Richard Williams will have a hard time forgetting his first face-to-face meeting with Dontae’ Jones.
The two were scheduled to meet at the cafeteria on the campus of Northeast Mississippi Community College in Booneville. Williams, a 50-year-old coaching professional, was on time and sat patiently at a table waiting on the phenomenal 19-year-old player he’d seen play in only one game.
Dontae’ arrived fashionably late for their appointment. He didn’t make matters any better when he showed up and was accompanied by what Williams calls “his entourage,” and wearing an earring. Williams loathes earrings.
“He showed up with his entourage, wearing an earring and just laughing, smiling and having fun,” Williams said.
It was at this point that Williams figured he better set some ground rules very quick.
“I was a little upset that he was 15 to 20 minutes late,” Williams said. “I made it a point at that time, because I knew we had a chance to sign Dontae’, to go over some things. He had been to some of our games and we had visited on the phone, so I knew that he liked us. But I wanted to make sure he understood then, up front, what it would be like here.
“So my first conversation with Dontae’ was of the sort that I was really fussing at him for being late for the meeting. I let him know in no uncertain terms that if he chose to come to Mississippi State he would not be late for meetings.”
Then Williams inquired about Dontae’s earring.
“I told him we don’t wear earrings,” Williams said. “I told him if you like the earring more than you want to play basketball here, then you need to go somewhere else.”
Dontae’ had no problem with taking off his earring.
“He just laughed, grinned and smiled,” Williams said. “I knew then that he would be a youngster that was coachable, and he has been. I don’t know where he got the reputation that he was going to be difficult to handle and difficult to coach. He has been as coachable as many, many players we have had in our program.”
Williams will admit that Dontae’ is not as coachable during a game.
“He has difficulty in a game because he gets caught up in the emotion of the game. He loves it,” Williams said. “He loves to play. Sometimes he thinks he’s still playing in the midnight league, where there is no penalty to pay for taking bad shots, not playing defense, for bad rebounding, or for talking back to the referee. It’s taken him some time to learn those things.”
Rick Stansbury was right
Williams said the only promise he made the Mississippi State fans when he was hired 10 years ago was, “That I would build a competitive program and do it with good people.”
But like any coach, Williams thought about coaching a Final Four caliber team. However, it was never really a goal for the program until Dontae’ came along.
“Rick Stansbury, my associate head coach, told me this past spring after we signed Dontae, ‘Coach, he could make us a Final Four team,”’ Williams said, then smiled. “I told Rick he was crazy. Dontae’s good, but I don’t know if he’s quite that good.”
Saturday, Dontae’, Richard and Rick have a Final Four date with Syracuse scheduled for 4:42 p.m. CST at the Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, N.J.
I’ll bet Dontae’ won’t be late for the game.
Gene Phelps is sports editor for the Daily Journal.