The Pitt News

Men’s Basketball: Marlon Williamson opens up about why he chose Pitt

By Ryan Bertonaschi / Senior Staff Writer

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When former Pitt men’s basketball assistant coach Barry Rohrssen parted ways with Jamie Dixon and Pitt’s staff for the University of Kentucky in April, he left a hole in Pitt’s bench that gaped wider every day.

Nine weeks later, Dixon found the guy to fill the space left behind.

Enter ex-UMass assistant coach, Detroit native, youth basketball figure and former Youngstown State point guard Marlon “Smoke” Williamson, who now describes himself as “simply a coach.” Shortly after informing coaches from UMass and Pitt that he’d decided to continue his career with the Panthers, Smoke spoke with The Pitt News. 

The Pitt News: Why the city of Pittsburgh? 

Marlon Williamson: It was a good fit. This is my first time out. It was definitely a big time opportunity for myself. The only thing that really … had me a little hesitant about pursuing the job was simply my loyalty to Coach Kellogg and UMass, the staff and the community. I’m eternally grateful to him because he gave me my shot and, at the same time, he gave me his blessing to enhance my career and kind of just moving on. It was great. It was something I really took in and appreciated a whole lot.

TPN: Sometimes hiring an assistant coach in college basketball is more about who he knows rather than what he knows. Would you describe yourself as more of a recruiting specialist or a sideline teacher?

MW: My answer probably won’t be the most popular, but it’s … the one I feel deeply about. I look at myself as simply a coach. A coach is somebody who has to take on responsibilities on a day-to-day basis to help better that program. If Monday consists of me going out and really hitting the recruiting trail to help find the next player that’s going to help us win a championship, then I’m on the road being a recruiter that day. Tuesday may require me to be in the gym to assist Coach Dixon and the game planning. That’s what I’m doing that day. Wednesday may require me to go out with one of our student-athletes just to sit down and talk. Maybe they just need to talk. Maybe we just need to do relationship-building. My goal is to simply become the best assistant coach in the country. I feel like the requirements to that job are endless. In order to be a great assistant, you’ve got to be good at a lot of stuff. 

TPN: Dixon has proven to win over the years with defense and rebounding and using up a lot of clock on offense to get the right shot. He’s high on efficiency ratings and things like that. Do [Dixon’s] basketball philosophies match yours?

MW: Absolutely. The goal is to get to the finish line and win. The path that you take may differ, but it’s the win. I love to see our team shoot the ball and it go in. I love that at the end of 40 minutes in games, when we go to shake hands, that our 12 to 15 guys and five to six coaches are smiling. I love that. I love to go back to the locker room and clap hands and triumph because we just won. It’s our job to learn his way. When I said I wanted to be a part of the University of Pittsburgh, I adapted and I said, for sure, that I wanted to take on any philosophy that Coach Dixon had and I’m going to do my job at the highest level possible.

TPN: You were a point guard in college. [Current Pitt assistant coach] Brandin Knight has gained notoriety for nurturing Pitt’s players at that position. Do you plan on working together as a tandem or is there another position Coach Dixon will assign you to?

MW: Brandin Knight is an extended brother to me. He’s got real love for me and that’s my guy. Whatever role Coach Dixon needs, from Coach Knight, from Coach Barton — that’s the role I’m adapting to. I played point guard but at the end of the day, I was a basketball player, so our job is just to make our kids better and do whatever is needed … As far as bumping heads to help someone or assist someone, I think that’s the global reason behind being coaches. 

TPN: How’d you get the nickname “Smoke”?

MW: My godfather. I was six years old, playing for the Detroit Roadrunners … Everybody from the inner city of Detroit has a nickname. Somebody gives you a nickname and it sticks. I was six my first time going out to play. The whole family was at the game. My family is two generations deep. It was my first time and I didn’t have a nickname and my godfather would always call me “Smoke.” My mother hated it to death. But my godfather would come to the game really loud and yell, “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke!” He’d always call me that and my teammates heard it and called me that and before I knew it, strangers called me it. It’s primarily because of my skin tone. I’m a dark skinned guy. I was fast, but that was not it. I was Smoke before I came to the gym and he made it global. He kind of put it out in the air.

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Men’s Basketball: Marlon Williamson opens up about why he chose Pitt