New Orleans Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis and coach Monty Williams had gold medals around their necks and a few lessons learned Wednesday, having returned from the FIBA World Cup tournament.
Both said what they learned should help make the Pelicans a better team this coming NBA season.
For Davis, it was about leadership at the age of 21. Having been on the 2012 Olympic team, Davis was tabbed by USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski to take the leadership role with the World Cup team.
“I tried to do it here (last season), as well, so it was kind of an extension,” Davis said. “A lot of the other guys (on the USA team) were leaders (on their NBA teams), too, so I tried to pick up some of the stuff they do, the way they lead, so I can have it coming back into this season.”
Williams, an assistant coach with USA under Krzyzewski, Duke’s legendary coach, and on the staff with Syracuse legend Jim Boeheim and the Chicago Bulls’ Tom Thibodeau, received a message from those veterans that may bode well, with the Pelicans’ roster improved.
“They didn’t push it down my throat, but they got it to me in so many ways to trust my guys more,” Williams said. “I thought I did it a little bit last year, letting (guard) Tyreke (Evans) play more in his game. The whole (World Cup) experience was giving guys a little more freedom to play their game, not try to hamstring guys.
“That’s something I think I can improve on, not making guys worry about taking a bad shot.”
Williams was happy to get the gold medal. In the Olympics, coaches don’t get medals.
Since NBA players began playing in international competition in 1992, Davis and Williams mark the third time a player and coach from the same NBA team won an international championship together. They join the Detroit Pistons’ Joe Dumars and coach Don Chaney from the 1994 World Championships, and the Utah Jazz’s Karl Malone, John Stockton and coach Jerry Sloan from the 1996 Olympics, according to USA Basketball.
The goal medal is the second for Davis in international play, going with the one from the Olympics. In 2012, he said, he was the 12th man on a 12-player team, just trying to compete hard in practice and watch and learn from the game’s best, such as LeBron James and Chris Paul.
This time, he helped lead the team to its goal as the defensive catalyst and primary rim protector. He also led the team in scoring until the semifinals. He wound up fourth in scoring on the team (12.3 points per game), second in rebounding (6.6) and first in blocked shots (2.1).
“This time, I was a lot more involved, and it was fun,” Davis said. “I was looked at as one of the guys who got the team going, bringing that energy and effort, offensively and defensively. If I have a chance to do it again, I definitely will.”
With Davis, it was all about the team and the task at hand.
“We went out there to accomplish our goal, to win the gold medal,” he said. “Now, it’s time to get back to work and try to do the same here.”
Intrigued by Davis’ length, quickness and versatility, Krzyzewski went to more of a defensive bent with this USA team, which likely can be expected to be part of the program’s blueprint going forward. Davis blocked more shots than many teams in the tournament, and with him protecting the rim, the USA forced 198 turnovers, about 1.5 per minute.
“At his age, he’s accomplished a lot with the team, and he has equity with the team,” Williams said. “If he wants to play on the next four or five (USA) teams, I’m sure they’ll have him. If he wants, he’ll go down as one of the better players in the history of the game as far as the USA team is concerned, because not many guys have gotten a chance to start as young as he did and get a gold medal.”
Davis learned a lot from watching players such as James Harden work out with his trainer for one to two hours before practices or elite players playing one-on-one full bore after practices.
Davis and Williams worked together after each practice, continuing as they do in New Orleans on the development of Davis, they said.
“We kind of got a head start on the season,” Davis said. “I’m in good shape. I think it keeps you in a groove going into the season.”
Keeping his mind on the Pelicans also helped get Williams up to speed technologically. He found he could draw plays, take a picture of it with his phone and send it to his assistant coaches, which Williams said was “pretty cool.”
Williams learned a lot but also imparted a lot. To his surprise, along with his regular coaching, he said, Krzyzewski sought his advice on matters such as film sessions and, with the compacted World Cup schedule, how to make sure players got their proper rest.
“I was amazed how much they pulled from me,” Williams said. “They’d never done film the way we do it here, with graphics and things like that. By the end of (the tournament), we were doing film the way we do it here in New Orleans.”
Williams said he doesn’t think his involvement and that of Davis with USA basketball will make for a long draining season for either of them. Williams will head to the NBA’s head coaches’ meetings, then take the weekend and part of next week off.
“But I’m ready to go,” he said.
Davis said he wanted to get in some pick-up games with his Pelicans’ teammates when he returned to the team’s facility but was told no by lead assistant coach Randy Ayers.
Davis did go against one teammate during the World Cup, however. Recently acquired center Omer Asik played with Turkey. Davis said he briefly got the chance to speak with him before the teams played.
“He told me he was just going to rebound and play defense,” Davis said. “I didn’t believe it.”
Asik had told Williams the same thing, however.
“When coach said it again, I looked like the Kool-Aid man,” Davis said of his smile.
Davis was smiling again Wednesday while thinking about the addition of Asik.
“He’s going to be a great player for us, being able to defend bigger guys and rebound,” Davis said. “He does a good job of staying out of foul trouble.
“I’m just excited to get started.”