Williams Discusses Recent Trip to South Africa
By: Jim Eichenhofer,, @Jim_Eichenhofer
September 13, 2011

Over the first four days of September, New Orleans Hornets head coach Monty Williams joined a star-studded group of former NBA players and current coaches on a visit to South Africa. The Basketball Without Borders trip reunited legendary NBA centers and Georgetown University alums Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning. Also on board for the historic four-day excursion were noteworthy former players Jeff Hornacek, Dee Brown and Bo Outlaw, as well as current Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins.

Four days after he returned to the United States following the long flight from South Africa, Williams sat down with at his home to discuss some of his most memorable experiences from Basketball Without Borders trek. What were some of the reasons you wanted to go on the Basketball Without Borders trip to South Africa? Have you gone on other similar overseas trips in the past?
Williams: Yes, Ive done a little bit of mission work overseas. I had never done a Basketball Without Borders trip. I wanted to go for the experience. There were also a lot of people who were going on the trip that I was looking forward to spending some time with. I just liked the idea of going over there to run a camp and serve. I knew it was going to be fun, but I didnt know it was going to be that much fun. I had a really good time there. What was the most rewarding part of the trip for you?
Williams: There were a few kids who I was really pushing all week long at the (basketball) camp, trying to get them to understand things or listen a little better. At the end of camp, one of them came over and gave me a hug. Another one of the kids asked me if he could come live with me in the United States. [smiles] That really sent a message home to me, that most people really want coaching, and they want you to help them get better. They may not look like it all the time, but thats generally what people want someone who really cares. Hopefully, those kids saw that in me. What level of players were you coaching in South Africa?
Williams: There were kids who were between 15 and 18 years old. They were all of the top 60 players in Africa. You had to teach them a little bit (of fundamentals), but some of them had already played in leagues and camps. A couple of them really hadnt played all that long, so they were still learning. They were all good listeners, but there was a language barrier. Some of them didnt speak English; some spoke French or in their own tribal languages. So we had interpreters all over the place, including in our huddles. That was different, because you had to pause a lot (to relay messages through interpreters). The highest-level player there was probably (the equivalent of) a decent Division I player. The low-level guy was probably somebody who just started playing basketball in the past year. When the Hornets went overseas in 2008 for two preseason games in Europe, several members of the organization remarked that it was surprising to see how knowledgeable fans were there about the NBA. What kinds of conversations did you have there with South Africans about the league and the team?
Williams: Everyone was well aware of who (members of the Basketball Without Borders contingent) were, which is not surprising anymore. The first time I went (overseas) it was surprising, but now there are a number of people who didnt just know the star NBA players, but also knew about different guys on our team. It kind of floored me that they knew who I was. They know some of the history of the league, because the world is so much smaller now due to the Internet and TV coverage that is all over the place. It doesnt surprise me now. What were some of the most prominent things you learned about South Africa and some of the challenges they are facing as a nation?
Williams: We went to the Apartheid Museum. It was incredible to see that all of these things there came about because of the color of one group of peoples skin - along with fear - and to see how that can destroy a nation.

I equate it to when I first got to New Orleans. I had heard all of the stories about Hurricane Katrina (from afar), but I got a much better perspective when I talked to people who lived through it and were locals. When you talk to the people in South Africa, white and black, about how it was back in the day, it angers you that people lived that way. And it was all because of the silly, silly skin color that we all have. There was a lot of fear and lack of communication, and a lot of people who didnt care about their fellow man. The number of stories that I heard just rocked your world. You would hear them and say, Are you serious? That really happened?

There were stories of people being beaten, people getting dragged out of their homes, because of the color of their skin. They had to carry around these (identification) cards and that card had all of your information on it. It was an invasion of your privacy. If you had a disease, that disease was listed on the card. If you didnt have the card, you were thrown into jail. There was no grace period they just took off the street and put you in jail. That floored me, when I heard those kinds of stories. What was the biggest thing you brought back with you from the trip in terms of the experience of being in South Africa?
Williams: I dont think we have enough time to talk about all of it. The way that people there have to live, its not an atmosphere where people can grow and become productive. And yet they still find a way to do that. I think thats amazing. I dont think many Americans could leave what we call OK here and go over there and function, because we have it so good here. The spirit and the strength of that continent are just unreal. For those people to still have a smile on their face every day...the smallest ray of hope or little bit of light makes their year. Its something you see every once in a while in Americans, but usually only during a crisis. Over there, you see it every day.

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