Monty Williams is like a basketball Buddha. It is the New Orleans Hornets open-practice-to-the-public-day and I feel like I’m watching a pick-up game at an inner-city basketball court – players are aggressive, playing with abandon. Williams, the Hornets’ new coach, is the exact opposite as he sits calmly (hence the nod to Buddha) on the sidelines observing while his assistant coaches are motioning plays, talking to players. That isn’t to say that Williams isn’t involved. As I watch him observing his players I can tell that he’s actively evaluating all that’s in front of him.
The crowd, full of families and groups of young men, are enthusiastically cheering for David West, Chris Paul (one fan kept yelling, “Don’t leave Chris!”) and for the new crop of rookies, who, like Williams, (former assistant coach for the Portland Trailblazers), and Dell Demps, (the Hornets’ new General Manager, who’s coming from the San Antonio Spurs), have their work cut out for them.
It is a team that’s ready for a reinvention. Last year’s 37-45 record, came after two years of playoff worthy records (2008-’09, 49-33, lost in first round; ’07-’08, 56-26, lost in the semifinals). While most fans are looking to the team to step it up, a lot of eyes will also be on coach Williams.
He is an only child, but had a “big extended family that lived in Virginia and Maryland, within miles of our house.”
His mother worked with computers; his father was in the Air Force. They moved around a lot, but when his parents got divorced, Williams and his mother settled in Oxon Hill, Md., located just South of Washington, D.C. He attended Potomac High School, where he maintained a 4.0 grade point average and played basketball, before he went to Notre Dame College, where he played basketball and was an honorable mention All-American. Williams’ career as a basketball player was almost cut short during college when he was diagnosed with hypertropic cardiomyopathy, a rare condition of thickened muscle between the chambers of the heart. Williams was unable to play basketball for two years, but he recovered so well that he was selected by the New York Knicks in the first round in the 1994 NBA draft. He played professional basketball for 10 seasons (’94-’95, Knicks; ’95-’98, San Antonio Spurs; ’98-’00, Denver Nuggets; ’00-’02, Orlando Magic; and ’02-’03, Philadelphia 76ers) under such coaches at Pat Riley, Doc Rivers and Gregg Popovich. Retiring from the game in ’03 due to chronic knee problems, Williams started his coaching career as a staff intern with the San Antonio Spurs, whom he was with when the team won an NBA championship. He joined as an assistant coach with the Portland Trail Blazers in ’05 before moving to the New Orleans Hornets.
Outside of coaching, Williams is a family man, deeply involved in his Christian faith. It is no surprise to find out he’s the grandson of missionaries, with his grandfather having “just celebrated 50 years in the ministry this past year,” he says. Last year, Williams published a book, Look Again 52, with his wife Ingrid, and Dave and Kaci Willis. Each chapter focuses on one scripture that can be can be studied for one week for one year.
He will need faith and some good plays, no doubt, to bring the Hornets to the playoffs. But with Williams’ low-key demeanor – no Bobby Knight-style chair throwing tantrums for him – he might just get the job done.
Age: 38 Resides: Metairie Born/Raised: Fredericksburg, Va.; Oxon Hills, Md. Education: Potomac High School (Maryland); Notre Dame, majored in communications/broadcast journalism. [During college, he was an intern for the “George Michael Sports Machine” show.] Family: Wife, Ingrid; five children Favorite book: The Bible Favorite movie: Glory Favorite restaurant: Pappadeux Seafood Kitchen Favorite food: Seafood Favorite vacation spot: We haven’t been on one in more than 10 years. We went to Aspen, and Captiva Island, Fla., was beautiful. Hobby: If I were retired, it would be fishing (bass, in particular).
How old were you when you started playing basketball? Four or 5 years old. My dad used to take me to the gym.
Did you play in high school? I played every position in high school – mostly small forward.
What sold you on the New Orleans Hornets? I like the idea of coming to a team that didn’t have to rebuild. There’s more pressure with a team like that, but I like the idea of having a team that can possibly win now. And I love the South, so it was a good fit for me.
How much do the Coach and General Manager work together? It depends on the team. Dell [Demps] and I talk every day about the team. [For example,] what we have to do to make it better – and in that respect we work as a team. Yet he knows more about players than I do, because he watches them, so I trust his judgment. He’s got to trust me to do what’s right with them on the floor.
What is your greatest strength as a coach? Mine? We’re going to find out. I think communication, being able to relate to different people, my background and different experiences.
You’re the youngest head coach in the NBA – are you going to ask any of your old coaches for advice? No. [But] once the season starts everyone is done giving up their secrets.
Any secrets you want to reveal now? No.
How does one integrate the rookies with the veterans on a team? Even veterans were rookies at one time. So it’s easy for them to teach the young guys what to do and what not to do. The young guys know they have to listen.
To me, everything starts with character. You have character guys, you don’t have a lot issues. So, it’s not that big of a deal when you have a team like that.
Are you ready for the New Orleans fans – you played with the New York Knicks and the Philadelphia 76ers, so you had some experience with some tough ones. Fans are fans everywhere. To me, the ones who spend their money and show their support, they want a team to be proud of, and that’s what we plan on giving them.
Why did you and your wife want to write Look Again 52? I felt like God laid something in my heart, too. I had an issue, a problem – I was having a tough time understanding and remembering scripture and we decided to come up with a tool that would allow people to get one verse of scripture to memorize, know it better and make it part of their life by reading and studying it for a week period.
The whole idea behind the book is if you’re going to have an assessment of the Bible, make sure you read it. To me, the truth comes from the Bible, not from what the media or tradition says, or what your grandma may have said.
You have to read it and understand it for yourself.
True Confession: I’m boring. I don’t know. Boring people write books!