KNOXVILLE — Kent Williams has had almost no time to explore his new home.
After going straight from Springfield, Mo., to Houston for the Final Four, Tennessee’s new assistant basketball coach flew to Knoxville on Monday to start individual workouts with his new team.
Williams followed Jon Harris from Missouri State, where both were assistants under new UT coach Cuonzo Martin. The quick turnaround has translated into long hours in the office and nights in a hotel room living out of a suitcase.
“They’re the kind of guys, you almost have to kick them out of the office,” Martin said last week. “We’ve been in the office the past couple of days [until] one-thirty or two o’clock in the morning just trying to cover some ground.”
Williams, 29, left Southern Illinois in 2003 as the school’s No. 2 all-time scorer. After one season as the NBA Development League’s leader in 3-pointers and 3-point shooting percentage, he joined Martin on staff at Purdue as supervisor of basketball operations.
The Times Free Press spoke with Williams after the Vols’ first day of individual workouts early last week.
Q: You and Cuonzo Martin have pretty good reputations as 3-point shooting specialists, so would the two of you win a 3-point shooting contest with any duo of current Vols?
A: “Coach Martin and I are both pretty confident players and shooters, so we’re definitely going to say we’re going to win. We do have some good shooters here and some good players. The one thing is you want overall guys, guys that aren’t just one-dimensional. It would be a fun contest, so maybe [it’s] something that we need to look into.”
Q: What was your first impression of the team and seeing the guys out there on the floor?
A: “I really liked their energy they had, you know, for just having a new staff come in for the first time, not knowing anything what to expect besides ‘Come in here, play hard, listen and just try to follow instructions and we’ll critique you and help you with what you guys did wrong on the little things.’
“But they came in and worked hard and I thought they brought good energy. They also were helping each other out. We said, ‘Hey, it’s getting a little dead in here. Talk to each other.’ They’re right there, talking to each other, trying to pick each other up. As much as the playing stuff’s important, that stuff is important, too. It’s about leadership; it’s about camaraderie and coming together.”
Q: Coach Martin had said last week that the process of you guys getting to know the players and them getting to know you is a two-way street. What are some initiatives and things you guys as a staff have done to get that process rolling?
A: “I know Coach Martin and Coach Harris both being here last week really helped just bringing the guys and talking to them. Coach Martin’s had a lot of meetings with the guys already. I had a few guys come in this morning, talked to them just a little bit, just introduced myself. Not enough to really build much of a relationship, but you’ve just got to jump right into it.
“You can’t earn trust in one day, and you can’t earn trust in one week. It’s got to be something that’s built over time, and it’s both ways. We’ve got to learn to trust them, and they’ve got to learn to trust us. It’s a relationship thing, just like anything else you do.
Q: You played in high school against Coach Harris, and you were on Purdue’s staff when Coach Martin was there. You don’t think much about stability with any coaching change, but the relationship and continuity between the three of you guys coming from Missouri State, how much does that help in this time of transition?
A: “It’s huge, because we’ve got to jump in right away. The more time you’ve got to sit there and feel each other out or you say, ‘What’s this guy like as a head coach? What’s this guy like as an assistant?’ I’m not saying it’s wasting time, but right now we’re jumping in and we can get a head start on where we need to be. We all have a good feel for each other.
“I know where Jon’s recruited at Missouri State, he knows where I recruited, so when certain things pop up, a player here and there, we know who’s going to know about it and who’s going to take it and go from there.”
Q: What would you say is your strength as a bench coach?
A: “I really take pride in the X’s and O’s of things. I like to see what the other team is running, figure it out, and I like to see us on our offensive side where we can take advantage of opportunities.
“I’m also big on the player-development side. I love taking guys on the court. Individual workouts are the thing I probably love doing the most. Watching a kid from this time until the end of the spring — how much development has he made, what progress has he made and what do we need to do as soon as fall hits or what should I tell him to do during the summer when we can’t work with them, drills I think he should work on and take on his own.
“I love doing those types of things — seeing a kid’s weakness and watching him get better, seeing his strength and watching him take it to another level.”
Q: What coach that you’ve coached for or under or played for has had the biggest influence on you as a coach?
A: “It’s hard to point out one. Everybody I’ve played for and coached with since I’ve been in college, it’s been the same system, just tweaks and little things here that we’ve changed. I played for [current Illinois] Coach [Bruce] Weber, i worked for [Purdue coach] Matt Painter, I worked for Cuonzo Martin, and those were all Purdue guys.
“At some point they’ve all been at Purdue. They were actually all at Purdue together at one time. [Former Purdue] Coach [Gene] Keady obviously is a guy that’s meant a lot to them, and even though I’ve never worked for Coach Keady, it’s been obviously instilled in all of us, the toughness that he has with guys, the toughness that you put into the players. That toughness and character are two things that Coach Martin probably talks about the most.”
Q: Finally, and you just touched on it with toughness and character, but what kind of team are we going to see at Tennessee now with you guys here moving forward?
A: “I think what we want to see is when we take the take for the first time is, ‘Boy, these guys are really playing harder than I’ve seen them play.’ I’ve got to watch film to see how hard they’ve played. I’m sure they’ve played hard before, but we want to try to take it to another level.
“That’s something that we’ve always had pride in is when you’re playing out there, you’re seeing that we’re giving everything we’ve got. We’re not out there dogging it; if a guy’s dogging, he’s not playing or he’s coming out. We’ll find somebody to put out there. Just playing hard and having a team out there that this community respects and just wants to get behind and support.”
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...