SPOKANE — Perhaps Washington State fans owe North Carolina coach Roy Williams a debt of gratitude for ditching Kansas to take the Tar Heels’ job five years ago.
It turns out Williams, whose top-seeded team plays Washington State in the round of 16 on Thursday, had his eye on Cougar guard Derrick Low when the player was in high school.
“I talked to coach Williams a few times on the phone,” Low said Monday, and Williams also sent an assistant to watch Low play at Iolani School in Honolulu.
But Williams was also in the process of taking the North Carolina job, and eventually broke off contact with Low.
“I don’t know what happened,” Low said. “He probably had better players over there.”
The self-deprecating Low also said his play might have scared Williams’ off.
“Anything could have happened,” Low said. “They might not have liked me the more they watched me.”
Williams will get a close up look at how the guard has developed on Thursday. Low leads the Cougars in scoring at 14 points per game, and runs an offense that averages just nine turnovers per game. He has made a school record 90 3-pointers this season.
Washington State coach Tony Bennett, an assistant at the time, was also recruiting Low. The player famously committed to WSU without even visiting the rural campus in a remote, wind-swept corner of Washington.
Bennett joked that he doubts Low would have made such a blind commitment to Kansas.
“I don’t think they would have had a chance,” he said.
No tickets: Washington State quickly sold out its 200 public tickets to the Sweet 16 game in Charlotte, N.C., that went on sale Monday. Another 1,250 tickets are reserved for university employees.
Returning heroes: Pullman is a place where players and coaches generally avoid the pressure-cooker environment at some basketball powerhouses. Kyle Weaver was asked how the team was greeted after returning from winning its first two NCAA games.
“There were a lot of people on their knees,” Weaver joked.
But he quickly added that there was no big difference.
“We didn’t come on campus with a Rolls or with magic slippers on or anything like that,” Weaver said.
Good Charlotte: Coach Tony Bennett has lots of personal ties to Charlotte, N.C., where his team plays on Thursday.
He played three years there for the Charlotte Hornets of the NBA in the early 1990s, and also met his wife, Laurel, at a church they both attended.
But he doesn’t think that will translate into too many Washington State fans in the stands when the Cougars face North Carolina.
“Not too many people remember me and will be pulling for the Cougs down there,” Bennett said. “Most will be pulling for Carolina Blue.”
No direction home: This is the first time Washington State and North Carolina have met on the basketball court, and WSU’s first game in the state of North Carolina. In fact, this is the first time WSU has played in a state that has a direction in its name. They have never played in North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota or West Virginia.
Road warriors: Washington State is 17-4 in games played outside Pullman, tied with UCLA for the second-best road record in the nation. North Carolina is first at 20-0 in games outside of Chapel Hill.