Reggie Williams Interview: Williams Discusses his Unorthodox Path to the NBA, Playing with Steph Curry, Tough Times with the Charlotte Bobcats & Advice to Young Players
Jeffrey Kee: Talk about how you were first introduced to basketball?
Reggie Williams: I was introduced to basketball as a young child by my older brother and my father. My brother is 10 years older than I am and watching him play as a kid really inspired me to want to be a great player. My dad used to always practice shooting with me in the drive way. Those two influences are the reason why I love basketball so much.
As I got older, Jalen Rose and Penny Hardaway became my influences. They were my favorite players and the guys I wanted to model my game after. Jalen was a 6'6 left handed point guard. I loved how smooth he was on the court. Penny was 6'7, crazy athletic and played with so much flair and excitement. I wanted to be just like those guys.
Kee: Your path to the NBA is a little unorthodox. You chose to play your college ball at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI); a very small D1 school. What went into your decision to play there?
Williams: At the time, that was pretty much the only Division I scholarship offer I had. I had a few offers come about later, but I had already committed to play at VMI, so I stuck with my commitment. The thing I loved was how supportive their entire coaching staff was from Bart Bellairs to Don Burgess and Kevin Martin. They stuck with me through thick and thin. I didn't have the best grades in high school and they waited for me to get all of my school affairs in order, and when I did they offered me a scholarship.
Kee: Before you, had VMI produced any other NBA players?
Williams: Yeah, only one though. A guy named Ron Carter who played back in the 70's. He led VMI to the Elite 8 and then the Sweet 16 in back to back years.
Kee: Since VMI wasn't known for producing NBA talent, how confident were you that you'd get a fair shot to play in the league?
Williams: One thing my dad always told me was to be a big fish in a small pond. I wasn't playing at a big named school, but he encouraged me to go to VMI to create my own legacy and become the best player I could possibly be. That's the mindset I had. I ended up leading the entire Division I in scoring for consecutive seasons as a junior and senior, which helped me gain notoriety and propelled me to a professional career in the NBA.
Kee: Your 2008 class was pretty deep. What were your expectations heading into the draft?
Williams: Honestly, I didn’t have too many expectations. I was coming from a small school and the 2008 draft class was loaded with talent, so I knew getting drafted wouldn't be easy. My main focus was to go to the pre-draft combine in Orlando and play to the best of my abilities. I wanted to show NBA scouts and coaches that I could hold my own against all of the big names in the draft. I think I was able to accomplish that. At the end of the day, basketball is basketball. Of course, when the competition level is higher you have to make adjustments, but other than adapting to the speed of the NBA game, I didn't really have too many problems scoring against any of the big names in the draft.
Kee: Your first NBA gig was with the Golden State Warriors in 2010. You actually got a lot of playing time and wound up averaging over 15 points per game. Talk about that experience and how you ended up signing with them.
Williams: Yeah, that was a great experience. I started that year in the D-League with the Sioux Falls SkyForce. My coaches there were phenomenal and helped me improve in a lot of aspects of my game. They instilled a great deal of confidence in me as well and would always run plays for me to score. David Bailey, who ran the point at the time, was awesome for me. He and I meshed very well together. He'd always tell me, "All I want are assists, so when I give you the ball, you better score."
Fortunately, I played really well and was able to get the attention of the Golden State Warriors who offered me a contract. [Head Coach] Don Nelson also had a lot of confidence in my game. He pretty much gave me the ball and told me to do my thing.
Kee: Don Nelson is known as one of the best coaches in NBA history; a very fiery guy too. What was it like being coached by him?
Williams: Coach Nelson was awesome. His coaching style is very similar to the way teams play nowadays, so he was definitely ahead of his time. He would let his 6'10 centers bring the ball up court and shoot from the perimeter back when no other big men were playing that style of basketball. In the NBA now, you see so many teams using stretch forwards who can handle the ball and bang in the post. Don Nelson was doing that type of stuff years ago especially when he had Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas.
Kee: As a rookie, were there any veteran players who took you under their wing and showed you the ropes of the NBA?
Williams: There were a bunch of guy; Ronny Turiaf, Corey Maggette and Devean George. Being mentored by those guys so early into my career was huge for me. Coming from the D-League, those guys were really patient with me and went out of their way to make sure I was adjusting to the NBA.
Kee: Did you receive rookie hazing?.
Williams: Not really. I was lucky because I didn’t sign with the Warriors until midway through the season, so I wasn’t the typical rookie. Every once in a while, the veterans made me carry their PlayStation. I ran a few errands for Corey Maggette, but it was nothing crazy. Steph Curry is the one who had to deal with all the hazing.
Kee: Since you and Steph were the two rookies on the team did you guys have a strong bond with each other?
Williams: Oh yeah, definitely. He's a really cool guy. At the time, I was living in a hotel, so Steph would pick me up from my hotel and we'd drive to the games together.
Kee: Did you see potential in him that he'd evolve into the superstar he is today?
Williams: I knew he'd be a star because I watched him effortlessly drop 40 points in a game as a rookie, but I didn't know he'd take off like a rocket ship and develop into one of the best players in NBA history. That's just a testament to his work ethic and the confidence he has in himself. Even back then, he was always a tireless worker. He wanted to be great and I'm happy to see him reap the benefits of all his hard work.
Kee: After a couple of years in Golden State you signed on with the Charlotte Bobcats, which I'm sure was tough with all the losing. How difficult of an experience was that?
Williams: Charlotte definitely wasn’t the best experience. I'll be honest, it sucked. We won like 9 games and finished with the worst record in NBA history. It's really nobody's fault. We dealt with a lot of injuries that year and didn’t have the chance to have our best players together for an extended period of time. But at the end of the day, there's no excuses for why we were so bad. It's one of those experiences that you learn from and try to move on as quickly as possible.
I'm grateful for the experience though and I'm glad to see them doing well now. When I was playing there, Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were both rookies. It's amazing to see how much those guys have developed. Kemba is an All-Star now. Mike is one of the best defenders in the NBA and his offensive game is improving every year. When Mike develops a consistent jump shot, he's going to be very hard to guard.
Kee: Looking back on your career, you're one of the few guys who can say they went to a small school, went undrafted and still managed to carve out a lengthy career in the NBA. How much fulfillment do you get in knowing that?
Williams: I've been so blessed to play in the NBA. It's a one in a million type of experience. There are thousands of guys all around the world who compete every day and never get a shot at the league, so I've been beyond fortunate to have the opportunity to call myself an NBA player for the past seven years. I would love to get back into the league next year, but I'm just taking everything one step at a time. I'm doing everything I can this summer to improve my game and stay healthy. Hopefully I'll be able to land a training camp offer and then it's up to me to make the best of that opportunity.
Kee: Now that you're seven years deep in the NBA, what advice can you give the younger guys on your team that you couldn't when you first started in the league?
Williams: The biggest thing is to always take care of your body. When you're young, you can run all day and not have to worry about getting hurt. As you get older, all of that wear and tear catches up to you very quickly because you're continuously putting mileage on your body. The sooner players realize that the longer their careers will be.
Kee: You're only 30, but looking ahead, what do you want to do when your playing days end?
Williams: I've thought about getting into coaching. I've coached at the NBA Top 100 Camp three times and loved it. Maybe one day you'll see me coaching at the college or NBA level, but I'm definitely keeping my options open. I want to be successful in anything that I do, but most importantly, I want to enjoy what I do as well. Whatever makes me happiest in life is the route I'll end up going.