Mo Williams understands what it takes to win.
The former University of Alabama standout has done it at every level, including at Murrah High School, where he was named a national All-American and the state of Mississippi’s Mr. Basketball in 2001, in Tuscaloosa, when he helped lead the Crimson Tide to an SEC regular season title in 2002 and back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, and in the NBA, where he won a title with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.
Now, he is ready for the challenge of being a first-year head coach at Alabama State.
Williams was announced as coach of the Hornets back in May, and, since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided some unique obstacles for the former NBA All-Star point guard.
“It has been a little tricky due to COVID,” Williams told Bama Central. “I would be remiss to say it has not been a challenge up until this point already. I have an incredible staff who is working day in and day out to make sure this thing is rolling. We have done a great job with these Zooms and staying in touch with our guys. Our guys have done a tremendous job in the classroom this summer and we are looking forward to when we can get on campus in August.”
In the meantime, he has been able to add a slew of junior college players to bolster his roster including the Alabama Community College Conference State Player of the Year, LaTrell Tate, who averaged 25 points in 29 games last season.
As for the coaching staff Williams is building around him, it also includes another former Crimson Tide standout, Andrew Steele, who just finished last season as the director of video services for Alabama coach Nate Oats.
“Andrew is a young coach,” Williams said. “He is motivated and he reminds me a lot of myself when I first started coaching. He has a hunger to learn and that hunger to gain knowledge. In my opinion, he is a future head coach one day.”
When he looks at the task in front of him, building a program with his stamp on it, Williams has a plethora of experiences he can pull from that has helped him along the way, for example, helping guide the Crimson Tide to most recent No. 1 ranking in the country in 2003, being a part of the last Alabama squad to beat Kentucky in Rupp Arena, and of course, playing a role on the Cavaliers team that was the first team in NBA history to erase a 3-1 deficit and go on to win the Finals.
“Those moments are what make you who you are today as a coach,” Williams said. “I started in high school, where I had a good career and we won a lot of games there. In college, you know, we won the SEC, was ranked No. 1 in the country my sophomore year and we had a ton of success.
“I learned a lot being around my teammates. I learned what camaraderie is and how to work together. We had a really good coaching staff and all those things bottled in one created a winning environment. I took those experiences and, of course, playing in the NBA having success has allowed me to be the man and coach who I am today.”
Mark Gottfried had the honor of coaching Williams during his two seasons in Tuscaloosa and, then, brought him onto his staff at Cal State Northridge as an assistant during the last two campaigns. Williams says he would not have the opportunity to lead the Hornets without the tutelage of his college coach.
“Being around [Mark] for two years, he did not shy away from showing me the ins and outs of being a head coach and what is entailed in that,” Williams said. “He did not shy away from allowing me to be involved in meetings. He prepared me for this opportunity. He has always given me lessons that will stick with me.”
The basketball landscape in the Yellow Hammer State has changed over recent years. Bruce Pearl led Auburn to a Final Four appearance in 2019, Nate Oats has Alabama back in the national conversation with a loaded 2020-2021 roster, Andy Kennedy has returned to Birmingham to lead UAB, and, now, Alabama State has a NBA champion to call their coach.
Williams notes that he is eager to show what his guys can do and even hints at future matchups with the Crimson Tide down the road.
“I feel like it was like that when I was playing, too,” Williams said. “When you think about it, basketball has always been strong in this state. That has not changed. For me, I am excited about the opportunity to compete and play the UAB’s, the Auburn’s, the Alabama’s.
“Obviously, I gotta play Alabama. Those are experiences you will remember for a lifetime, and you want to win and it will be tough, but we are up for the challenge.”
Williams acknowledges that his first year at the helm in Montgomery comes at a crucial time for historical black colleges and universities due to the unrest and call for social justice reform our nation has witnessed over the last months, in wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis, Minn.
“Just more education and that starts with myself,” Williams said. “I got to educate myself more, which I have over the last few months, just so I can help my kids and my boys. On our Zoom meetings with the team, we will take some time and just talk about life and checking on them, making sure their mental health is good.
“You would be surprised how everything going on affects a 19, 20, 21-year old kid because this is really their first time dealing with it where it is in their face. They see everything going on and wonder why. It is our job to educate them and be the mentors we need to be to show them the way.
“We have to show them the importance of not just showing up to school and winging it and just being an athlete. Education is so important. You got to be a student-athlete. You are in a position to be great. You can write your own path.”