‘I think the world of him’: Coach K, Boeheim reflect on Pistons’ Monty Williams

Detroit News

Monty Williams has learned from some of the best minds to ever teach the game of basketball.

The Pistons’ new coach spent the spring of 2005 with the San Antonio Spurs as an intern under the guidance of Gregg Popovich. It was his first time with an NBA franchise, but Williams received a glimpse of the mountaintop when the organization beat the Pistons in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Later that year, Williams received his first opportunity as an NBA assistant coach with the Portland Trail Blazers, led by former coach Nate McMillan.

As a first-time head coach for the New Orleans Pelicans, Williams broadened his scope to the international level in 2013, when he joined the U.S. Men’s National Team as an assistant on the coaching staff led by former Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Williams was one of two NBA coaches selected by Team USA executive director Jerry Colangelo, who also added former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau to the staff.

It was that experience that led Williams to forge friendships with Krzyzewski and former Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim — two of the iconic coaches in the history of college basketball. Each coached his respective program for more than 40 years. Boeheim led Syracuse to its only NCAA title in 2003, while Krzyzewski won five national championships at Duke, the last of which was in 2015.

Both coaches gave a glimpse into what kind of person the Pistons are getting in Williams.

“Monty and I are very special friends,” Krzyzewski told The Detroit News. “I love him and I think the world of him. He’s an outstanding coach and he’s an outstanding person.

“His ability to relate to the players was just fantastic. His knowledge of the game — he’s just a good teacher and he’s a team player. He’s very humble, not about him. It’s about what the team is doing, and I think the world of him. He helped me so much during that time.”

Team USA went 26-0 during Williams’ first run as an assistant (2013-16) under Krzyzewski. The men’s national team won gold medals at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. He remained on the staff for a second stint under a new coaching staff led by Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr.

Williams, who was named NBA Coach of the Year in May 2022, transformed a 19-win Phoenix Suns team into a championship contender within three seasons after he led the organization to the NBA Finals in 2021. The Suns won a franchise-record 64 games in 2021. Despite the team’s turnaround, Williams was fired by the Suns in May after the team fell short and lost in the conference semifinals for the second straight season.

Boeheim and Williams were assistant coaches on Team USA when Williams was in the midst of his first head-coaching stint with the Pelicans. Williams held offensive responsibilities, while Boeheim helped with game strategy, substitution possibilities and roster management. The two became close friends, which was an interesting dynamic, as Williams was a young NBA coach in his first stint with the national team, while Boeheim was an elder statesman on the staff after serving two terms with Krzyzewski.

Boeheim, who retired after last season at Syracuse, spoke to The News about Detroit’s hiring of Williams, who signed the richest coaching contract in NBA history last week. Boeheim said he gives Pistons owner Tom Gores and general manager Troy Weaver “a lot of credit” for that record-breaking investment in Williams.

“No nicer guy in the world,” Boeheim said. “He knows the game and he’s really good with players. He’ll be really good with that team because there are so many young players. He’ll be a really good communicator with those guys.”

The Pistons entered last season as the ninth-youngest team in the NBA. The team remains fairly young, with nine of its 11 rotation players all under the age of 24. Led by Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Isaiah Stewart and Jalen Duren, the Pistons could add another young player to their core later this month with the fifth-overall pick in the NBA Draft.

Building culture

At 51, Williams is nearly twice the age of most of the players on Detroit’s roster, but Boeheim cited his relatability and knowledge of the game as reasons why he is the best fit to lead the next chapter of the Pistons’ rebuild.

“When we first met, (Williams) sent me an emoji, and I said, ‘What is this?’ because I didn’t know what an emoji was (laughs),” said the 78-year-old Boeheim. “He shows it to me and I started to text my kids in emojis and they were in shock. We coached together, had a lot of dinners together. He’s a great guy to work with. The players will enjoy him because he’s a guy who really understands the game and coaching.”

One player on the Pistons’ roster shares quite a few similarities with Boeheim, particularly his last name. Buddy Boeheim, Jim’s youngest son, is on a two-way contract and he just finished his rookie season in the NBA. Williams and Buddy Boeheim met briefly when he was a teenager, Jim says.

Jim Boeheim came to Detroit in March and attended two Pistons games to support his son, but he also got a first-hand look at Detroit’s young roster.

“I watched a lot of games, so obviously there’s a lot of young talent. They just gotta learn how to win,” Jim Boeheim said. “I think not having Cade last year was a huge part of what you’re trying to accomplish, so to get him back and to get the big guys some (experience), which they got, was huge. (Bojan) Bogdanovic is a proven scorer. I just think they got a lot of young guys that are going to get better. It might not be right away, as in this year, but in a couple of years, I think they can be a team to reckon with.”

Williams was announced as the Pistons’ new coach last Friday and while a formal introductory press conference is expected soon, Krzyzewski was ecstatic to hear his friend secured another coaching job in the NBA.

“I just texted him and said, ‘Congratulations,'” Krzyzewski said. “I know they’re trying to build a culture there and Monty…I don’t think you can get anybody better. Not just as a coach with the X’s and O’s, but in building a culture that would be sustained for years. He can do that.”

Williams, Krzyzewski and Boeheim reached the pinnacle of international basketball success when they helped lead Team USA to another gold medal in 2016 in Rio, but that same year began in tragedy when Williams’ first wife, Ingrid, was killed in a car accident. The couple had five children together and Williams delivered a powerful eulogy at the memorial service. Krzyzewski used that situation as an example of Williams’ resilience and character.

“He still wanted to continue to coach and we got to know his children very well,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s a great father. I’m not going to do it again, but if I had to (coach Team USA) again, I’d want to work with him.”

mcurtis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @MikeACurtis2

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