One on one with William Avery

We was the lead guard on Duke’s 1999 squad that made the NCAA Championship game. And then Williams Avery made the choice to leave Durham for the pros. He sat down to discuss that decision, it’s ramifications, and what he’s been up to since that summer.

Thanks for making the time for the interview Will. To start I’ll ask you what we’ve been asking each player in this series—what’s going on in Will Avery’s life right now, both professionally and personally?

William Avery: I’ve been staying busy constantly. I train kids, I have what’s called the Will Avery Basketball Academy where I train kids with their skills. I also have a scouting service that I just started this year where I cover high school prospects and where they go in Georgia and in South Carolina. The first year we got it underway, we focused on kids who could play at the Division II level and next year we’ll expand to covering/evaluating kids that can play at the Division I level. It’s fun, it keeps me in the gym all the time and it keeps me doing something that I love, which is being around the game of basketball all the time. Also I have a daughter that’s playing high school basketball now, so I’m going to be coaching her travel team this year as well….

Will there’s no way you are that old, haha..a daughter playing high school basketball—that must be special for you…

Yeah, it’s great. With that I also do a lot of different camps too, like position type camps, guard camps, youth camps and this year I’m branching out to hopefully do a kind of post camp and also do camps in Georgia along with a few that I’ve got going in South Carolina as well. Just staying busy and one of the things that I really want to do is get back in school this summer. I really want to get back on campus, hopefully that works out that I can do that as well.

How is the potential opportunity looking to return back to Duke from your interactions with them?

I think it’s going to happen, I think I have things scheduled out and lined up and start taking some classes and working towards finishing. I’m going to continue to work with them hopefully once the season ends.

What for you sparked your desire to go back and try to earn your Duke degree Will?

Well, a few things actually. One, I owe it to myself to finish my degree. Second, somewhere along the line I want to become a college basketball coach and I know to do that I need to finish my degree.

Are you going to be picking back up hopefully in the same degree program you were in while at Duke?

Actually, I think I’m going to do something different this time. A lot has changed from the way you think when you are 18 and 19 years old, so I want to do something different this time. I’m thinking more along the lines of Sport Management or Business Administration this time.

On the professional side of things for you Will—what made you want to do what you are doing now?

Well, part of it is I’m from Augusta, Georgia which is a small town. These kids don’t have the opportunity that other kids may have in the bigger cities, so I looked at it as a way for a guy like me to step in and give them a voice to help push their basketball careers along. Also, you know teach them to prepare them for what it’s actually like in college and how to manage your time between their books and their basketball.

What you are doing really reminds me of what Sean Dockery is doing in Chicago from what he shared in this series Will, how much have you guys talked in the past since it sounds like you are doing similar things and are coming from similar places in wanting to work with kids?

Yeah, the last time I talked with Sean was two summers ago actually, when we were both down in Durham at Duke for the K Academy. It was funny in talking with Sean, he told me, “you know man, when I was growing up, I wanted to be Will Avery, when I came to Duke I wanted to be Will Avery.” That may make me look kinda old which is kinda funny but what you just said about him is cool seeing how we have similar backgrounds are doing similar things.

Oh, before I forget, I also did a little bit last year what I’m calling the Will Avery Life Skills Academy. Every week during the whole summer I had teachers lined up and come in and we work with kids on their academic deficiencies, obesity, we do stuff to help them with their fitness level and how to eat right, things like that, so I have that going as well.

It sounds like you still have a connection with the Duke family, who would you say you are really close with from that group?

Nate James is probably the closest right now, and I talk to Shane from time to time, but I talk with Nate a lot and I get up to some games several times each year. Nate and I talk at least a couple times a month, so I would say Nate is who I’m closest with.

What’s it like for you seeing Nate coach?

I’m so happy for him and he’s a guy who won a championship both as a player and on the staff as well, not a lot of people get to do that, so I think that’s great.

Is he giving you any counsel/insight on coaching college basketball since you are interested in hopefully doing that someday?

Yeah we do actually talk about that a lot. I really do ask him about coaches and coaching basketball and I love that, I really hope to do that someday.

Has there been anybody that’s played a major role for you as you consider following the path of becoming a college coach?

What I do while I’m here, I go into a Division II school here locally and I watch practice and I come through the better high schools and watch practice and just kinda pick up what I can from talking with coaches, pick their brains on different things. I may learn by watching one coach whose team plays hard the entire game, so I go into practice to see if he ever has to coach effort there or if maybe the guys play small when I watch them and see what the strategy is being playing that way. Then I also sit in the AD’s office at the D-II school locally here who was a longtime assistant coach at Clemson back in the day and just pick his brain on different things. Wherever I can get knowledge from guys who have coached basketball is good for me.

Before doing what you are doing now you played professionally for quite a good while…what are your thoughts about how your professional career went, both in the NBA and overseas?

With my professional career, I was very young when I started. I was only 19 years old and I had a lot of growing up to do. My thing is if I could do it all over again, I think I would do it different. But it worked for me, it was good, I learned a lot on the fly.

Overseas was great, now everybody has seen that the world I think has caught up to us basketball wise and I got to see that firsthand as it evolved. When I first got over there, there wasn’t any many guys from Europe playing in the NBA but during my nine years overseas, I could see it just increasing year in and year out. I would explain to kids back home that the kids over there are ahead of us because of the time they put in over there. Kids are 15 and 16 years old over there who are spending six and seven hours a day in the gym which is unbelievable and we can’t do here because we have school and rules and that stuff. But they are really, really working and now they are starting to understand and see that.

You mentioned looking back you would do things differently Will, how so?

I think it would have been a lot better because I would have been a lot more prepared for what I had to face early on in my career. I think that’s the most important thing is preparation and to be ready when you get there to the NBA. What you don’t understand going in is it’s a job and your job is on the line all the time and the guy who picked you, his job is on the line too. You have to produce and that’s what they care about. If you can’t do that, they just go and get somebody else, which is different from college basketball. There you can play and have some fun but there’s a lot of other things with being a professional that you just can’t get in college, at least not with two years in college, you need more in some cases. But then you take a guy like Kyrie who has done great. But you do have special cases where it does work, but for me I can say I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been when I was going in.

When you were deciding to leave early Will, what was the process for you?

Oh man it was crazy, it was actually really crazy. It was crazy and I look back and I say gosh all that pressure, I mean I was only 19 years old. There was just unbelievable pressure from all over, some people who didn’t have your best interests at heart, they really had money at their heart and stuff like that. It was crazy, that’s the best way to describe it, it was simply crazy.

Who were you talking with as you were evaluating going pro Will if you don’t mind me asking?

I talked to my circle, my parents, talked to Coach, I talked to everybody that was close to me. At the end of the day it was a decision based around finances for me. I didn’t grow up with a lot and I looked at it as an opportunity to do some things for my family. If I had to go back, I do think I would have done it differently. I think I would have stayed and prepared more and really looked at the bigger picture because at the end of the day, the money is going to be there and if you are good enough to play, the money is going to be there.

How did you and Coach K work through your process?

Well, it was different because during that time we talked but Coach K was actually having hip surgery at the time. At the end of the day I really, really trusted Coach….but back then you are young, really young and you think you know it all. That’s the best way I would describe that.

How has your relationship grown or changed over time with Coach K and the Duke staff Will?

It’s great, it’s great. I get to see him every summer down at the K Academy and we talk. It’s great and we’ve always had a great relationship.

In talking with Elton Brand for this series he mentioned that he worked through potentially going pro after his freshman year before deciding to come back for the second year. Was it a similar situation for you?

After the sophomore year for me, that was it.

The teams you were on at Duke—what was it like for you playing with that collection of guys?

It was great and you know what I enjoyed the most looking back? It was practice, just the fact to come and compete against those caliber of players there, it was simply unbelievable for my career. Wojo without a doubt was the toughest player I matched up against, that guy taught me so much. I knew coming in every single day into that gym that I had to be ready to go, I had to be ready to go. He has taught me so much about the game, how to compete every day, how to be a leader every day which was really great because coming from high school, you don’t compete like that every day. You are the best player on the team, you aren’t challenged as much, so you really don’t get better that way is what you don’t realize. But I can definitely say that due to Wojo being there, I definitely got better every day, every week my whole time there.

It’s interesting you say that about Wojo Will because just last week Jay Williams mentioned in our interview for this series that one of the biggest things he was looking forward to about going into Duke was having the opportunity to compete against you in practice because, like you with Wojo, he felt like going up against you every day would help him improve and learn more right away…..

And I kinda missed the opportunity to be there for him to be honest. I felt like I kind of left him there and he got thrown into the fire. I thought he still did well though but I look at Duke as a family and I kinda wish that I had been there for him, just to help him grow and get better as a player.

From a relationship perspective—who were you really tight with in your two years at Duke?

Elton I would say and Shane too, we were all roommates our freshman year. Actually one of the guys that helped with my decision was Chris Carrawell. We had faced each other in high school when I was in the 10th grade and that tournament was kinda my coming out party. Chris was saying that there’s this 10th grader in Georgia that ya’ll need to see and I remember playing against him and Loren Woods when my team from Georgia came up and played them when they were ranked in the country and we beat them and I think I scored about 31 or so against them. Then I would see him in AAU Circuit and I saw him go to Duke and I said to myself that he’s a guy I really wouldn’t mind playing with, he played hard, did a lot of things and he was just a great guy.

What kind of counsel did he give you through your decision making process to come to Duke?

You know when I came on my visit I asked him how it was and he said it was great, just a great situation, we’re going to win and I think at the time they had gone through some tough years prior to him coming and so I think we were all part of that group that turned things around.

What was the relationship like with your teams between the upperclassmen and underclassmen?

Everything was good, one of the things about that is you gotta show up and play and earn your respect but at the end of the day we were family and we were all there with one common goal, which was to win championships, that’s why we came to Duke. We came there to work hard, to push each other hard and to keep each other accountable.

What was the adjustment like coming in as a Duke freshman--both on and off the court?

I think the biggest thing was time management. The hours that it took to be a student-athlete. That was the biggest adjustment, making sure you got your studying in and making sure you got your extra work in on the basketball court. And with that, there's not a whole lot of time for anything else until you really learn that. 

Playing with the level of talent you did in those two years--how was that for you?

It was great, and the best thing that was really great was being on the court at all times with 4 other guys who all had really high basketball IQs and athletic ability and talent. That just made the game so much more fun and not having the pressure of having to be the hero and to do it all yourself. You learned to be vocal and to communicate and how to work with 4 other guys on the court and getting things done. It was great.

Elton shared some memories he shared from his experiences he remembered from the UCONN national championship game--for you… were there any memorable experiences from that?

That was a great experience for me, we were there, we worked so hard to get there and that's where we wanted to be. We had been on an unbelievable run, kinda a historical run I would say and also I was playing against my childhood friend and a high school teammate in that game. That was a great experience and as much as I may not like to talk about it since it comes up a lot with people I know in Georgia (haha), but it was an amazing experience to just be in that atmosphere and just to play in front of that many people in such a huge stage. Here it is you are playing as a team and this is for all the marbles, it was great. And that's what coming to Duke is about, it's coming to play on the big stage. 

I remember just always having confidence that we were going to win the game. One thing that was the closest team that I was ever on, I mean we were really together and we had been through many situations and we always came out on top. I remember going back to the St John's game and Elton, myself and Trajan all fouled out and Chris Carrawell took over the point and Shane and other guys stepped up and they won that game, I was always, we just always believed in every huddle, every game that we were going to win that game. Unfortunately that didn't happen for us in the UCONN game, but those are some of the things that come across my mind about the experience of that game.

Every player in this series has talked about in what ways Duke really helped them grow as a person and a player. For you, Will, how do you think you grew in your time there?

A lot, actually a lot. The experience was just unbelievable to me. Even now, I can't put words to it, it was just unbelievable for me.

Your team obviously had a good part in helping Coach K get to a 1000 wins--what was going through your mind as you saw him win his 1000th game against St John's this year?

Unbelievable, it was just a great feeling to see him get that. To know I was a part of that, I always felt like for awhile now that he's just the greatest of all time. I wish people could see him in practice, I remember having practices with him where we wouldn't even touch the ball. He's the best communicator that I've ever been around. I remember him coming into practice sometimes and he would say you know what, we're going to get better today just by listening and talking. When you are 18, 19 years old you would look at him and you would say how is this going to make us great but as you get older and look back, you marvel at how good he is at what he does.

I sent him a message after he won a 1000 and I told him how honored I was to be a part of that and that it was great, things like that.

Moving towards wrapping up--what are your thoughts on this year's Duke team?

I like this team, it kinda reminds me of us a little bit. Lot of hype coming in, still got to produce and they haven't been through the ACC in the same way. I watched them go to NC State and they probably had no idea just how tough it is to go into NC State, just how bad those kids want to beat you. I did notice that they do get up for the highly ranked teams, but that's just a part of growing and it reminds me a lot of our teams when I was there. But I'll tell you, I'm really enjoying watching this team grow man, at the end of this month they are going to be a  really good basketball team.

In closing I know there's a lot of Duke fans who will be reading this interview and I wanted to hear from you if you had anything you wanted to share with them?

I just want to thank them for caring and cheering and being there. That really meant a lot to me coming into that gym and feeling that great support night in and night out. All I can say is Go Duke!

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