Unlike the candidates with prior head coaching experience and those with clearly defined assistant roles, Monty Williams can't be analyzed in such a clear-cut and straight forward manner. He's the youngest of the Hornets' prospective head coaches, having retired from the NBA in 2003 after a nine year career.
Still, we can track his ascension into the NBA's coaching ranks, the mentors he's learned from, and the most probable influences to his eventual head coaching style. And while that won't paint as lucid a picture as cold, hard numbers, perhaps stories and anecdotes are just as important in the evaluation of a 38 year old without a track record.
Williams (full name: Tavares Montgomery Williams, Jr.) was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1971. At the age of 8, his parents divorced, and Williams moved with his mother, Joyce, to Oxon Hill, Virgina. At Oxon Hill, Williams took up basketball, excelling almost immediately. He experienced success at every level, eventually moving on to Potomac High School in Virginia. There, Williams led his basketball team to a state championship and posted a 4.0 GPA. As a 1994 Sports Illustrated profile noted, "[Williams] was considered... the equal of future Duke All-America and No. 3 NBA draftee Grant Hill, then a player at South Lakes High in [Virginia]."
In 1989, Williams joined the University of Notre Dame. Though he didn't post the most impressive stats, his future certainly looked bright. Notre Dame had some good, young talent, and a respected coach in Digger Phelps. But at the beginning of his sophomore season, Williams learned that he wouldn't be able to continue his basketball career. A routine physical revealed that he had a heart disease known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or an enlarged left ventricle. Williams was devastated.
From that same SI profile:
Williams remained in South Bend, quietly attending classes, spending all of his free time with his girlfriend, Ingrid Lacy, a classmate from Paw Paw, Mich., and loosing his anger in those forbidden pickup games at Rockne Memorial Gym. The slightest foul would set him off. "A couple of times I just flat knocked guys out," he says. "I felt like some of the players were trying to hurt me because I wasn't a commodity anymore." He played imaginary games of one-on-one against Hill and Michigan star Jalen Rose.
He sat out two straight seasons, though still playing a good deal of basketball, at one point saying, "If there's a place I want to die, it's on the basketball court."
In 1992, his commitment to the sport paid off; Lameh Fananapazir, a cardiologist at the National Institute of Health proposed methods for athletes to continue playing sports despite heart conditions. Fananapazir tested Williams in July 1992, inducing irregular beating in Williams' heart, a process that could have killed him. But following three days of tests, Fananapazir determined that Williams could be cleared to play basketball. Despite Reggie Lewis' death of the exact same heart condition a year later, Williams remained undeterred. Blazers Edge had a terrific interview with him in 2008. The entire thing is absolutely worth a read, and this section offers particular insight into his character:
He played another year at Notre Dame before being drafted 24th overall by the New York Knicks. And though Williams never really made the impact he would have liked at the NBA level, to say he was a player of tremendous heart would be an understatement.
As Williams would later recall, he never saw himself going into coaching. As this 2005 NY Daily News profile tells it, Williams' goals were to "start a family, save enough money to live a comfortable life and open a dog kennel." But when he finished his playing career, Williams received a call from Gregg Popovich, who invited him to sit in on Spurs' practices to see if he wanted to pursue a coaching career.
Williams worked his way up in the Spurs' organization, moving from that temporary note-taking period to a team internship to a full time staff job in 2004. As Gregg Popovich said of Williams during the Spurs' championship season of '05, "He watches film, he meets with players, he's involved in player development and he puts practice plans together... He's doing it the right way."
A telling quote from Williams during the 2004-2005 season:
"It's important for me to see things from the ground up. I came in as an intern and spent a lot of time with the video guys. I've had the chance to see everything. I'm not saying it's going to make me Naismith. But this is the avenue that I'm taking. And if I ever get the chance to coach I'll try to do what Pop always says. 'Don't mess it up.' That's what he always preaches."
The quote lends itself to two observations. Firstly, that's Gregg Popovich's motto? "Don't mess it up"? Really? Really? But on a more serious note, Williams' ground up mentality could be extremely useful to a team that has very limited organizational infrastructure. Few coaches gain knowledge and experience of scouting, video analysis, and other player development tools the way Williams did in San Antonio.
After Williams coached the Spurs' summer league team at the Rocky Mountain Revue in the summer, Portland hired him as a full-time assistant coach under Nate McMillan for the 2005-2006 season where Williams has served since. He's been noted for his player development ability, and particularly for his work with Martell Webster, Nicolas Batum and Travis Outlaw. From on OregonLive.com profile in 2008: