Willing to travel: Tar Heels' next trip is to Elon

ELON — Roy Williams has taken his North Carolina men’s basketball team on numerous ventures, with Friday night’s assignment at Elon relatively close to home.


But the veteran coach’s penchant for visiting some smaller arenas is unique in many ways. He said he embraces the chance to help other programs when the situation is right.


“That’s what college athletics should be,” Williams said. “I’m not trying to act like any Goody Two-Shoes, but I do think that there is a place for those kinds of things in college athletics.”


The eighth-ranked Tar Heels play at Schar Center, which is Elon’s new 5,100-seat on-campus facility. With standing-room areas, crowds could swell to 5,400.


In recent years, Williams has taken Tar Heels teams for similar arena openings at College of Charleston, with Bobby Cremins as coach (and Williams’ golfing buddy), and at UNC Asheville, which is Williams’ hometown.


On Tuesday night, North Carolina won at Wofford, which is beginning its second season in its new basketball arena.


Conversations about a game at Elon worked out.


“It’s close,” Williams said. “Mr. (Maurice) Koury who was from Burlington was great to me all the time. He’d always say if you ever get a chance that you can help out Elon, that’d be great. … A couple of years later, that came as an opportunity.”


Koury, an Elon alum, was a major donor to both universities, with high visibility on the Chapel Hill campus.


Koury, a Burlington resident who died in 2016, was long considered an influential supporter of Tar Heels athletics programs. He spearheaded fund-raising for the Smith Center, with the adjacent swimming facility named Koury Natatorium.


Fans in Schar Center can see prominent signage for “Maurice J. Koury Practice Facility” — part of the new facility.


On Thursday afternoon, Elon coach Matt Matheny stood on the arena court with the much-discussed game just a day away.


“This game has been talked about for weeks, months,” Matheny said. “Not just mentioned, but everything that comes with it and the questions. How did you get North Carolina to come?”


Williams said going to different types of venues is something he has considered a good thing.


In many ways, he’s doing programs from some smaller conferences a favor for making these visits with his high-profile team.


“It boils down to that college basketball scheduling is a really hard thing,” Matheny said. “The bottom line is Coach Williams’ willingness to play.”


The Tar Heels haven’t played at Elon since visiting Alumni Gym in 1950.


North Carolina handled a road setting with a 78-67 victory at Wofford, where 3,400 onlookers were largely pulling for the Terriers.


While freshmen Coby White and Nassir Little played vital roles in that game, North Carolina has a senior core that includes starters Cameron Johnson, Luke Maye and Kenny Williams.


“They can handle the atmosphere and handle what’s going on on the court,” Roy Williams said.


This is the first time the Tar Heels begin with two road games since the 1986-87 season, when they were in Hawaii. The Elon game will be the 41st non-conference road game for North Carolina in Coach Williams’ 16 seasons.


“I always think going on the road is a way to test our toughness,” Maye said.