When Alan Williams was about 7 years old, he was given a Phoenix Suns jersey.

It was too long. It fell below his knees. Nonetheless, he says, it was on that day he became a Suns fan.

He became committed to a path he hoped one day might allow him to play for his hometown team. 

So when he sat down in July to sign his new three-year, $17 million deal with Phoenix, he accomplished his lifelong dream.

‘Walking embodiment of Suns motto’

He stood Sunday afternoon back on a familiar court, Phoenix’s North High School. It’s where he transformed from an out-of-shape, goggles-wearing sophomore reserve to a two-time state champion and an All-Arizona honoree as a senior. 

It’s been nearly 17 years since he received the jersey. Now, 24, Williams is 6-feet, 8 inches tall and 260 pounds with a 7-foot-2-inch wingspan.

Jerseys fit better these days. 

On this day, he’s surrounded by more than 100 aspiring hoopsters, boys and girls ages 8 to 18. The sounds of their shoes squeak across the wooden surface as they bounce basketballs to the beat of an irregular tempo, practicing drills that they learned the day before. 

They wear matching shirts that on many are too big and fall below the knees. In big letters across the front it reads: Alan Williams Basketball Camp. 

All the while, Williams stands on the sidelines watching — and smiling. He had waived the announced fee for the camp. It was all on the man they call Big Sauce.

“I’m loving every minute of it,” he tells The Republic. “Being in Phoenix is everything to me. To give back to the city and the youth here is awesome.” 

Fans have quickly learned that Williams, who often speaks of the Suns and himself as “we,” is a walking embodiment of the team’s motto: We Are PHX.

Doing what it takes

His journey back to Phoenix has been anything but easy. He’s been told no at every corner. 

When he graduated from North High, he went largely ignored by in-state schools. He attended UC-Santa Barbara. There, he evolved as a player, becoming the NCAA leader in rebounding as a junior and the Gauchos’ go-to player.  

But he was not selected on NBA draft night in June 2015.

He left his Phoenix home to play in Qingdao, China.

There, he became motivated more than ever to reach the NBA and return to his hometown. 

Then he came back for his first workout with the Suns. Coach Earl Watson shut it down after 15 minutes, telling him to “get in shape.”

Again, he worked hard. It would pay off this time, as later, he was guaranteed a contract with the Suns.  

Breet! Breet!

A camp coach blasts his whistle, signaling the children to gather at mid-court. 

They run to sit down as Williams stands in front of them. There’s a special guest, he says, pointing to Suns teammate Marquese Chriss, who just arrived at the gym.  

The children are excited and clap. On Saturday, they had the chance to meet with Suns star Devin Booker. Today, they’re lucky again to pick the brain of a professional player. 

Chriss shares stories and explains how hard work and practice will pay off for the kids one day. Then, the floor opens for questions. 

One girl raises her hand high. Called upon, she stands up and boldly asks, “Can I give you a hug?”

Chriss nods. The girl runs up and wraps her arms around the Suns forward. She quickly lets go but decides to go in for another. This time she holds on tight. 

“Holding! Penalty!” one of the coaches shouts. The gym erupts in laughter, and the girl finally lets go.

She sits back down with a grin on her face. A boy sitting next to her pokes her side and gives her a thumbs up.

Breet! Breet!

The whistle signals the end of the Q&A. It’s back to basketball drills. 

“Growing up, you don’t see the importance of camp,” Williams says. “But now, I’ve come to see how those camps shifted how I play and the way I look at life. I hope that this teaches to the kids to be positive and to have as much fun as possible.”

Outside of drills, the children compete in cheering contests. They fight to see who can clap the loudest for their teammates. It teaches the kids that great energy between players creates the chemistry that sets the foundation for the team’s success, Williams explains. 

Work ethic, humility and success

Williams spent most of the first half of last season on the bench. But, he gained attention and quickly became a fan favorite for his enthusiasm and support for his team both in the locker room and on the sidelines. 

He quickly won over his teammates who felt that Williams had their backs, no matter what — even when he didn’t get much time on the court.

“If you work hard enough, if you’re humble enough and if you try your best in everything you do, you can be pretty successful,” he says.

Williams quickly took on a productive role in the second half of the season. In 24 games after the All-Star break, he averaged 11.4 points and 9.1 rebounds in 22.6 minutes per game. 

At the camp, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton watched from the stands as his own son practiced with the other children. 

“It’s a familiar sight,” Stanton recalls. He is longtime friends with the Williams family, Alan’s mother, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams. and his father, Justice of Peace Cody Williams Sr., who previously served with Stanton on the Phoenix City Council. 

“I’ve seen him play on this very court. He wasn’t the best player out there back then,” he says with a laugh. “But he’s a testament to how hard work pays off. He willed himself to be an NBA player, and here he is now. He’s a true role model to the children.” 

“I don’t know how long Alan’s NBA career is going to last. But knowing the type of person he is, I know his entire life will be spent committed to service,” Stanton says.

Nearby sits Jerri Williams. She left her police uniform home for the day, instead choosing to wear her “team mother” uniform — a Suns hat and shirt. 

She has the loudest claps for the kids who take aim for the hoops. Then, she slips out of the gym unnoticed. 

Breet! Breet!

More than just athletic skills 

Almost too quickly for the kids, camp is over. They groan. But, Alan and his father have final words. 

Basketball was obviously the big draw to Williams’ camp. But it’s apparent by the end of the free, two-day camp that it was only bait, as the young athletes were taught more than just athletic skills.

Coaches talked with the camp goers about life skills and important concepts like responsibility, accountability and the importance of education. 

“Alan Williams would not have had the opportunity to play for the NBA if he hadn’t graduated from high school and college,” Cody Williams Sr. says with authority. “You have to be a good student. You can’t be one without the other. If you practice, work hard and make good grades, you’ll find success in all areas of life.” 

Before her husband is done speaking, Jerri Williams returns to the gym. She carries in a heavy platter of hot food for Alan and the other coaches and organizers.

“It reminds me both of high school and college days,” she says, recalling how she fed her son and his friends through games and practices. 

She admits she was nervous on how successful her son’s first basketball camp would go. But, she says, she’s been blown away by the attendance and by her son. 

“I get to realize how amazing he is all over again. The children are growing from him, and he’s growing from them. 

“He’s all over the place … practicing, dancing and talking with the kids. He’s in his element of giving back to the community he loves.”

Williams’ father offers more words.

“Prove you are an all-around athlete and most importantly, an all-around person,” says Cody Williams Sr. “Take what you’ve learned here and do it in your entire life.”

Breet! Breet!

The final whistle. The kids huddle. Their hands go in the middle. 



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