Credit: BNS
Credit BNS

As the 2020-21 season unfolded, Alan Williams saw his name gradually become one of the most talked-about in European basketball. His maiden campaign overseas with Russian side Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar had been an undeniable success since the former Phoenix Suns center averaged a double-double consisting of 11.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per game in the VTB United League.

Alan Williams

Alan   Williams
Alan   Williams
MIN: 18.44
PTS: 6.38 (47.83%)
REB: 6.25
As: 1.5
ST: 1.13
BL: 0.38
TO: 0.88
GM: 8

If his rookie year was impressive, his second season could be described as nothing short of astounding. Williams took both the VTB and the EuroCup competition by storm, averaging 14.5 points and 12.5 rebounds over his first eight international games.

Projecting an image of absolute dominance in the paint, he seemed to be destined for even bigger accolades.  

However, fate decided otherwise. In November 2020, after a string of great performances, he suffered a knee injury during a VTB League game against Enisey that turned out to be season-ending.

The diagnosis left little room for optimism: a complete rapture of the patella's ligament.

Injuries are the last thing an athlete would ever wish for, but also, the timing was the worst possible.

"My second year, before I got injured, I was killing it. I felt like I was the best big in Europe," Alan Williams tells BasketNews from his house in Phoenix, Arizona. 

After experiencing a major setback, the 29-year-old big man says he was angry and mad because of being unable to finish the season. 

"I felt like I let my team down by being injured. They relied on me so much to score, rebound, and be a leader on the court," he adds.

By the time Williams got sidelined, Loko were 6-2 in EuroCup, having lost only to eventual semifinalists Virtus Segafredo Bologna. However, without their starting center on board, they dropped five out of their seven road games from that point on, including a couple of playoff contests in Kazan for the quarter-finals. 

3-pointers this season

33%
7,7
Points made: 7,7
Accuracy: 33,2%
Place in standings: 15
Record max: 15
Record min: 1
Most made 3FGs: Nemanja Nedovic

Alan Williams was no stranger to injuries. In September 2017, while still in the preseason with the Suns, he partially tore his meniscus after landing on a teammate's foot during a workout.

He had to sit out for six months, a development that marked the end of his promising stint with the current NBA title contenders, in spite of him signing a three-year deal with Phoenix in 2017.

In 2016-17, Williams boasted career-best averages of 7.4 points and 6.2 rebounds in just 15 minutes per outing, demonstrating an exemplary efficiency. He was second in the NBA in double-doubles among players that played 30 minutes or less per game with 12.

The only player ahead of him was current Nuggets star Nikola Jokic, who had 16 double-doubles during that time.

Alas, it was all downhill from there. He only showed up at five games in the spring of 2018, and then he was off to Brooklyn, where he checked in at another five outings during the 2018-19 season, his last in the NBA.

"I was slated to play a lot of minutes with the Suns that year (2017-18) before I got injured," Williams recalls.

"But that second injury was even worse. Obviously, with Lokomotiv, I was playing the best basketball in my career. Any time you have an injury, you have to dig in with yourself and find what it is that makes you drive and push.

Otherwise, you just call it quits and chalk it up. Those things that happened to me are all part of my journey and my story," he stresses. 

His journey and story also include an opportunity in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). The Asian league experience lasted a month, with Williams arriving in July and leaving in August 2019 for his next team, Lokomotiv Kuban.

Almost 20 months after undergoing surgery, Wiliams feels he's back to being the player he had been before his fairytale went bad.

"I know that in August when I'll show up to a team training camp, I'll be ready to go, and I'll be the same player that was dominating the game a couple of years ago. I'm looking forward to showing that to everybody," he confidently points out. 

"I wasn't like that last year, but since March, I've been working out three or four times a day. I've been doing on-court staff, physical therapy training, as well as strength and conditioning training, like lifting weights and running," Williams describes his routine. 

That's a message to any club thinking about recruiting a player whose last campaign unfolded in a rather unimpressive fashion - 7.6 points, 7.7 rebounds per 20 minutes of action.

Credit AFP – Scanpix

Moreover, this time around, the former NBA center had to play second fiddle next to star guard Errick McCollum and EuroCup sensation Johnathan Motley, who had been posting Williams-like numbers (21.2 points, 7.0 rebounds) in the EuroCup before the Russians were left out of the competition following the country's invasion of Ukraine. 

"Luckily, I was able to go back, do my rehab there, and be a part of the team in our VTB run. Not being on the court really killed me, and that's what fueled my rehab. It took a little bit longer than expected, but now - at this age- I feel amazing, 101%," Williams maintains.

Getting back in shape was the first step the ex-Loko standout took upon returning to Phoenix. But prior to that, he had become a free agent. The club announced his departure on March 15, accompanied by a 'thank-you' note. 

"It was mutually agreed. We just cut the contract at that time," Williams says.

After almost three years of the two sides working together, there were hardly any hard feelings or even negotiations taking place between them. 

"They have done so much for my career, and I've done so much for the club as well. There's always been mutual respect. So, it was mostly about when I wanted to go back home. They arranged it and made it happen.

Everything went smoothly. I wish I had a more interesting story to tell, but that was very simple. We had a group meeting, and they let everybody know that they would try their best to get everyone back home," the 2014 player of the year in the Big West conference reveals. 

Credit Christian Petersen/Getty Images/AFP

The main question regarding Alan Williams is where he will be playing next. The Phoenix-born big man has gotten his priorities straight regardless of where he ends up. As he says, his decision will rely heavily on factors like his role on the team and the squad's winning potential. 

"I want to look for a place where I can go and have an impact, where I can win and take the next step in my career. I want to show that I'm the player everybody saw a couple of years ago.

Right now, we're talking to multiple teams, and we'll have a decision sometime this summer - I promise!" the player nicknamed 'Big Sauce' says with a smile.

In any case, his decision will not be based on the same premises as in 2019. Coming off a lucrative three-year presence in Russia, Williams is now eager to overlook any minor financial obstacles that might get in the way of his next deal. 

"I've made money in my career, and I'm in a place where I'm comfortable financially," he clarifies.

"That's really a blessing for my decision - that it doesn't have to be financially based. At this point, it's about extending my career to as long as I can possibly play. I want to win some trophies, be a part of some good clubs, and it goes without saying that I want to play in the EuroLeague and compete for the championship."

"I want to show everybody what I can do at this level," he repeats.

But Alan Williams had a lot more issues to touch on in his conversation with BasketNews: the decision to join Loko in 2019, Johnathan Motley's potential, his spontaneous tribute to Panathinaikos OPAP Athens and their fans on Twitter, and his relationship with the Suns were some of the topics for discussion. 

The undersized big man (2.03 m.) had expressed the wish to become a basketball broadcaster way before many active (CJ McCollum, Draymond Green) or former (JJ Redick, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O'Neal) players turned into commentators, podcasters, presenters and influencers.

In this vein, Williams points to the path he'd like to follow in five-six years from now and also shares his view on the potential impact that an influential commentator exerts on the basketball audience. 

On March 15, Lokomotiv Kuban announced that you had to leave the club for family reasons. That was essentially three weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine. Why did you make that decision?
I just felt like it was a time for me to be back home. Obviously, there were things going on around the world, and it was similar to when COVID first hit in 2020.

When those things happen, you want to be close to home. You want to be able to be back with your family and have that peace of mind that everything is going to be okay. At the same time, whenever there's a conflict going on in the place where you're at, there's always a certain level of anxiousness or nervousness.

I wanted to make the best decision for myself and my family. I think leaving at that time was the best thing. 

How was life in Krasnodar for you in those three years you spent there?
I loved it! It was like home. I would come home for a couple of months, and then I'd be there for ten months. I spent more time there than I did back home over the last three years. I loved the people; the fans were great, and I really enjoyed playing for Lokomotiv Kuban. It was a good time for me. 

Apart from you, we've seen Lokomotiv sign former NBA players like Sam Dekker, Quinn Cook, and Johnathan Motley straight from the NBA. How is that to explain?

They have a mold for foreign players that they want to go after - highly talented, good basketball IQ. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but when you acquire so much talent, you give yourself a better chance.

Had we been able to stay in EuroCup, we would have been right there in the thick of things with the roster that we had assembled. So, the Lokomotiv guys were really aggressive, getting guys before they signed with other teams. 

Credit BNS

How did they recruit you?
I was coming off a two-way deal and was in China making some extra money. I had told my agent at the time that I was interested in coming to Europe because I had never played there before. Then, he called me and said, "There's a team in Russia that's interested." I was like, "Ah, Russia!". I was a little nervous and didn't know if I wanted to do that.

But obviously, the contract was great for me, and it gave me the opportunity to break my door down into the European market. I took the chance, and it really worked out for me. It helped my career too. 

Watching Johnathan Motley perform at this level, one cannot help but draw comparisons with how you played with Loko. Do you see any of yourself in him?
Not really. We're two different players because he's taller, longer, and a lot more athletic. He can jump really high and do things that I can't do. But our styles of play are different, and I can do some things that he's not doing.

We both enjoy going out there and being a beast. That's what I see in him, similar to myself - that mentality of dominating the game as best as we can and helping our team win.

It's a shame we didn't get to play that out and see how we'd finish the season. The success he's had in his first year in Europe and the way he busted onto the scene are amazing. I'm excited about his next step, too, because I know it's going to be big. 

Many players who chose to stay in Russia or sign with a Russian team after the invasion of Ukraine had to deal with some serious backlash.

For instance, we saw Jonas Jerebko getting expelled from the Swedish NT after joining CSKA and Mateusz Ponitka being called selfish for not leaving Zenit. Were there any similar frictions on Loko as well?
No. All of our foreign players, except for Ivan Paunic, were Americans. So, there was no pressure from media people or politicians to say that we were selfish for being out there. We live in a nation where we have the freedom to do what we want and make our money the way we want to. 

Aside from family telling us that we need to come home because they thought we weren't safe, all the guys staying in Russia did it for personal reasons and to maximize their income. They upheld the agreement they had signed at the beginning of the year.

I don't think anything happening around the world had to be their consideration. With all the stuff going on, everybody who's affected by it weighs heavy on our hearts, but at the same time, we must make sure that we can provide for our families by doing our job.

In times where teams are going small for huge portions of the game, do you think that having a big body down low can be an asset?
Absolutely. I use it to my advantage all the time - getting switches, easy lay-ups, and offensive rebounds to create extra possessions. I think it's huge. When you get guys my size that can move our feet and guard positions 1-5, it only elevates what you can do.

I feel like I provide valuable assets to any team that I end up going to because I feel like I'm a high-level rebounder on both ends, and, along with my touch on the basket, it helps me play basketball at this level. 

Last December, a Serbian outlet reported that KK Crvena Zvezda Belgrade were considering your case and had some talks with you because you weren't happy with your role in Lokomotiv Kuban. Which part of that was true?
None of it! I hadn't talked to anybody from Red Star, and I was never unhappy at Loko. I was super excited that we were able to win games. In terms of my role, the goal was to get more minutes and play when big-time games would come. 

Some weeks ago, you paid your respects to Panathinaikos and their fans without being asked.

Where did that tweet come from? Did you talk to anyone on the team, or did you simply watch a video?
I watch basketball all the time. I'm a basketball junkie, whether it's Europe, NBA, or women's basketball. It was one of those videos that appeared on my Twitter feed, and I was like, 'Oh, holy cow! That's insane. Let's show some respect to those fans for being die-hard.'

Obviously, just knowing the history of European basketball, you can't discredit Panathinaikos or even Olympiacos. You can't have European basketball and its history of it without those teams. Any time I get the chance to see them play in that arena and you see the flares, the fans, and the atmosphere, it draws you.

That tweet was just me showing respect to the great fans that they have there. Obviously, it would be a cool opportunity to play in a place like that. It would be amazing, and I know I'd fit in well. 

But there was nothing behind it. My agent (Alex Saratsis) is Greek and keeps telling me how nice Greece is. I've never been there, but it would be cool to play in Athens with one of the two great teams. We'll see what happens, but there's nothing in the works right now. 

Did you get any feedback?
I did. Some people told me to come and play for Panathinaikos, those are typical responses... They definitely showed love. 

By the way, is it true that you declined an offer from Olympiacos in the summer of 2019, waiting for an NBA chance?
If it happened, it was without my knowledge. I didn't do it myself. But I think my agent probably didn't bring it to the table because he knew that I wouldn't want to go there.

I was looking for the money. I wanted to play for the most money I could possibly play for at the time. Russia offered that opportunity, and I just stuck with that. So, I can't say who else was on the list. 

This season, we've witnessed various incidents taking place in derbies involving Crvena Zvezda and Partizan. Olympiacos fans invaded the court after Game 5 against Monaco. Those are situations most American players have not been accustomed to watching, let alone experiencing first-hand.

To what extent has your mindset changed since you first came to Europe three years ago?
It's unlike anything else. European fans are different. They have a different passion and drive for their sports clubs. In America, you have die-hard fans who are really invested in their clubs, but the history of it all makes a big difference.

Europe has been around longer - the infrastructure and the sporting world in the continent have been around for a longer period of time. There's a deeply-rooted fanbase behind it. There's a lineage going along the line that creates and develops this true passion and fandom.

So, when fans feel like players don't give their maximum effort, they're more emotionally driven and attached, and they're taking it personally. The passion of European fans is unreal and one of the reasons why I enjoy playing there so much. 

But I don't think that throwing stuff on the court is ever acceptable whatsoever. It's not going to make us play harder, it's not going to make you feel better. It will only make everybody feel pretty bad. 

In another tweet, you've called the EuroLeague "one of the best and most underrated sporting events in the world," adding that it's "high-level basketball that should be more widely talked about." Why do you think that hasn't been the case so far?
It's a slower-paced game compared to the NBA. It's not up and down like the NBA game. So, it's a bit harder to follow. I also think that the time difference from America to European time makes it hard. Nobody's going to get up at 9 am here and watch a European basketball game.

It would definitely help if EuroLeague came together and created a TV deal that would be offered in a different time frame so that people can watch it more. But just to be able to watch those games is awesome because every single game means something. 

You're still 29, but you have expressed the desire to pursue a career in broadcasting when your career is done. Who has been your role model as a broadcaster?
There are so many good ones. I think JJ Redick does an amazing job. He's new to it but has some really good takes. A guy like Jalen Rose can be funny but also serious at the same time. He paved the way for himself in the media scene.

But I want to carve my own niche; to talk about the game I love and do so with insight and experiences from all over the world. I am not limiting myself to the NBA and the NCAA.

I would love to do some EuroLeague broadcasting as well. I'm watching enough of it, know the players, and study the game. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to try and do that. 

Do you think that stateside there's a clear distinction between those who provide pure basketball comments and those who want to create headlines and punchlines at all costs?
Media, in general, is about punchlines. We just had a full conversation about rumors that we read and saw that came out to be not true but still created the headlines.

We're at a delicate age with media and the information that comes out. Everyone is trying to be the first and the loudest to put the info out there rather than be the most truthful.

For a casual fan, you have to be really cautious about who you're listening to or who you get your information from because it can skew how you look at the game. 

I think Kevin Durant said it best. He tweeted that the best thing you can do is watch the game muted, without any commentary, and you'll get to feel what basketball really is.

I want to be someone who provides honest insight without bashing anyone else. There's no reason to go out there and talk about someone to make your name bigger.

Those guys don't have real power. Because somebody on ESPN or FOX Sports says something, it's not going to make a player get traded or get benched. 

While in Europe, from 2019 onwards, did you have any contacts with the Phoenix Suns?
Not in a professional way, more like in a personal way. I have many friends on the team and the staff. I'm in constant contact with somebody on the team at all times, from text messages to Facetime. Being from Phoenix, I was a fan first, and I had a soft spot for that club and franchise. 

What's your take on the Suns this year? Do you feel that they should have been able to accomplish more than just making the Conference semifinals?
I think they were the best team in the NBA. What happened just goes to show the talent that the NBA has. It's tough to beat a team four times. Was it a bit of a letdown? Absolutely.

But I don't think that their opportunity and window are closed. They have a good nucleus and a good group of guys. If they all stay healthy throughout the playoffs the following year, I think they'll be back in the finals again. 

Do you think the Mavs were an insurmountable obstacle?
Not at all. They definitely could have beaten them. I know that Luka Doncic is a great talent and the role players they have are amazing. Jason Kidd has done an amazing job with this team, but at the end of the day, the Suns should have won that series in five or six games. But if you allow a player like Luka to stick around for that long, anything can happen. 

Who will win the NBA Finals?
I'd pick the Warriors in seven games, but Boston isn't a cakewalk. It's not an easy team to beat. They have talent, they guard, they're well-coached, and it's going to be a true test for the Warriors to see if they can overcome this obstacle. But I think they can. 

Your father, Alan Cody, is a judge, and your mother, Jeri, is a Phoenix Police Chief. So, I'd like you to recall a moment when you didn't do justice to yourself or to others on the basketball court and, conversely, when justice wasn't done to you. 
I wouldn't call it injustice, but I've given a reaction sometimes to players that were out of my character. I've done some antics that I shouldn't have done like I just had frustration, and then, looking back on it, I walk up to the referee, and I apologize because that's not who I am. Whenever I get a bad call, I try to think about what I'm going to say. 

When I was in the G League, on my two-way contract with the Nets (2019), I went up for a lay-up, and I felt like I got fouled. After I had made the lay-up, I went up to the ref and asked him, "Why didn't you call the foul?"

I probably said some bad words. He pretended like he was going to give me a technical foul, raising his hand. Then, I went back to him and put the T up myself.

Of course, he gave me the technical foul. It was over at that point, but I probably shouldn't have done that.

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