I couldn't ask to be at a better place. It's a homecoming for me. —Mo Williams
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SALT LAKE CITY — Kevin O'Connor recalls that the first time Mo Williams was introduced to the Utah media as a new member of the Utah Jazz, the 2003 second-round draftee only had a suitcase and a chip on his shoulder to prove NBA doubters wrong.
Williams returns with a whole lot more this time around.
A decade later, Williams has nine years of professional playing experience, a big family that includes four children and another on the way, a burning desire to be a leader on his second Jazz team, and gritty toughness that the organization is thrilled to have back on its side.
Williams also returns with a happy-to-be-here-again attitude.
"I couldn't ask to be at a better place. It's a homecoming for me," Williams said Tuesday at a reintroduction press conference in Utah. "I jokingly said it felt like being drafted all over again."
O'Connor was more than eager to rectify what he still considers the "biggest mistake" of his NBA GM career — allowing Williams to go to the Bucks in 2004 after his rookie season in Utah. Williams, by the way, said he never held any "ill will" against the Jazz and always appreciated his time here.
The Jazz used the bulk of the $10.8 million trade exception they picked up when dealing Mehmet Okur to New Jersey last December to pull of this part of a four-team trade to bring him to his original NBA home.
"I think we've gotten better," O'Connor said, refusing to comment on the reported Devin Harris-Marvin Williams trade. "He's experienced. He knows he wants to be here and he gives us an opportunity to have a player that's played a lot of minutes in the league and has been successful. ... I think we've gotten better."
Before doing interviews, Williams sported a No. 16 jersey for a quick photo session. The 6-foot-1 point guard jokingly said he'll "let" Al Jefferson, his fellow Mississippi buddy, keep his preferred No. 25 — emphasis on the "let" part.
Williams credited his children for picking his new number.
"I asked my kids what number they wanted me to pick so they chose 16," he said with a smile. "Ask me why, I don't know."
Williams is much surer about other things.
For one thing, the 29-year-old — who'll likely become the starting point guard with Harris reportedly heading to Atlanta — promises with conviction that he'll always give it his all.
"It's all about leading by example. Am I going to be perfect? Absolutely not. Am I going to have some bad games? You going to write some stuff about me? Absolutely," Williams said. "But one thing you're not going to write is he's not going hard, he's not being competitive, he's not being a leader. That's one thing that's never going to be written."
Added Williams: "I know one thing that I will bring is my toughness and leadership."
Another certainty for Williams is that even while playing in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Los Angeles (with the Clippers), his heart remained fond for Utah. He thought about playing here again some day.
Williams also greatly appreciated a lesson taught to him by then-Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.
"After you go to other organizations, you really appreciate this organization, the way they run it, the way Jerry approached things," Williams said. "Everybody know Jerry. He's very fair. You play hard, he'll reward you. That's one thing he taught me — you play hard, you'll play. And when I played hard, I played and I always remember that."
Williams had his toughness pounded into him when he played his rookie season for Sloan after being picked No. 47 overall in 2003, but initially his parents instilled a tough attitude in him. He watched his dad come home from one job when he left for school. Then his mom left for her work, and his dad was off again to toil away when she returned.
"I watched my parents battle, work night shift, work two jobs," Williams said. "That's toughness. That's toughness. ... That's something, it all carries over from your parents and I was fortunate to have both parents in my life. My dad's very demanding and I think that's where I get it from."
His Jazz bosses, teammates and fans can expect that competitive fire and work ethic from a guy who has evolved since he first arrived in Utah as a 20-year-old.
Williams said toughness makes a difference on the final night of a four-games-in-five-days stretch or when you are in a losing streak and need to tweak some stuff in practice to get things back in order.
"You know what toughness is going to do?" Williams asked. "Toughness is going to get you on the court and get some work in to get better even though you don't want to do it. That's my definition of toughness."
Williams believes the Jazz have that brand of toughness, too, even if Tyrone Corbin is now the head coach instead of Sloan. That's one of the reasons Williams opted in the final season of his deal to allow the trade from the Clippers to happen.
"I'm a realist, so when the opportunity arose, he didn't hesitate. (O'Connor) came looking for me," Williams said. "The opportunity was there and we felt like this is it, it's time to come back, and we got it done."7 comments on this story
Williams couldn't be more excited to lead a team that includes a frontcourt foursome of Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, and he likes young guys like Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks as well.
"The way I play, it goes with this roster makeup," Williams said. "The way we do it, it will blend together. It will be great."
He only has one year left on his contract, but Williams hopes that his new group can mesh together for years to come. Asked if he plans on staying here for the long term, he smiled, "That's the goal. Absolutely."
O'Connor quickly added, "It's ours too."