Monty Williams basketball camp is all business
June 24, 2013
As Monty Williams spoke to a group of 60 attentive children at his basketball camp last week, a familiar ringing sound interrupted Williams in mid-sentence. Turning to locate the source of the disturbance, the New Orleans Pelicans coach spotted a parent in the Alario Center bleachers, digging into a pocket to answer a cell phone.
“Is that the president calling?” Williams asked an embarrassed father.
“No sir,” the man softly responded, before quickly shuffling out of the gym to take the call.
While many celebrity-hosted basketball camps are relaxed affairs in which participants treat the proceedings like a leisurely week of summer vacation, that’s not the case at Williams’ annual event. Whether it is coaches, counselors, players or spectators – including dads who fail to put their phones on silence – New Orleans’ fourth-year coach is all business.
In some cases, when a big-name player or coach lends his name to a basketball camp, that’s the entire extent of the commitment. The headliner may show up a couple of times to give a brief speech or joke around with campers, but prefers to leave the day-to-day work to a staff of coaches and counselors. Then there’s Williams, who constantly participates hands-on in drills and holds a running dialogue with kids.
“It’s a very cool experience,” said camp counselor Jaxon Markworth, a past intern with Impact Basketball at its popular training programs in Las Vegas. “I’ve worked with NBA players before where the player comes into a camp, talks for a half-hour and then they’re gone. You don’t see them the rest of the week. Coach Mont is always here. He keeps the energy going and is constantly talking to kids about things on and off the court. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”
Although the children at Williams’ camp range from ages 5 to 16, you wouldn’t necessarily detect a difference from the message he delivers to his grown-up players during the NBA season.
“He sees himself as Coach any time he’s on the court, whether he’s with pros, college kids, high schoolers or little kids,” said camp coach Dan Purcell of the National Basketball Academy. “He believes in what he teaches. It doesn’t matter what age you are – if you’re willing to learn, he will teach you. He wants people to get better. He wants a 6-year-old to be able to do what a 10-year old does, and a 10-year-old to do what a 14-year-old can do. I think that’s part of the reason we have so many kids who have come back for their third straight year.”
Williams emphasizes respect, focus and discipline. Anyone who’s worked with the newly named USA Basketball assistant recognizes that those are traits he practices on a daily basis.
“The first day, he comes in and lays down the rules to us,” said camp counselor Michael Hagan-Daniel, a sophomore guard at the University of Incarnate Word (Texas). “We’re not just in here joking around. He says, ‘Everybody is going to be about business. We’re going to get these kids better. When we leave at the end of the week, they’re going to be better basketball players and people.’ That’s a hard thing to do, but I feel like we got through to a lot of these kids and you could see the progress from the beginning to the end of the week.”
While Williams’ constant presence may initially come as a surprise to parents, the coach said he feels a responsibility to validate the decision to send their children to his camp.
“We live in tough times,” Williams said. “When parents shell out money for their kids, I want them to get their money’s worth. I also like teaching and being around kids.”
As a youngster growing up in Virginia, the future Notre Dame standout and nine-year NBA forward did not have the financial means to attend basketball camps. The current married father of five now gets to coach his own children each summer.
“I had to work at a camp in order to participate,” Williams said. “But for me to be out there with my kids now is cool. I want to be an extension of what aunts, uncles, parents and guardians are already teaching their children.”
“It’s a lot of small things,” Purcell said of the points Williams often stresses to campers and his Pelicans players. “When he says he wants to be disciplined, it’s discipline in every single part of what you do. It’s not just when you’re on the court. It’s when you’re walking in to the gym, when you’re in the locker room.
“When parents’ cell phones are going off (as he speaks), that’s a small detail, but also a big detail. He’s saying, ‘The kids and I aren’t doing (something distracting). We need you to also buy in.’ ”
Williams has been captured by TV microphones at New Orleans practices discussing off-court topics with his players, including issues such as the presidential election that don’t seem to have much to do with basketball. But it’s part of his emphasis on the notion that basketball should only be a portion of a player’s life; not all of it. That philosophy carries over to his work with his campers, many of whom may not even play high school or college hoops.
“What sets this camp apart from others is the focus on everything off the court,” Markworth said. “At the camps I’ve done in Las Vegas, the emphasis was all on player improvement, which is great, but it’s not that way here. Other camps are all-basketball for seven hours a day. Here, you’re learning basketball, but also how to become a better person, from one of the great people in our community.”