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Mo Williams retired from the NBA as a champion and is now looking to start a whole new legacy

The location: Montgomery, Ala.

The program: Alabama State University of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, affectionately known as the SWAC.

The position: Head basketball coach.

More accurately, Alabama State is Williams' first head coaching job at any level. But he knew he wanted the job and he's plenty confident he's ready for it.

"I felt I was prepared, I was confident, I knew I can do a great job," Williams said in an interview with "It wasn't like I was throwing darts on the wall and seeing what sticks. It was a situation where I knew it was a good fit. The more I did my research, the more that became evident."

Yes, this is the same Williams who retired after winning a title with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016—the same Williams who continues to be cherished by fans of the Cavs and fans around the league overall.

Williams, 37, could possibly still play in the NBA. But he clearly prefers the SWAC. This is clearly where his passion lies, getting an opportunity to run his own program and getting a chance to develop young men, and in a location with which he is familiar.

"Obviously, my roots are there," he said. "Alabama is home to me, and my mom is from Alabama. I went school at Alabama, grew up in Mississippi. It's familiar territory. Everything checked the boxes for me taking the job."

Williams played in the NBA from 2003-17. He was a second-round draft pick (No. 47 overall) by the Utah Jazz. When you're selected in the second round, that means you're entering the league with quite a bit of uncertainty.

Williams quickly squashed any of that, immediately proving to be a 6-foot-1 guard who could run the offense and knock down a jumper. He served two stints with the Cavs and two with the Jazz, also spending some time with Milwaukee, Portland, Minnesota, Charlotte and the Los Angeles Clippers.

In 2015, the Timberwolves traded him to the Hornets, and Williams was named both the Western Conference Player of the Week and Eastern Conference Player of the Week in the same season. That was an NBA first.

While Williams could always score, his greatest assets may have been his passion and smarts. Those are among the qualities he hopes to pass on to his Alabama State players when it's time to get back in the gym.

"My top priority is to turn these kids into men, be someone they can look up to," he said. "My overall goal is to make sure they graduate and become something in life."


Williams figured out he wanted to coach during his third year in the NBA. So he took a volunteer job in the offseason. 

He was living in Dallas two years after his retirement when Mark Gottfried called. Gottfried was Williams' coach at Alabama and had just taken the head coaching job at Cal State Northridge. Gottfried wanted Williams to be one of his assistants.

"He really pushed me to do it," Williams told SI. "He said, 'You'd be a great head coach. I know you have a passion for coaching.'"

Gottfried asked Williams what he thought of coaching in college. Williams said that was actually his preference. Gottfried then told Williams that Northridge would be a good place to prepare for an eventual head-coaching job of his own.

"So I did a lot of things that a first- and second-year assistant coach doesn't do," Williams said. "I learned a lot of the things that head coaches have to do on a daily basis.

"He's definitely a mentor of mine. Also, (former Georgia and UCLA coach) Jim Harrick was on the staff. He's 81 years old, has over 50 years experience of being a head coach. There's nothing he hasn't seen—good, bad, pretty, it doesn't matter. So I learned from all those experiences, what to do, how to do it, and also what not to do."

A big part of coaching at any college is recruiting, and Williams had a hand in that at Northridge. He said he is also completely comfortable with that part of the job.

"It's just relationships," he said. "It's knowing how to talk to people, knowing how to lay your vision out to people. That's just who I am."

The Alabama State Hornets finished 8-24 overall this past season, 7-11 in the SWAC. Now, no one expects Williams to turn the program into an immediate winner. But the school seemed to know right away that Williams was their man.

"He was a unanimous decision among our (hiring) committee," said Alabama State athletic director Jennifer Lynne Williams. "We had over 80 applicants. Coach Williams was, as they say, an automatic marriage. His vision and his style fit what we were looking for."



A lot of people forget that the Cavs traded Mo Williams to the Clippers in 2011, bringing back the lottery pick that turned into Kyrie Irving.

"It worked out pretty well for them," Williams said, smiling, when he returned with the Clippers a year later.

Eventually, he returned to the Cavs, signing a two-year contract in free agency in July 2015. It reunited him with LeBron James and put him in a backcourt rotation with Irving, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova.

You know the story from there, the Cavs overcoming a 3-1 deficit in the Finals and overtaking the Golden State Warriors for the first title in franchise history.

"My special memory is 2016, after that championship, and 1.5 million people are in downtown Cleveland in a one-block radius," he told SI. "It's a vision that you can't make up. There were just so many people. I've never been in one area where there were a million-plus people and everybody is happy.

"So it was amazing. I have fond memories of Cleveland in general, everywhere actually. But there's nothing like 2016 after we came back from Golden State. That memory always sits with me like it just happened today. That's something that stays with you for a lifetime."

That winning feeling is also something Williams aims to bring into his new world at Alabama State.

"It's something I can carry over to the kids, just getting them to understand that there's no better feeling than being a champion," he said. "And getting them to understand what being a champion means. It's more than just winning a basketball game. It's everything else that it entails."

Sam Amico covers pro basketball for Sports Illustrated. Follow him @AmicoHoops.