Monty Williams enjoying coaching atmosphere of USA Basketball

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

To Monty Williams’ delight, the job of coaching New Orleans Pelicans All-Star forward Anthony Davis has essentially become a group effort, a task that not only includes Williams, but USA Basketball’s entire staff, as well as several of Davis’ highly-decorated American teammates. Everywhere you turn, there’s a positive influence that the rising 21-year-old star can point to as an example of how to be successful in the NBA and the sport.

“I think all of our players here would agree that this atmosphere allows you to get better, by listening to different coaches, listening to different people teach the game,” Williams said Thursday in a conference call from Spain, where Team USA is preparing for Saturday’s FIBA World Cup opener vs. Finland (2:30 p.m., ESPN). “There have been a few days where I haven’t worked with Anthony at all, and allowed him to work with other coaches, just so he can learn something different, get a break from me. I don’t see anywhere else in the world where you can get this kind of atmosphere. It’s such a cool thing for a basketball player. I’ve heard a number of (USA players) talk about how they couldn’t get this kind of preparation back at home, even if they were in L.A., Chicago, Houston – any of the places around the country where (NBA players) go and work out (in the summer). I think that’s one of the reasons why you’re seeing (Davis) and other guys improving on the fly.”

The 6-foot-10, 242-pound Davis has been impressive throughout USA Basketball’s entire summer, but he’s coming off arguably his best performance, a dominant 18-point, 11-rebound, four-block, four-steal game in a rout vs. Slovenia. He only played 18:35 of Team USA’s exhibition tour finale, yet still managed to make an across-the-board impact. Williams believes Davis’ success in international play will benefit the two-year pro with the Pelicans in 2014-15, particularly from a mental standpoint.

“Anthony is improving right now (due to) experience,” Williams said. “He’s getting more and more experience. He’s understanding that he is a lead dog among a number of alpha dogs. Mentally, he’s taken it up a few notches. I think Coach (Mike Krzyzewski) has been a big part of that, pushing him to be a leader and be ‘the guy’ on the team. When you think about the names on this team, and think about the impact on the game that (Davis) has, you seldom say there’s a better player on the floor than Anthony. That’s got to help him from a confidence standpoint. I think that’s where he’s improving. He’s always working on his game and his shot, his handle, a few more post moves, but mentally he’s getting more confidence. That’s going to help us going forward.”

Williams also credits the impact of other USA players who – despite numerous accomplishments, as some of the biggest stars in the sport – consistently demonstrate the approach a player needs to develop and improve.

“The thing I’ve been wowed by is watching guys I’ve never been around work on their game every day,” Williams said. “I’ve watched Steph Curry, James Harden, Klay Thompson, all of our guys, how diligent they are about their games and about their bodies. How they don’t take days off. It’s been impressive to watch, learn and be around these guys… I think that’s had an impact on Anthony, because we’ve talked about what he has to work on to improve, but when you see All-NBA guys and All-Stars who’ve done a lot more than he’s done, out there working their tails off after a two-hour practice, I think it has an impact on him. They all feed off of each other.”

If the Americans reach the gold medal game in Spain, they will return to the U.S. on Sept. 15, about two weeks before most NBA teams open training camp. Williams pointed out that in many recent cases, players who’ve participated in international basketball have come back noticeably improved, based on the experience and competition.

Williams: “All of the guys who play in this, if you look at it from a historical standpoint, they’ve all taken huge leaps when they (returned to the NBA from) the Olympic team or the world championship team. I think Anthony, along with all of our guys, look forward to taking that leap. It’s certainly an environment where you can get better.”