Team USA nod is ‘pretty special’ to Pelicans’ Monty Williams

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTONPelicans coach Monty Williams
Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTONPelicans coach Monty Williams

Pelicans coach Monty Williams remembers being in shock, as he put it, when USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo called and asked whether he’d like to be on the staff of national team coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Williams was riding in his truck with his son and teenage daughter, who, he said, told him he had a goofy look when Colangelo popped the question.

“I was quiet, dumbfounded,” Williams said at a news conference announcing his new job Monday at the Saints/Pelicans facility in Metairie. “Then he ran down this list of reasons why they wanted me.”

As if Colangelo had to sell him on accepting such an honor.

Williams will join Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who has been an assistant on the past two Olympic teams, on Krzyzewski’s staff for the next three years, culminating with the 2016 Olympic Games.

It will be Williams’ first time as a coach in international basketball. He played on the U.S. 22-and-under team while at Notre Dame in the early 1990s.

“All this is pretty special to me, and it’s exciting to be a part of something that is bigger than me,” he said. “And to be able to represent your country is special because so many coaches are qualified to do it.”

Colangelo said that when Krzyzewski decided to sign on for another run with Team USA, he said he thought changes needed to be made to the staff, even though they had won Olympic gold in 2008 and ’12. Williams and Thibodeau replace the Los Angles Lakers’ Mike D’Antoni and former Portland coach Nate McMillan, a friend of Williams’.

Colangelo said the Pelicans’ young coach brings a lot to the table.

“When you look at his background, the years he served as an assistant coach with various outstanding head coaches, the players he’s worked with, his reputation, his character, his propensity for teaching defense — we thought he was a perfect candidate,” Colangelo said. “He just had all the ingredients we were looking for.”

Williams, 41, coached on McMillan’s staff before becoming New Orleans’ coach and also is a disciple of San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. Williams coached rookie Anthony Davis this past year and also had point guard Chris Paul three seasons ago; Davis was on last year’s Olympic team, and Paul has been on the past two.

Williams said it will be beneficial to work with Davis on Team USA and that Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson was invited to try out. Williams said he looks forward to coaching the greatest players in the world under Krzyzewski, the Hall of Fame Duke coach with a 62-1 record in international play.

“I started thinking right away how much I was going to be able to learn from Coach K, Thibodeau and Coach Boeheim,” Williams said. “I just feel this is an opportunity for me to learn a ton. And in talking to Coach K a couple days ago, he was talking about what he wanted me to bring to the staff, but my thought process was, ‘I’m going to glean so much from this situation.’ ”

The staff will direct Team USA through a minicamp in Las Vegas from July 22-25. The team will play in the FIBA World Cup in August-September 2014 in Spain. If necessary, it will play in the 2015 Americas Olympic qualifying tournament, and then the 2016 Olympics are Aug. 5-21 in Rio de Janeiro.

During the July minicamp, a Pelicans team of young draft picks and hopefuls will be participating in the Las Vegas Summer League, although that will last two weeks. Williams, who just completed his third season in New Orleans, said he will watch that with interest and is bringing his family.

Williams said his wife, Ingrid, a big fan of the Olympics, told him long ago that he would coach in the Games. When she found out the news, she was extremely excited.

“She just broke down in gratitude,” Williams said.