Mo Williams sits in the front row of Jackson State’s Lee E. Williams Athletics and Assembly center in a navy blue sweatsuit with his hat turned backward. It’s a place he’s both familiar and comfortable with, having growing up here in Jackson.
Twenty years after he left for Tuscaloosa to play college basketball at Alabama, Williams has returned as coach at Jackson State, where his parents met.
He’s known for years that he wanted to coach, because it’s how he preferred to spend the offseason during his 13-year NBA career.
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As soon as the season was over, he said, he’d catch a flight to Dallas, where he used to live in the offseason. He wanted to spend time in the gym coaching his sons. It was a way he could ensure he spent plenty of time with them after the grind of an NBA season.
“Guys like myself in the NBA were doing a lot of things like going to the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, wherever the case may be, for vacation,” Williams said. “My vacation was going home and being in the gym. I didn’t take many vacations when the year was over, so it was something that I genuinely enjoyed. The most important part was my kids loved it.”
Those experiences in the gym and on the AAU circuit sparked a love for coaching in Williams, who won an NBA title in 2016 with the Cleveland Cavaliers and was an NBA All-star in 2009. He spent two seasons as an assistant at Cal State Northridge and two seasons as head coach at Alabama State.
He’s also a father of seven sons, whose ages range from 6 months to 23 years old.
“I love it. It’s a blessing,” Williams said. “I tell people all the time that I have seven boys and they’re like ‘Oh, that’s a blessing’.” For me it is. Having all boys that are going to carry your name and eventually start their own families. the Williams bloodline will be here to stay for a long time.”
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His oldest son, Kydarrius, dreams of following in his footsteps as a college basketball coach and will join his staff at JSU as a grad assistant after graduating from Alabama this summer.
“I’ve been around basketball all my life, and with him being a coach and me getting an opportunity to learn from him, that will be a big part of the journey,” Kydarrius Williams said. “Not only was he a role model for me when he played basketball, now as I try to become a coach and start my journey. I get to see him start his coaching journey from the beginning as well. It’s like we’re in this together.” .”
As someone who has been a father for more than half of his life, Williams said one of the biggest things he has learned is how to appreciate the little moments in life that he once took for granted. He’s focused on instilling discipline in his boys and teaching them as much as he can about life and basketball. But he also saves the moments when they can just chill and have a good time.
“My kids are competitive,” Williams said. But, man, listen. We’ve got the goal in the yard. We’re out there in the back, but we also do other things, whether it’s football or sitting down playing Uno. They play video games and they always want to have a 2K tournament and beat me to sleep. We just have time together.”
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Williams strives to play a hands-on, protective role in his sons lives because that’s what his dad did for him.
“My dad was the most important part of my career,” Williams said. “That’s why I am the way I am with my boys, being the most important part in their basketball career. Nothing happened without my dad. Nobody could talk about me or for me if my dad wasn’t involved. He always made sure I was in the right situations.”
His father, Isaiah Williams, coached Little League baseball in the area for more than two decades. The elder Williams, who is a JSU alum, says he began taking Williams to Jackson State football games at age 6. He’s elated that his son returned to Jackson to coach at JSU.
He instilled discipline and a strong work ethic in his three sons through household chores.
“It was part of what they had to do. It was never a free ride. If you want it, you had to go work for it. It won’t be no gift to it, you’ll get it because you earned it ,” Isaiah Williams said.
It carried over into sports, where Williams set himself apart by waking up at 5 am to work out at the YMCA on Fortification Street. As he looks to make his mark in his first season as JSU’s basketball coach, Williams will teach that same work ethic to his players.
“I know where I want to be. I know what I want to accomplish,” Williams said. “I know it’s going to take what I call overtime: you’ve got to go over and beyond. That’s the goal I’ve set for myself to be great in coaching and get these kids to understand what it takes to be great human beings and great basketball players.”