Buzz's Approach Working for MU
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- There's really no such thing as "approximately" in Buzz Williams' world.
Some coaches might say they're going to spend more time working on defense in their next practice. Williams has a sheet of paper that says Marquette will spend 78 percent of its upcoming practice on defense -- but he can tell you that without looking.
Just like Williams knows off the top of his head the exact number of days he's been the Golden Eagles' head coach. It's 283 as of Friday.
Williams has an uncanny knack for reciting precise numbers from memory, a trait he calls more of a "damnation" than a blessing. He laughs when comparing himself to the quirky detective from the TV series "Monk" and admits to a few obsessive-compulsive tendencies.
His suits hang in orderly fashion on the same kind of hanger. His shoes are arranged by color. You can imagine what his practices are like.
But while Williams knows his precise nature annoys his family at times, it also is helping the Golden Eagles sustain the success and prominence they enjoyed under Williams' predecessor and former boss, Tom Crean.
"It's unbelievable, man," said senior guard Dominic James, who is flourishing as a defender and offensive catalyst under Williams. "Just paying attention to detail -- I feel like that's rubbed off on the team a lot. Every detail matters to him, and it's rubbed off on us."
After watching Crean abruptly leave Marquette for Indiana on April Fool's Day, the 14th-ranked Golden Eagles are off to a 15-2 start this season. They head into Saturday's game at Providence 4-0 in Big East play, including home victories over Villanova and West Virginia.
That's the big picture. Williams breaks it all down into smaller parts, sort of like his grandfather used to do.
Written on a markerboard in the auditorium at Marquette's practice facility are several statistical categories, each with a specific numerical goal at the top and game-by-game, decimal point-by-decimal point results underneath.
Some teams want to get to the free throw line more frequently. Williams wants the Golden Eagles to make 23.4 free throws per game.
"This is all we talk about -- that's it," Williams said. "There's nothing confusing about what we do."
But while Williams defines success largely through statistics and adheres to an organizational system that makes marching bands seem spontaneous, he has a clear appreciation for personal side of coaching and the opportunity he has earned at Marquette.
The 36-year-old Williams came from humble roots, beginning his career as a student assistant at tiny Navarro College about an hour south of Dallas. Anytime Williams met somebody in coaching, he began writing them letters.
He slowly worked his way up the ladder, eventually becoming an assistant to Billy Gillispie at Texas A&M and spending one season as the head coach at the University of New Orleans before Crean hired him as an assistant.
So when Crean shocked Marquette by actually leaving after years of flirting with other jobs, Marquette didn't bring in the big-name replacement its fans expected. They went with the relatively unknown Williams.
Asked what the year has been like, Williams chokes up slightly and pauses before answering.
"I feel extremely fortunate to be where I am," Williams said. "There are many, many, many, many thousands of guys that have done more in the industry than I have, that are better teachers, that are better people, that have never had an opportunity to coach at x-y-z. And for me at this time in my life to have this opportunity with this group of people, players and coaches, is very humbling."
After taking over, Williams almost immediately began holding Sunday night meetings with players where basketball took a back seat to life. Each week had a different theme, including character, trust, honesty and personal relationships.
"That's all we did in those Sunday night meetings is talk about life, and I think that that probably gave them an inside peek at an accelerated pace at, 'This is who Buzz is as a person,"' Williams said. "I think that as time went on, those things have been beneficial because we established who we were as men before we tried to establish who we were as coaches and players."
Today, Williams says he cherishes relationships the most.
"Players, people will respond to you and do what you ask when they trust you, and they know that you love them," Williams said. "And everything we do is built on trust and built on love. And sometimes it's not a lot of fun, because I say a lot of things that they haven't heard before."
James said that trust has made the transition easier. Playing a wide-open style doesn't hurt either, as Williams allows his players freedom on offense in exchange for intense defense.
"You take coach Crean out of the equation, there was a lot of doubts," James said. "But since Day One, we've had that trust in (Williams), and I feel like we've developed that trust because of the confidence he had in us from the beginning. It's been an easy transition. Hasn't been difficult at all."
But James still scratches his head at Williams' ability to rattle off numbers. Williams traces the trait back to the time he spent with his grandfather growing up.
"My grandad quit school when he was in the third grade, and I spent a lot of time with him growing up," Williams said. "He couldn't read very well at all, and he couldn't write very well at all, and he couldn't count or multiply or divide. And so he had to break things down very simply."
Williams knows most people don't relate to numbers the way he does.
"I try to hide it a lot to be honest with you, because I think it's more of a damnation than it is a help," Williams said, chuckling.
But while Williams' approach might be a little offbeat, it's working.
"Oh, man. It's crazy," James said. "I feel like more than anything, it's just holding us accountable for every single minute in a day. It's little things like that that kind of catches you off guard about him. But that just goes to show how important he feels like every minute is."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)