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Pitt replaces Slice with Smoke


Word leaked Monday night that Pitt coach Jamie Dixon hired a new assistant. Although Pitt couldn’t/wouldn’t confirm the news, it didn’t stop Marlon “Smoke” Williamson from changing the bio on his Twitter profile.
Pitt announced Tuesday that Williamson was hired to replace Barry “Slice” Rohrssen, who left to join John Calipari’s staff at Kentucky.
I spoke to Williamson this afternoon, and filed this story to and got some interesting background on the new hire.
* First, it’s worth noting the Calipari-Pitt-UMass connections to these coaching moves: Calipari was an assistant at Pitt under Paul Evans before taking the head coaching job at UMass. Calipari hired former Pitt player and assistant coach Orlando Antigua away from the Panthers when he was at Memphis, and Antigua followed him to Kentucky. When Antigua got the head-coaching job at USF this spring, Calipari targeted Rohrssen to replace him as ace recruiter. Williamson played at Youngstown State as a freshman for Derek Kellogg, who left to join Calipari’s staff at Memphis. Kellogg was later hired as head coach at UMass and hired Williamson as an assistant in 2012. Now, Dixon is hiring Williamson away from UMass.
Small world, huh?
* Williamson is deeply appreciative to Kellogg for giving him an opportunity to become a Division I coach.
“Coach Kellogg is a long-time friend,” Williamson said. “I can’t say much except that I love him to death, appreciate the opportunity he gave to pursue my dream to be a D-I coach. He left for Memphis, but our relationship continued and got stronger. He told me, ‘If I ever get the opportunity to come back and hire you, I’m going to hire you.’ Coach has been great. It’s easy to come and work for somebody when you love somebody the right way. That’s what I have with Coach Kellogg.”
* Now, get this: Williamson has Pittsburgh ties. His father, Julius Jerome “Bart” Williamson, grew up in Garfield and attended Peabody High School. Williamson also played collegiately at Youngstown State, where he was a four-year letterman who was team MVP and Horizon League defensive player of the year as a senior.
But first things first. I’m sure you’re wondering by now how Williamson got his nickname.
It came from his godfather, Fred Anderson, who bestowed it upon a 6-year-old Marlon at his first basketball game. Williamson said it was in reference to his dark skin tone. And it stuck, much to his mom’s chagrin.
“My mother hated it,” Williamson said. “In Detroit, Michigan, where I grew up, nobody is exempt from having a nickname. It was my first year playing, at 6, and it’s stuck with me. It’s replaced Marlon, actually.”
* Williamson first met Dixon when he was director/coach of The Family, a Detroit-based AAU program. Williamson can’t recall whether Dixon was after Manny Harris, who went to Michigan, or Wes Clark, who ended up at Missouri.
The Family has produced a number of major-college basketball stars: Brandon Cotton (Michigan State), Joe Crawford (Kentucky), Jordan Crawford (Xavier), Chris Douglas-Roberts (Memphis), Draymond Green (Michigan State), Malik Hairston (Oregon) and James Young (Kentucky).
“We had a crop of good guys,” Williamson said. “We developed a recipe, a certain way we did things. The kids understood the way we did things, and there was no other option.”
* Dixon mentioned in his statement that he likes that, “as a former point guard with strong knowledge of the game, Marlon will help us in recruiting, scouting and player development.” Williamson believes playing the position prepared him for a career in coaching.
“As a point guard, your job is to know everything,” he said. “You’re the extension of the coach. Jamie Dixon is one of the great coaches. I want to make sure I deliver that message to players of what he expects from them.”
* Williamson and Pitt assistant Brandin Knight are the same age, but Williamson said the way they met “was not the best introduction in the world.” Apparently, Knight wanted to recruit one of Williamson’s players from The Family, but instead of going through Williamson “went in another direction.”
Williamson said they “butted heads” before becoming close friends.
“You had two Type A guys trying to get their point across in conversation where nobody wanted to be quiet,” Williamson said. “Brandin is somebody who is one of my best friends in the business, by far. We’ve developed a great relationship over the last three or four years. That’s my friend, not co-worker. That’s my brother.”
* That gives the impression that Knight might have had some input on Dixon’s decision to hire Williamson, who has a reputation as a strong recruiter but, like the man he is replacing, doesn’t want to be pigeonholed.
“Actually, my pursuit is to become a great assistant coach right now. In the future, I want to become a head coach,” Williamson said. “When you say ‘great assistant,’ you have to fill a lot of bullets. Recruiting is definitely one, but I don’t want to be singled out as just a recruiter. I can get in the film room and break down Xs and Os. The relationship with the players is a huge factor for you as a coach. It’s much easier to play for someone you respect and love versus someone you just play for. That’s what I want to strive for as a professional in this business, being able to relate to the coach, co-workers on the staff, as well as the players and their parents.”
So, like Kellogg before him, Williamson made a move to put his career in an upward trajectory.
“This is a big step,” he said. “When you talk about the University of Pittsburgh and ACC, you’ve got to go get players first. Our position as assistants is to put Coach Dixon in a position to be great. I look at coach Dixon as a legend. I don’t think he hired Coach Knight or Coach Barton to be mediocre. We want to give him the tools that he can go coach those guys. Our goal is to win the last game. Why not us?”




Author: Kevin Gorman

Kevin Gorman is an award-winning sports columnist for Trib Total Media who covers the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, college and prep sports in an interactive, multimedia platform. His family roots to Pittsburgh run four generations deep, a story steeped in the city’s history. His ancestors worked in the steel mill and on the railroad, invented Austin’s household products and walked the beat as a city cop. A street in Oakland is named for his great-grandfather, who was a Pittsburgh Police captain. That street, as pictured, was the inspiration for the name of this blog. Gorman joined the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in August 1999, became a sports columnist in September 2009 and has won multiple Pennsylvania Newspaper Association awards for his sports columns. He has covered the Steelers in the Super Bowl and Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final, the Pirates in the Major League Baseball playoffs, as well as the MLB All-Star Game, the U.S. Open at Oakmont, the Rose, Capital One, Citrus and Sun bowls, the ACC, Big East and NCAA basketball tournaments and WPIAL and PIAA championship events. Gorman has been the beat writer for Pitt football and men’s and women’s basketball, and has covered high school sports and recruiting. He served as color analyst for FSN Pittsburgh/Root Sports for the WPIAL football and basketball championships and as guest analyst for the Trib Total Media High School Edition. A graduate of Baldwin High School and Penn State University, Gorman has worked at newspapers in Memphis, Phoenix, Dallas and Kansas City. He has a son, Kieran, and comes from a large Irish-Catholic family whose roots are in Oakland, Greenfield and Mt. Washington. Don’t be surprised if you run into one of his cousins; considering there are more than 100, be surprised if you don’t. Email or follow on Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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