Suns’ Monty Williams blown away at opportunity to coach again for Team USA
PHOENIX — You know those people who have a tendency to not really appreciate and take in what’s going on around them?
That is the complete opposite of Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams.
The 50-year-old has often brought up his time from 2013-16 as an assistant coach for Team USA’s men’s basketball team, so you can imagine how grateful he was to get another go-around for 2022-24, a move made official on Monday.
“To be asked to be back again is really cool because I’ve always felt like many coaches should get a chance to experience it,” Williams said Monday. “If I was asked again, I didn’t want to take that chance from somebody else but it’s just too cool of an opportunity to turn down.
“To have your peers pick you is an honor.”
Williams got a phone call from Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, who takes the top spot in place of San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. Williams will be an assistant on Kerr’s staff alongside Gonzaga’s Mark Few and the Miami Heat’s Erik Spoelstra.
We probably need to invent a new verb to try and accurately portray how much Williams learned from his first foray with Team USA.
Early in the process, Williams remembers seeing his fellow brain trust together — college basketball coaching legends Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim, Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau and former Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo — and being intimidated by what he could bring to the equation with those types of basketball minds already together.
“That environment is one of the highest levels, if not the highest level environment I’ve ever been in outside of getting ready for the Finals,” Williams said. “I’ve never been around an environment where that much talent, that much knowledge is in one gym.”
His response, naturally, was going to what he knew best and getting on the court with the guys.
On top of just playing with them on the court, Williams would work with various players through their individual work, picking up on how much things still vary for the world’s best.
Some players were open to suggestions while others had a strict regiment that would throw them off if it was diverted from.
“Kevin (Durant), he’s the greatest player probably in the league right now, and every day he was like, ‘Coach what you got?'” Williams said while chuckling, noting Durant pushed him to be at his best as a coach. “And I was like, ‘Alright.'”
Over the course of his time there, Williams picked up on countless tidbits through stories that helped him become a better coach.
“I used to just get on my phone and call my family and call my wife and just tell her, ‘You can’t imagine what I just heard at this dinner’ that was going to help me as a coach, and some of these unreal stories that I never would have had a chance to listen to and learn from had I not been with USA basketball.”
The tail-end of that journey included seeing a 19-year-old coming off his rookie year to Team USA’s Select Team that created a buzz in the coaching room, a two-guard by the name of Devin Booker.
“[Coaches] were talking about this kid was out there, he wasn’t afraid,” Williams said. “Everybody was like, ‘Man, this guy is like going after people.’ Not knowing I was gonna coach him a few years later.”
And that’s a good, simple fragment of information Williams acquired to encapsulate the gist of the experience.
It can be as grand as Colangelo’s expert storytelling through how the league was formed or some things more minute like Thibodeau’s thoughts on defense, load management and practice structure.
Or a strong up-close impression that let him and his coaches know that this Booker kid was going to be coming onto the scene real soon.