The former Kings forward and recently-hired assistant coach reflects on his playing career, dishes on his passion for teaching and much more.
An imposing low-post scorer throughout his career, Corliss Williamson spent two tenures totaling seven-and-a-half seasons in Sacramento, racking up 10.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in purple and black. The 6-foot-7 forward – who ranks 10th on the Sacramento-era points list (5,026) and is one of 13 Kings players to notch at least 40 points in a single game in the last 27 years – recorded career-highs with 17.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game in 1997-98.
During his time in The River City, Williamson – the only two-time recipient of the Oscar Robertson Triple Double-Award – gained the utmost respect of coaches, teammates and fans for his professionalism and work ethic.
Prior to being selected 13th overall by the Kings in the 1995 NBA Draft, the two-time SEC Player of the Year led the Arkansas Razorbacks to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including the 1994 National Championship. The 2001-02 NBA Sixth Man of the Year later joined a select group of players who’ve reached the pinnacle of success in both the collegiate and professional ranks by helping lead the Detroit Pistons to the 2004 NBA title.
Upon retiring in 2007, Williamson joined the coaching ranks as an assistant at Arkansas Baptist College before being named head coach at the University of Central Arkansas in 2010. After winning a total of 13 games over his first two years with the Bears, he guided the team to a 13-17 record and the program’s first Southland Conference Tournament berth last season.
In a recent interview with Kings.com, the Kings assistant coach characterizes his new role and transition to the sidelines, reflects on his time in Sacramento and more.
What excites you most about the opportunity to coach in Sacramento?
“Having an opportunity to come back to my NBA hometown, where I cut my teeth as a rookie in Sacramento, is just an awesome feeling. Just the opportunity to be back in the NBA – the highest level of basketball to be able to coach – is exciting in itself.
“I had the opportunity to sit down and meet with (Head) Coach (Michael) Malone, (who) told me his vision and where he wanted to take the organization and how he wanted to change the culture of the team. (It was) in line with everything I believe in as a coach, my family was on board and it was hard to pass up this opportunity.”
Which areas do you anticipate focusing on as assistant coach?
“I know one of the areas I’m going to focus on is working with the big guys. I have a lot of knowledge from playing those positions and coaching them at the college level, so it’s definitely an area I know is going to be part of my responsibilities. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to any new challenge, and it’s an opportunity for me to step back from being a head coach to being an assistant and having a chance to learn some more.”
Which players are you looking forward to working with most?
“I hate to pick out one guy, but when I look at DeMarcus Cousins, I’m very excited about the opportunity to work with him. I watched him play in college, and I was very excited about how he played the game, the skill level he had and I think he has a lot of potential to be a pretty good player in our league. I’ve watched Carl Landry close up and some of the other guys. You look at the roster – we’re young, so it means we have some time to work with these guys and hopefully shape and mold them in the way we want to play.”
How does your experience as a former player in the NBA affect the way you evaluate talent?
“I think it helps a lot. Just watching people play, you can tell (from) years of playing against the best or watching scouting reports of the best players in the world … how certain guys can fit into your system or whether they’re fit to play at a certain level. I think it’s helped us out a lot, especially when I was at Central Arkansas, and hopefully it helps me as I move forward in my coaching career.”
How would you characterize your time in Sacramento as a player?
“I loved my time with Sacramento – it reminded me so much of Arkansas. To me, it was just a bigger Little Rock. The people there were awesome – when things were going well, they were there supporting us, (and) when things weren’t going as well, they were still there, pulling for the Kings. I just enjoyed my time there – the community, the staff, the people in the organization were always great to me. (I have) some family and friends there now. It’s just an awesome place.”
You were a part of the 1995-96 Kings team that reached the Playoffs for the first time in 10 years. How would you describe that experience?
“Coming from college, playing in the Final Four two years in a row, I kind of expected to be in postseason play, but I didn’t know how hard it was until I got into the NBA. Then, just to see the excitement of the fans, the excitement of the organization that the Kings finally made it back to the Playoffs, it was just great to be a part of it. Whenever you have a chance to be in the Playoffs, it’s a great feeling. It’s just like March Madness but instead at the NBA level.”
Which players did you follow growing up and who did you model your own game after?
“Growing up, I was a big Charles Barkley fan. Everybody back then fell in love with Michael Jordan – it was hard not to fall in love with him. I was also a big Larry Johnson fan, and I followed Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon. I played inside in high school, so those are the people I (studied).”
How did you earn the nickname “Big Nasty?”
“It’s a nickname from my cousin. I was 13 years old and he was coaching me in AAU basketball. It’s just how he wanted me to play on the court – (he’d say), ‘You have to be big and nasty in there.’ My AAU teammates picked up on the name, and of course, as I got older people started blurting it out. Before you know it, Dick Vitale was screaming it on TV and the world started knowing me as ‘Big Nasty.’”
You were renowned as a low-post scorer and a force in the paint. How would you characterize your mindset when you entered each game?
“My mindset was giving everything I had. I wanted to be physical, I wanted to be mean – if I could. I hated losing, so my mindset was always do whatever it took to win a game, whether it was diving on the floor, scoring, running in transition or giving a hard foul. I just wanted to do whatever I could to help my team be in a position to win the game.”
You’re part of an elite group of players who’ve won an NCAA and NBA title. How much does it mean to you?
“It means a lot to be in that class. At the same time, it’s kind of bittersweet because I never won a high school championship – it always comes back to haunt me. People assume I won a high school championship, as well, but I wasn’t able to do it. But to accomplish that at the college and the professional levels, you can’t ask for a better career.”
You were coming off a productive season with the Kings when you decided to retire. How did you decide to hang up your jersey?
“I really started making my mind up a year before – I was getting close to the end of my career and was about ready to retire. My oldest son was getting ready to head into his high school years, so I wanted to be back closer to him, back in Arkansas to watch him grow and play and be there for him more than I was when I was playing. That played a big part in my decision to walk away from the game. Even though I missed the game, there was never a second doubt or second thought about my decision to leave.”
When did you know you wanted to become a basketball coach?
“I think after I won a championship in Detroit or maybe the year before, I started coaching my son in AAU basketball and just kind of fell in love with that side of the game – being able to teach, being able to have an effect on young kids’ or young men’s lives, share my ups and downs to help them navigate through life, those are some of the things I really enjoy doing. I just developed a passion for it and throughout the twilight of my career, I started to pick the brains of all the coaches I played for, started keeping notes and started to build my philosophy as a coach.
“(Former Kings Assistant Coach) Pete Carril was the person I really sat down and talked with a lot on road trips. I talked to Coach Larry Brown some and all the coaches I’ve (played for) – it wasn’t just talking to them, it was putting together some of the things I’ve learned over the years to try to figure out how I wanted to put together a program or a team.”
You were awarded the Oscar Robertson Triple-Double Award twice during your Kings tenure. How important is it for athletes to be a positive role model in the community?
“I learned that as a young kid, watching my parents give back to the community and taking time out for others. It was just something near and dear to my heart. You have to be in touch with the community – those are the people who support you, people who are there when times are good and times are bad. To have that platform as a professional athlete, you have to use it to (make a difference). To have a chance to bring a smile to someone’s face who’s in a disadvantaged or poor situation, or go out and help encourage young boys and girls to stay in school or the importance of reading – those are things I really enjoy doing and giving back.”
How would you describe yourself off the court?
“Off the court, I’m laidback, quiet and shy – I don’t talk too much. I just like to (keep) to myself and (spend time with) my family.
“My hobby is basketball and family. I keep saying I’m going to pick up golf or something, but nothing else interests me.”