Monty Williams: Learning from Legends

by Cody Cunningham

Monty Williams joins the Phoenix Suns organization with decades of experience after spending years learning from some of the most influential coaches the game of basketball has ever seen. Throughout his four years at Notre Dame and more than 20 years in the NBA, Williams has made historic connections in each one of his stops along his journey.

It all started during the recruitment process when legendary Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps brought Williams in to join the Fighting Irish. Phelps noticed from the start that Williams was more than just an impressive basketball player, but a strong-minded individual as well. 

“He was definitely one of those people who would typify the student athlete that was looking to put his life in the position to get the most out of basketball and at the same time get an education which could give him the career after basketball,” Phelps said. “Fortunately for him, it is basketball.” 

Williams may not have shined statistically during his freshman season at Notre Dame, but his impact on the court didn’t go unnoticed by his former coach. 

“He was always one of those players who, as you put a team on the floor, he’s one of those players who compliment other players,” Phelps said. “He’s very unselfish. He knows how to blend in.” 

Following Phelps departure from Notre Dame, Suns longest-tenured head coach, John MacLeod came aboard for Williams’ final two seasons. Williams improved each season before ultimately becoming an honorable mention All-American and being selected in the first round of the NBA draft by the New York Knicks. 

Williams became teammates with Doc Rivers during his rookie season in New York, but that was just the beginning of their relationship. The two former teammates found themselves together again in 1999 when Williams signed with the Orlando Magic under their new head coach in Rivers.

Rivers was named Coach of the Year during that season as Williams became one of the veteran leaders in the locker room. The Magic were pegged to finish as one of the worst teams in the league, but with the help of Williams and the guidance of Rivers, they were able to outperform those expectations.

“Monty is one of my favorite people in the world,” Rivers said. “I played with him in the league, I coached him, he coached my son and we are very close. You knew right when he stopped playing basketball that he would be a great coach in this league.”

It didn’t take long at all for Williams to join an organization following his retirement as he quickly took a role with the San Antonio Spurs under his other former coach Gregg Popovich. Williams was able to learn from three-time NBA Coach of the Year in Popovich while also experiencing what it took to win an NBA Championship.

After a successful tenure with the Portland Trail Blazers as an assistant coach, Williams received his first head coaching opportunity with the New Orleans Pelicans, making him the youngest coach in the NBA at 38 years old.

Williams may have been young, but this came as no surprise to Phelps who understood exactly what makes Williams a great head coaching candidate.

“I think it’s how he communicates,” Phelps said. “That’s one of the things about him that I’ve always known is he’s very humble, no ego and speaks with a purpose. I think players trust him and understand him.”

Now the head coach in Phoenix, Phelps is excited to see Williams leading the charge once again.

“For him to become the head coach of Phoenix, that’s a great move for Phoenix,” Phelps said. “That’s a great move for the whole operation. I just think those players are going to love him. He’s got one mission and that’s winning an NBA Championship for Phoenix.”

Phelps isn’t the only one in support of the hire as Rivers believes that the Suns secured one of the top people in the NBA, on and off the court.

“Monty is family to me, we have been through a lot together, not only in basketball but life,” Rivers said. “When you pick someone to represent your organization, there is no one better than Monty. He stands for everything that is right in life and basketball.” 

While Williams is now coaching in the very same division as Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers, his former teammate and coach is still one of his biggest supporters. 

“Monty will be a great fit in Phoenix,” Rivers said. “He is an all-around great person, relates well with the players, knows the game as good as anyone and works tirelessly.”

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