Ailene Voisin

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Ailene Voisin: No more waiting for the NBA coach-in-waiting

10/19/2013 12:00 AM

10/19/2013 2:04 PM

Corliss Williamson was doing fine. Better than fine. His Central Arkansas men's basketball program – the one that not so long ago produced a skinny, super-skilled youngster named Scottie Pippen – improved in each of his three seasons as the head coach.

He also was living in his home state with his wife and three children, within a short drive of his mother's house, traveling only when necessary, and nothing compared with the frequent-flier insanity of the NBA.

But these were the Kings calling. This was six years later. This was an opportunity to become involved with something old, and more importantly, with something new. Once he recovered from the initial shock that accompanied Michael Malone's job offer, Williamson summoned his family, took a vote and accepted the position after receiving a thumbs-up.

"I felt like I was being recruited," the Kings assistant said the other day with a laugh. "There was a lot to think about. I'm a guy that plans things out, that likes routine. My son (Chasen) was going to play for me this year. I told coach Malone, 'You kind of put a monkey wrench in my plans.' "

Williamson's return should really come as no surprise, though, because these return visits have long been part of that routine. Counting this latest trip, Williamson has dabbled in three Kings eras and three times been a principal in significant franchise maneuvers.

A first-round draft choice (13th overall) out of Arkansas in 1995, he was traded for Toronto's Doug Christie in 2000 in what proved to be one of former general manager Geoff Petrie's most important moves. In 2005, Williamson was reacquired in the blockbuster deal that sent a physically diminished Chris Webber to the Philadelphia 76ers and, in hindsight, triggered the protracted and ongoing rebuilding phase.

But no complaints, no regrets. While Williamson missed out on the most entertaining of Kings times and came back to some of the worst, the totality of his background reads like a sports yarn that might be spun to kids visiting Fairytale Town. Not many players can say they led their home-state school (Arkansas) to an NCAA championship (1994), won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award in 2002 and an NBA title with the Detroit Pistons two years later.

When his body started breaking down and he contemplated a career in coaching, Williamson borrowed from the book of his former Pistons coach, Larry Brown: There is no such thing as too much detail or preparation. Williamson, who volunteered with his son's AAU team and at Arkansas Baptist after retiring in 2007, also has long maintained a mental balance sheet of coaching pluses and minuses.

"Rick Adelman was an offensive genius," Williamson said with a soft smile of the former Kings coach. "He could get anyone a shot, draw up plays in the huddle. Rick Carlisle was very much the same way. With LB (Larry Brown), it was everything, his teaching, adjustments during games, his emphasis on defense. And, of course, Coachie (former Kings special assistant Pete Carril). I used to sit next to him and pick his brain all the time."

While leading Central Arkansas into the 2013 postseason, Williamson, who was on the Conway campus for three years, closely monitored the Kings' developments. He often was asked his thoughts about his former team and always responded with the same words: "Sacramento is a great town. That city deserves its basketball team."

So about this latest comeback? Williamson always projected as an NBA coach-in-waiting. As a muscular but undersize power forward at 6-foot-7, he was known as a great teammate who worked relentlessly to expand his perimeter skills. With the Pistons, in particular, he developed into an effective combination forward.

But the one trait that never changed is the one that most appealed to Malone: Humility. In an industry that remains very much a grapevine league despite the powerful influences of social media and modern technology, the former Razorbacks star has long been regarded as one of the most genuine, no-nonsense people in the business.

"A lot of (ex-players) think they're entitled to a coaching job," Malone said. "What I liked about Corliss, he was an AAU coach for his son's team ... then he became a head coach at Central Arkansas. What that says to me is, he expected to pay his dues. Those are the kind of guys I want around here."

Malone, who spent 12 years as an assistant, said he clicked with Williamson almost immediately. Then it became a matter of working out the logistics: when to relocate the family (next summer), how many visits per season (monthly), where to live in the interim (a loft in midtown).

"Being with my family keeps me balanced," Williamson said. "The first month without them was really hard. But we feel good about this, and I know they'll be here soon. It's great to be back."

Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1209, and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.

About This Blog

Ailene Voisin, who has been with The Sacramento Bee since 1997, writes columns on a variety of sports, from the NBA, NFL and baseball to local high schools. Voisin previously worked for the San Diego Union, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She has been a beat writer covering the Dodgers, Angels and Clippers. Contact her at avoisin@sacbee.com or 916-321-1208. Twitter: @ailene_voisin.

 

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