Monty Williams Interview
March 29, 2008
"[My health] is a miracle. I mean, that's the only way I can explain it." ~ Monty Williams
Prior to Saturday Night's tipoff between the Blazers and Bobcats, I had the opportunity to sit down with Blazers Assistant Coach Monty Williams. Coach Williams was kind enough to discuss his work developing the team's young talent, how he has learned from some of the best coaches in the league, and what is really going on when he holds Coach McMillan back during confrontations with the referees.
Mr. Williams also talks candidly in this interview about his Christian faith and how it sustained him through the trials and tribulations of dealing with a mysterious heart condition.
Here is the transcript of our conversation.
Blazersedge: I understand that Coach Nate McMillan breaks the roster down into groups for video sessions. Who is in your group?
Blazersedge: Both Martell and Travis have taken big steps forward this year. What is it that you're focusing on with them?
Blazersedge: Next year, with Greg Oden being added to the roster, what do you see as your role in managing his development?
Blazersedge: Can you explain how you came from the San Antonio organization to Portland?
Blazersedge: Was that a pretty easy decision to make?
Blazersedge: Of the other assistants on the staff, who have you learned the most from?
Nate has poured so much into me, he will sit me down some days and just explain something to me in a way I don't think I would have ever looked at, just because he's been in so many coaching situations in his 8 years as being a head coach. I think the thing that's helped him with me is that he trusts me. It's kind of like when you're growing up back around your neighborhood and the older kids pick you to play on their team. That's kind of how it is here.
Blazersedge: He's a mentor of sorts?
Blazersedge: I see you interact with Nate a lot especially when he goes after the refs. Are you guys playing good cop, bad cop during those confrontations with the officials or do you really have to hold him back sometimes?
[Coach Williams demonstrates by squeezing my arm.]
It just reassures him that what's important... the team looks to him for leadership. A lot of times if Nate gets a [technical foul] or gets kicked out, I think our guys feel like "Ok, where are we going to turn to now?" Sometimes I'll just say, "Hey Nate it's alright, let that one go." Sometimes I'll be like, "You're right, you need to go tell him." I don't need to go up there and do that, sometimes I just go up there and squeeze his arm and it kind of calms him down a little bit. He knows what he's doing. He doesn't need me up there all the time.
[Note: Mr. Williams was diagnosed with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), which is a rare condition of thickened muscle between the chambers of the heart. This diagnosis resulted in a doctor's order to stop playing basketball.]
Blazersedge: I understand you had a heart condition in college that sat you down for a couple of years. Who made the call to sit you down?
When you've played basketball since you were 10 years old, and then all of a sudden you have to stop, you have to reassess how you look at life, how you look at your job, how you look at your relationships and you figure out what's more important: my life and being with my family, but, most importantly, my faith, which strengthens through that time. I wasn't the Christian that I should have been at the time. It was almost like a reality check for me. God was like, pull your chain a little bit. God didn't give me a disease but he allowed it and it was the best thing that happened to me and it helped me reevaluate what I was doing in my life.
[Note: Mr. Williams came back after two years away from the game after his symptoms subsided. He earned honorable mention All-American as a senior at Notre Dame before going on to play for 10 years in the NBA.]
Blazersedge: Was there any fear stepping back on the basketball court?
Blazersedge: Did you think about it at all?
Blazersedge: Would you call it a miracle or...?
Blazersedge: It makes you alive, you know?
Blazersedge: When you came into the NBA, did teams ask you about it? Did it affect your draft status? If you came into the league today, it seems like it would play a big role in the physical evaluations that players are put through.
Blazersedge: You played for Pat Riley, worked with Jeff Van Gundy, coached with Gregg Popovich, now you're coaching with Nate. Are there any other mentors we've overlooked? You've coached with the best coaches in the league.
He's probably been the biggest mentor I've had since I've come out of college. He was the first person in New York to take me under his wing and say, "Hey man, you've got to stop dunking all the time and go work on your game." And his wife was the first person to invite me over for dinner, to make sure I was ok. He's been like a big brother to me since day one.
Then I had Avery Johnson when I was in San Antonio. He's always been in my ear about what I should be doing, how I should look at things. It puts a lot of pressure on me at times because I don't have any excuse for failure because I've had so many guys who are successful in this league take me under their wing and say "Hey Mont, this is what you need to be doing."
Blazersedge: Do you think there are aspects of your personality that draw these people to you in this big brother/mentor role?
Blazersedge: Who were the top five players when you were still playing?
I kind of came in where all those guys crossed paths. There was the old school and then this new school coming in. I had the chance to play against both. Michael Jordan was hands down the best I've ever seen step on the court. His killer instinct, his talent, his work ethic, was by far the best I've ever seen.
Blazersedge: Michael Jordan went straight to management after his career. Do you see yourself taking that step in your career? Or do you see a head coaching role in your future?
I'm just excited about the future. I'm looking forward to getting better as an assistant. I'm enjoying being an assistant coach right now. I'm being put in some situations that most guys my age don't get a chance to be in.
Blazersedge: With the offseason coming up, what do you see as the top priorities for upgrading this roster? Of course, [Blazers General Manager] Kevin Pritchard is the one to make the decisions...
Blazersedge: Is there a formal process where Kevin solicits your opinion or is it more in passing, I'm going to come through and ask each coach?
It's the same thing we did in San Antonio, everybody has to put something in the pot. Kevin has brought that here. If you're not adding to the pot, you need to go somewhere else, because we need all the input we can. In the end, Nate, Kevin and [Blazers Owner] Mr. Allen will make the decision.
Many thanks to Coach Williams for taking the time to speak with us.