Monty Williams' youth an asset to USA Basketball staff

by Jim Eichenhofer

LAS VEGAS – At one point during the second half of the 2013-14 NBA season, New Orleans Pelicans players gave guard/forward Tyreke Evans some good-natured ribbing for losing an impromptu dunk contest in Phoenix to a 42-year-old man.

Of course, it must be pointed out that the winner wasn’t just some random, middle-aged dunker. It was Pelicans fourth-year head coach Monty Williams, who wowed his players with a flying 360 jam after a team practice. Many of the Pelicans, in their early or mid-20s, won't even attempt the athletic move.

Just 11 years removed from his NBA playing career, Williams maintains the unique ability among head coaches to get on the hardwood and show players exactly how to execute a move – even a soaring slam. That’s one of the attributes that has made him invaluable to Team USA's coaching staff.

“I think he adds many things to what we’re trying to do,” said USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who is 67 years of age. “Obviously, for me and (69-year-old USA assistant) Coach (Jim) Boeheim, who’ve coached for a long time, to have Monty on the staff certainly is terrific. For one, it’s new ideas – a little bit different way of looking at things, maybe different terminology.”

“He has young enthusiasm and legs,” Krzyzewski continued, before breaking into a wry grin. “In other words, for Coach Boeheim and myself, a lot of times if we try to show (USA players) what we want them to do (on the court), it doesn’t look as good as what we say. When Monty does it, it not only sounds good, it looks good. That helps us tremendously.”

Williams’ NBA career wrapped up so recently that there are several active players who competed with or against him. In fact, during his final season, spent with the 2002-03 Philadelphia 76ers, small forward John Salmons was one of Williams’ teammates. His 2001-02 Orlando Magic squad included Mike Miller and Grant Hill, who just retired from playing last summer. In Denver, Williams played briefly with Chauncey Billups.

“I think it is important,” said a smiling USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo, 74, of Williams being able to relate to current players. “They don’t want to talk to old-timers like me all the time. They would rather speak to someone closer to their age. You know, Monty still gets out there and plays with them, so there’s a respect factor that works both ways.”

“It’s definitely helpful,” Pelicans All-Star forward and USA roster member Anthony Davis said. “Some guys like to actually see what’s going on, rather than hearing it. For him to go out there and actually show us what he’s talking about, it’s very helpful.”

Throughout the four days of USA Basketball practices this week, Williams has been seen on the court working hands-on with Davis and other big men such as Detroit center Andre Drummond. Williams sees it as one of his roles as a member of Krzyzewski’s staff.

“I like the game. The more you get out there, the more you learn,” Williams said. “I think it builds camaraderie with the guys – they beat up on you a little bit. I think any time guys want to get better, I just try to help them as best I can. Coach has given me a lot of freedom to do that.”

Williams explained that his “winning” dunk in Phoenix vs. Evans was partly the result of the excellent Arizona winter weather, helping his knees feel looser (the knees caused his retirement from playing in 2003).

“I did a 360 that one day, just because it was in Phoenix, and both of my knees were feeling pretty good,” Williams said. “I think it was just a good day. Normally I just do a one- or two-handed dunk.”

Williams plans to continue dunking in the near future, at least until all of his five children are old enough to vividly remember having seen their athletic father throw down a slam.

“I just want to be able to dunk and have my kids (remember) it,” Williams said. “I’m just trying to stay in shape until they can see it. After that, dunking’s over with for me.”