to the second half, we are absolutely giving it to them, a minute and a half left in the game, and I’m not making eye contact with Coach Guthridge. It is literally the last thing I want to do! He comes walking over, “Scott, go ahead and get into the game.” So I run out there on the court. It’s the only time in my life I’ve ever walked the ball up the court! If I had run the ball up the court, I would have puked on national TV. No doubt in my mind!

I do eventually graduate. Before that, I interview for a job my senior season. I walked into an office at the old First Union in Charlotte, and the guy, who is probably the ninth straight of my every 45 minute set of interviews, says, “Scott, I’m Jim Sigman. Take your shoes off, put your feet on my desk. We’re going to talk Carolina basketball!” I will go so far as to say there is not a job I had in my entire life that I did not get, at least in part, because of the fact that I went to this university and played ball. That was just my first real experience with exactly how meaningful that was. So I took my shoes off and we talked Carolina basketball.

I met my wife here.  She was a cheerleader. We actually dated seven years before we got married, and back to my original theme, people say, “Why in the world did it take you seven years to actually get married?” Expectation management! I was able to lower her expectations over that seven year period by such an extent that it was a bar even I could jump over!

I affectionately call them my two idiots, but I have a 13 year old and an 11 year old son.  Their Carolina experience:  We won it in 2017, and they’re telling me how excited they are about being able to come back next year.  They have no idea! Because they got to go ’16 and ’17, they thought that’s just what Carolina basketball does—we’ll just go to the Final Four every year!

One of my favorite memories of the 2016 semi-final game is my then 4-year-old has a loose tooth. I love pulling little kids’ teeth—I don’t know what it is, but I love it. I yanked his tooth out right before half time and he’s pretty excited about it. Odell Beckham Jr. is sitting in the Carolina section and he comes down. I’m thinking this is a great time to get a fun picture of the idiots with Odell Beckham Jr., so I said, “Boys, get in there with him. Do you mind taking a picture?” He says, “Yeah, yeah. No problem.” And my 4-year-old proceeds to tell Odell Beckham Jr. that he just lost a tooth. I literally have to wait there with a camera, because Odell is having a conversation with my son about how he lost a tooth, but he got a gold one and that my 4-year-old ought to think about getting a gold one. This whole conversation happens as I’m standing there. (I’m thinking: “I really just want to take a picture. I appreciate your being nice to my kid, but…”) The situations we find ourselves in because of what we’ve done here and the opportunities are just phenomenal.

I ended up living in London two years. We’d get together with other Carolina grads and we’d come over to my flat because I had what was called at the time “Sling TV” which tapped into my TV in Charlotte. I was the game watching place, whether it was football, basketball, whatever.  Basketball was tough because it was 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 in the morning a lot of times.

When I moved back to Charlotte, I was still playing a little bit of basketball and I would have this “Scott Williams Invitational.”  I rented out a gym. I invited people: the first eleven that responded to my email got to play. My team got the ball first, I picked the teams, and if you lost more games than you won at the end of the night, you had to do five down-backs on the court. So games stayed competitive.  We only played for an hour and a half. Brendan Haywood, Antawn Jamison, Julius Peppers—those guys came and played in the Scott Williams Invitational, and every single one of them ran at the end of the night if they lost more than they won. Again, there’s that expectation that comes with being a Carolina athlete, a Carolina grad.

We do workouts at my house to the very day. We got a Carolina lacrosse player, a Carolina baseball player and a bunch of others that come over to my house at 5:00 am every Friday morning, so I’ve done my best not to lose those connections. My crew of friends in Charlotte—I guarantee I am as popular as I am because of my experiences and that I’m something unique because I’ve been a part of what this is.

I now work at a firm called Lincoln Harris. We do commercial real estate. I’m on the operating committee and we’re run by a bunch of Carolina people. I do wonder, though—my old man was actually the first in his family to go to college, and his high school basketball coach was the one that forced him to go to Carolina, saying “No, no, no—this is good. You need to do this!” If it were not for Coach Baldwin, would I have a Carolina Story? Is that something that started this whole thing in motion for me? Every move, every life event, every success I’ve had—and I don’t mind saying it—is probably directly because of what I got here.

Thank you for the time. I told Lowry this morning that I have no idea if this is going to be 10 or 20 minutes or two, but that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!