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He said his emotions "were off the charts in every direction" as he waited for two separate test results. Those tests ultimately showed the masses were oncocytomas, which are often indistinguishable from kidney cancer on X-rays, but are non-cancerous.
But support from his team, family and fellow coaches helped.
Mail -- both snail and digital -- poured in from fans who have had similar surgeries. Williams and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski spoke three times, and Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik sent him some ice cream. California coach Mike Montgomery and Oklahoma's Lon Kruger also were among those who called.
"It really has been a wonderful reception from those guys,'' he said.
Williams, known for his work ethic, has cut his work days to four or five hours in the afternoons as he continues to recover from his procedures. But he's been tough to slow down, totally. He stopped by campus just two days after his original 3 1/2-hour surgery to say hello to his players as they began preseason conditioning, and he's been in the office almost every day since.He's also been pondering his lineups: He said Thursday he expects freshman point guard Marcus Paige to start at point guard.
Williams' reduced schedule likely will last another two or three weeks, although he won't miss any practice time.
His players -- who say he has been "the same old Coach Williams" -- have been impressed by his tenacity. "It says a lot to us, that he's been able fight this adversity and come back to the team,'' junior guard Reggie Bullock said. "If he can come back after surgery to be back with the team, it shows us all what we can push through."
Williams said he chose not to undergo a second surgery to have the tumor on his left kidney removed. Doctors will monitor it every six months.
In the meantime, the 62-year-old Hall of Famer, who is beginning his 10th season with the Tar Heels, sounded eager to begin practice -- and to enjoy life on and off the court.
"I didn't even know what a bucket list was until that movie came out, and I still haven't seen the movie,'' Williams said. "The Tim McGraw song, 'Live Like You Were Dying?' I'm not going to get on any dadgum bull named Fu Man Chu or anything like that, but I do want to do more things, and I think I'll do that."But I'm not jumping out of any airplanes, either."