Hall of Famer Gary Williams Visits Siena

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For the second straight season, the Siena men’s basketball team got a visit from Jimmy Patsos’ mentor and college basketball legend, Gary Williams. Now a Basketball Hall of Famer, Williams worked this time with a team under very different circumstances.

A year ago, the Saints were picked to finish 10th in the MAAC and Williams advised the team to not listen to the doubters but to work hard and believe in themselves. Even he had to admit, he was unsure how things would turn out for a team which went on to finish with a 20-win record and a CBI Championship.

“To tell you the truth I wasn’t overly impressed,” said Williams. “I wasn’t sure how they would fit together. That’s the coach. That’s what he does. He sees what he has after a couple weeks of practice and starts to do things to help whatever that group is to play at their best level. It’s hard to figure out sometimes. I know myself when I was coaching you had years you didn’t do a great job of figuring that out. That was one of the great coaching jobs Jimmy has done last year, because he got those guys to play roles and by the end of the year they had bought into the defensive end of the court and they were really tough to play against.”

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This time the message was much different.

“My only message would be that this year is this year,” Williams said. “As great as they were last year, what they did at the end of the season, it doesn’t matter right now. You set yourself up a little bit for a target when you are successful so just to be the same probably isn’t good enough. You won’t have the same success if you aren’t moving up.”

No matter the circumstance, Williams was more than happy to visit an old friend while having the opportunity to do what he loves.

“I enjoy seeing Jimmy first of all,” described Williams. “He was a tremendous asset to our program at Maryland. He invites me up every year for a free lunch but it’s great to see his team. He really does a good job with his teams. It’s a lot of fun for me too to be at practice. I probably miss practice the most of any part of coaching. It’s teaching. I started out as a high school coach. I taught my three classes a day and I really enjoyed the teaching aspects of practice.”

Williams went on to explain the value he sees in practice, “All good teams are taught. I don’t care how good your players are because there are a lot of good coaches out there. You don’t just roll the balls out there because you have the best players. You have to teach them how to play. We’ve all seen games lost by teams that looked like they’re so much more talented than the other team. Well that other team probably went through a pretty good teaching process to get where they are. That’s what it’s all about. I always felt that when you’re in a league with Duke and Carolina back in the ACC days, you weren’t always going to have the best players so you have to go after those teams. There’s only one way to do it which is really try to play well. And so I really took a lot of pride in that.”

Williams went on to describe the progress he saw from last year’s Siena team.

“It was a tremendous accomplishment,” declared Williams. “I told him (Patsos)to calm down and don’t do so well your first year cause then they expect that every year. But, that was typical of what Jimmy does with his teams. By the end of the year they were really a tough team to play. That’s what you are trying to do.

With all of the key players from last season’s team returning and the addition of transfer Pat Cole and some talented freshmen, Williams said that he sees a lot of depth and finding a way to blend them all together will be important in this year’s team taking another step forward.

“I always thought in those situations the returning players  always feel like they have the right to be out there but then they have to see, what’s our best possible team. If this guy’s gonna get some minutes and he’s new and wasn’t here last year, but he’s gonna make us a better team, you have to be tough enough as a player to accept that. If you are a good player that’s not gonna affect me. I’m gonna get out of the season whatever I can get as an individual player. That’s the toughest thing for players to accept, a new guy that is pretty good that might be able to get some playing time.”

Williams also likes what he sees in the head coach that his former assistant at Maryland has become.

“I think Jimmy has found a way to coach that is successful,” Williams said. “He really looks forward to get it started every year. The job he’s done in recruiting for us at Maryland and then at Loyola and here at Siena you see in the quality of the players he gets here. Guys that aren’t just good players but guys who want to work hard. Any time you can get a good talent level for where you are as a coach and then those same guys are willing to work hard, then you’re gonna be really good. You have to have a certain level of talent and Jimmy’s good enough to get that.”

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Once a fiery coach himself, Williams recognizes that Patsos has his own unique style.

“I’m not taking credit for any of that,” jokes Williams. “Jimmy, when he played he was very aggressive. He was a good player at Catholic U. I think that’s important when you coach, whatever you were when you were a player you have to incorporate that as a coach. You can’t try to be somebody else. Jimmy’s demonstrative and he’s aggressive but I think the players like that. They know that Jimmy’s working hard for their team. There’s never any doubt about Jimmy if you’re watching about how much he cares about his team and that they play well. You can yell at players. You can do all those things as long as they feel that you’re in their corner when it comes right down to it. Jimmy’s gotten it through to these guys.”

For Patsos getting some help from his former boss is always welcome.

“He reminds me of how many things I do wrong. It’s good,” jokes Patsos. “He misses the game. He’s a Hall of Fame coach. He’s a more patient teacher than me. It’s funny. He’s really intense in the game but he’s really good in practice as a teacher. The players know who he is. They were happy he’s here.”

For the players, learning under one of the game’s best is seen as a great opportunity.

“Coach Williams is really focused on the X’s and O’s but he also preaches playing hard,” said senior Evan Hymes. “We went out and really competed today and we got a lot of good things in. He’s definitely a great guy. We really listen to him and respect him a lot, especially me. Growing up in North Carolina, the ACC down there, I’ve seen him a lot on TV. It was great to have him here. At the end of practice he said we got better last year as the season kept going and we’re gonna have a lot of depth this year and that means a lot coming from Coach Williams.”

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“When Coach Williams has something to say we listen,” said junior Brett Bisping. “I always learn something new when he comes. A lot of the things he tells us is what Jimmy tells us but it’s good reinforcement. He always has some positive things to say about us but mostly he says that we need to continue to work hard. Success doesn’t just come. Were gonna have a target on our back this year as opposed to sneaking up on people and we’re gonna have to work every day.”

Perhaps looking forward to another visit from Williams next year Bisping added, “He hasn’t told us any dirt on Jimmy but I should ask. I’m sure he has a lot of dirt on Jimmy.”



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