Jay Williams talks about Rising Stars, March Madness


I’ve had some people ask for the full text of the interview we conducted to do this story on Jay Williams. Happy to oblige – here’s the interview, along with some video we took at Foley’s.

Regarding your charity endeavors, it seems like that’s a really important thing for you to be able to do.

I think it really is. You know, for me, with the way my life has really worked out, the one thing I was very fortunate to have was a mother and father who were there to push me to be better. Basketball was such a small part of who I am. Just overall, academics and being a good citizen are what my parents really preached to me on a day-in and day-out basis. And now that I’m in a position where I can provide this for young kids, whether it’s in urban areas or the suburbs – so many kids out there are at risk. And to put something together like Rising Stars, where some people were able to help me out through my process, is something that I feel can make a difference, and I think that’s what our overall goal is.

How can someone get involved?

Video provided by TruthBegins.com

It’s Jaywillrisingstars.org, it’s kind of a stepping stone, we’re putting up the right pieces of the puzzle. We’re taking our time – I feel like a lot of times, charities just kind of jump out of the gate. We want to have all your donations as soon as possible; I think our overall goal is to build a charter school, we want to build something here in Harlem, in New York. So we’re trying to find out the right way to go about doing that, working with the government to get grants, different political ties, trying to put titles and things together. And we’re having our huge charity event on April 27 – you can buy tickets online, or if you’d like to buy tickets, it’d be greatly appreciated. I think – somebody, in my life – it took a third party, also. My mother and my father were great, and I’m so thankful for them. But not a lot of these kids have a mother and a father who were there. And even if they do, sometimes it takes that third party to really make a difference, to kind of be that third ear, that third sounding board or advice. And that’s why a couple of people – a guy named Paul Ceramis, who was the actual CEO before I took over Rising Stars, and now he’s handling day-to-day stuff while I take sort of a bigger role. But just kind of providing that extra element to kids in their lives.

And you can do something like this tonight, and you can have fun with it too!

Today was kind of a great situation; I didn’t know whether I had to work or not. Obviously, the NCAA Tournament is going on, March Madness, the best time of the year on ESPN. But we kind of put it together last second, we got the word out there. Jenn Sterger, a good friend of mine, she has her own show coming out [on Versus] – it’s great that she sort of partnered with me and we’re working together. Hopefully, she’ll be at my event. We got Michael Strahan, he’s going to come out from California, we’re actually going to honor him on April 27. Justin Tuck’s going to be there, David Diehl, Jesse Palmer – Dick Vitale, hopefully some of the guys from ESPN. We’re going to try to make it a big time thing. And we have a couple of kids that we were able to help throughout the process for the past 3-4 years through small donations and through my givings as well, that are going to speak about the overall experience, about how Rising Stars has helped them. I think it’s going to be a great night, it’s going to be fun – and I think that’s what it’s all about, giving back.

It’s great that you have friends that are helping out with this.

Jenn’s a great friend to have, they’re all great friends. She’s great, and Michael’s great… everyone who helps is great.

Before we end, just a couple quick questions about March Madness –

(Laughs) Oh, we’re going to talk about basketball? Of course! Why not?

(Laughs) Well, we wanted to get the word out about Rising Stars first. Watching these games, honestly, you were one of the greatest players we’d ever seen – you were one of the greatest NCAA players of the last decade. When we watch games, we often think back to that because that was our greatest basketball memory too, and we were just watching. So when you watch a game – things are crazy, you probably don’t have time to really just sit and watch a game very much not in the studio – when you watch, what do you think about? Do you put yourself in their shoes and remember what that was like?

Three of our favorite peopleA couple weeks ago, I literally got chills. I got chills. It’s always like that. It’s always this time of the year that makes me the most excited, for the fact that — at the beginning of the year, you have that preparation, you work really hard, you have those practices that are at 5 in the morning. You do all those things to get to the overall end – goal. Which is to win! But not always, the best team wins during the NCAA Tournament. It’s funny, I give picks all the time, and I’m on SportsCenter and I say what teams I think are going to win. But those stats really don’t matter, because every game in the NCAA Tournament, you’re 0-0. Coach K used to give the best analogy by saying, “Each game is like an entire season.” So at the end of each game, you want to be 1-0. But you can’t take 1-0 into the next game! Because you’re 0-0 again. (Note: At the time, UNI was up on Kansas, 56-51, with about 4:30 left) So you see a team like Kansas, yes, they’re the overall best team in this whole thing in my opinion, because of experience, maybe not talent, but being there, having the right pieces to the puzzle – but they’re losing to Northern Iowa from the Missouri Valley Conference, that nobody really talks about…

I’m impressed you know the conference off the top of your head!

Exactly! But they’re playing really well, and they’re hot at the right time. That’s what the Tournament’s all about. Who would have had in their bracket, [Ohio] over Georgetown? After watching Georgetown get to the Big East Tournament game, barely losing to West Virginia… a team who people talked about being a 1 seed! Who would have thought the Pac-10 would be 2-0 against the Big East? We were saying the Pac-10 was the worst conference all year long, and yet they’re in a better position than the Big East is. That’s how the Tournament goes, and that’s what makes it so great.

I’ve always wondered this, the night before the 2001 championship game, after the Maryland game, you had one day off and you played the National Title game against Arizona. You’re sitting there at your hotel room, what were you thinking that night?

Pacing. Anticipation. Energetic… I literally, that night, I watched tape on Gilbert Arenas – I had a hard time going to sleep. First off, as a kid, I can’t tell you how many times when I was 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, all throughout grammar school, that I practiced on my backyard court, playing in the National Championship game for college basketball. Just 3… 2… 1… game-winner! I’m playing against Michael Jordan… it’s just what you dream about as a kid. And I’ll tell you the all-time best memory I’ve ever had – obviously, winning it was great, hugging Mike Dunleavy and Shane Battier, Chris Duhon handing me the ball. But a time that I cannot forget is, we’re tipping the ball. And we’re all on the court surrounding the circle, and everybody’s around me, and I’m hovering around the circle that two guys are tipping the ball in. And as my hands are on my knees and I’m looking at these two guys getting ready to tip the ball, all of a sudden, this song pops in my head – (sings) The ball is tipped… And I’m like, “Oh my God, I’m living this experience!” Like, I’m in this game! The one shining moment – I have a chance to grab this dream, to grab it out there and make it mine, make it reality. And literally, I can’t tell you about the first five minutes of the game because I was in shock. I was in awe. And all of a sudden, we win the game and I was crying hysterically because that one shining moment was our shining moment. Out of the 350-plus Division 1 teams, we were the team that fortunate that year to win it. And it’s such a special feeling, man, it’s so rare. So unbelievably rare.

We’re ecstatic to see you doing what you’re doing with ESPN, you’re doing great. Do you kind of look this as a second lease, like another opportunity? Because we were worried about you. And to see you doing this, it makes us really happy.

Listen, that’s what Rising Stars is about. Basketball is something that I happened to be really good at, and I really appreciate you saying I was great at it, and I appreciate everyone’s opinion. I thought I was good, I could always get better. I had to work harder. But basketball is such a small part of who I was as a person. I sit here and I look at guys like Reggie Love, how things didn’t necessarily work out for him in football the way he would have liked for them to. Now he’s the right hand guy for Barack Obama, in the world of politics. I look at my life and, yeah, I’m on the world of the Internet and Twitter, and you hear people all the time say negative things, but for me, I’m very fortunate to be involved in the media. I mean, you kind of got me started on it when I was younger! And now I’m involved in it, and now I have the chance to leverage my networking skills and all the things I was taught. At Duke, the best thing I can say about Coach K: Yes, I learned how to play basketball. But more importantly, I learned how to be a great young man. And that’s the thing I see for a lot of these great coaches – Roy Williams, Bill Self – they teach these kids so much more than just the game of basketball. They teach them about the game of life. And that’s what we’re all about.


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