Tucson's Treasures

Tucson’s Treasures: Corey Williams


AllSportsTucson.com is running a series of articles on local sports figures who are making an impact on the community. You can refer to this link to catch up on some of our previous profiles of those who mean a lot to Tucsonans.

Corey Williams was a guest on Steve Rivera’s “Eye on the Ball” last week for nearly the whole hour of the radio show, and the loquacious Williams talked about a myriad of topics including his experience at Arizona, Lute Olson, his broadcasting career, and, of course, youth basketball.

Rivera asked Williams, 46, if he ever thought about being a coach given that his life has revolved around basketball.

“I love to talk, obviously, and I love to impact young people,” Williams said. “People gave me shortcuts. People gave me the cheat-code. People said, ‘Hey do this, not this’ and it really saved me a lot of the time.

“It allowed me to be efficient. It allowed me to reach a lot of my goals in life. I love doing that for young people. That’s why I do the kids league … and I do camps and stuff because I’m a basketball junkie like everybody, that’s how I get my fix, get in the gym, work with kids and teach them.”

Former Arizona basketball player Corey Williams has operated the Tucson Summer Pro League in Tucson since 2004

COREY WILLIAMS ON “EYE ON THE BALL”

Williams rattled off names of former teammates who are now coaches such as Damon Stoudamire at Pacific, Joseph Blair as a Philadelphia 76ers assistant and Matt Brase an assistant with the Houston Rockets. Williams also mentioned Reggie Geary was a coach.

So does that mean he wants to coach?

“I don’t know if I have the patience to coach, I just don’t,” Williams said. “The thing about Coach Olson, he coached in an era where if you don’t do it, I’ve got somebody on the team that will. I’m going to show you how to do it right, and then it’s up to you. We had one guy every year transfer out of Arizona, he just couldn’t cut it, every year somebody left because it was too hot in the kitchen.

“Now, they’re promising kids playing time in eighth grade. The kid knows he’s going Division I when he is in middle school. … College coaches have no leverage. You’re bending over backwards for a 16-year-old kid because your $1 million to $2 million a year salary demands it, it depends on it. At 46, I’m not running around the country kissing no kid’s behind.”

Corey Williams added youths to his Tucson Summer Pro League seven years ago (Corey Williams photo)

The pace of what he has established with the annual Tucson Summer Pro Leagues for Kids at the Gregory School is just his style.

“I love to coach at camps. I love to do clinics,” Williams said. “I love to run around and give high-fives and show a kid fundamentals here and there. But to feed myself and pay my bills through coaching, I just got to be honest with myself. I don’t know if I’m the guy for that.

“Basketball is about development and college basketball is about money. That right there is the problem in a nutshell is the problem that every college coach has … that pressure (to win) can put you in situations where I’ve been in practices where coaches use language where if somebody was talking that way to my son, I’d be in jail. … Unfortunately, that’s what (coaching has) deteriorated to. “

Williams has made youth basketball so prominent in Tucson during the summer that he puts AAU basketball on the backburner when it comes to publicity for kids playing the sport in this town.

Corey Williams is a longtime ESPN college basketball broadcaster (Corey Williams photo)

Williams, who played for Arizona from 1993 to 1996 and was a member of the 1994 Final Four team, is not a proponent of the “pay to play” model for kids and parents with the travel-ball club teams.

Under Williams’ direction, the TSPL started in 2004 as a summer league primarily for college-age players to hone their skills for their careers. Seeing the need to help develop young players from Tucson, from various financial backgrounds, Williams created a kids division seven years ago with one important provision: No AAU or club teams were allowed.

Kids ages 11 to 13 join the league on a first-come, first-serve basis by attending an open run. Because of widespread sponsorship from local businesses, parents only need to pay $25 for their child to participate.

That buys them six weekends of competition, a jersey and lasting memories in addition to a priceless maturation process in which they develop team skills.

Embed from Getty Images

In a 2018 interview, Williams said, “I look at my life and the ability that I had and the opportunity to come out here and play at the University of Arizona, never once playing one minute of AAU and never once really paying anybody to give me any instruction.”

“I got to the University of Arizona off of pickup basketball in my community,” continued Williams, who holds the career scoring record at Batavia (Ill.) High School and was inducted into the Hall of Fame there. “That’s how I sharpened myself and I was good enough to play at Arizona. I can’t help but think there are kids out there that if you give them the opportunity, they can reach that level.

“It’s not about money, it’s about opportunity. As long as we have people (sponsors) that are helping us provide this opportunity, you’re going to see kids develop and grow that may have not gotten the chance because of their situation financially.”

Williams, an ESPN college basketball broadcaster since 2012, is the vice president of the Crest Insurance Group, which is very active in the community with its sponsorship ventures of youth sports. Crest helped fund Sunnyside Little League baseball teams last summer in their successful runs to the regional tournaments in California.


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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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