Family Is Everything

If you find yourself in New Haven, Connecticut, there’s a good chance you’ll pass by the Dover Beach Park at the intersection of Front Street and John Williamson Drive. For the Fair Haven community, the iconic last name “Williamson” embodies the definition of sheer excellence both on and off the court. For New Haven native and LSU Alumni Maurice (Moe) Williamson, the legacy of his family’s last name is everything! As a second generation athlete that followed in his father’s footsteps, he knew there would be added pressure, expectations, and comparison to his father, who was two-time ABA Champion and basketball icon “Super” John Williamson. The story of Maurice Williamson is about returning the gratitude to his community, family, and close friends that believed in him and wanted to see him succeed in life.

 

NEW HAVEN’S OWN “SUPER” JOHN WILLIAMSON

To understand Maurice, we have to shed some context on his legendary father, “Super” John Williamson. His father is a New Haven basketball god and a two-time ABA Champion with the New York Nets (1974 and 1976). John played alongside Basketball Hall of Famer, “Dr. J.” Julius Erving in the late 70s and played a huge role in game 6 of the ABA Finals versus the Denver Nuggets where he scored 28 points, 16 of them coming in the 4th quarter during crunch time which helped his team comeback from a 22-point deficit. Erving and Williamson combined for 59 points on that evening to close out the series 4–2 in six games, crowning them ABA Champs in 1976.

John was also a pillar in the community and used his platform as a professional basketball player to inspire and influence the misguided youth that were heading in the wrong direction. When Maurice was in high school, John dedicated time to speaking with individuals at the detention center in New Haven. John’s purpose was to provide hope to those who were often told they would never succeed in life. Maurice would remember going out on Fridays or weekends and being stopped by the guys on the block. He remembers countless times hearing, “You shouldn’t be here! John wouldn’t want you here. Go home, Moe.” It was a blessing in disguise because the same people his father looked out for and inspired were the same guys that returned the gratitude and kept an eye on him to ensure he made it out of New Haven to play college basketball and receive a college education.

 

FAMILY IS EVERYTHING

As a father, John always preached the importance of “always being there for family and being a model citizen in the community.” John was the second oldest of 10 children and always took care of his family. During the holidays, he was often on the road, while Maurice and his family would traditionally spend them with his grandmother. Maurice recalls, “I got used to it over time because as long as I was around family, I was good. Throughout the years there were times my grandmother would call to complain about something and next thing I know we were in the car with my father heading up interstate 95 from New Jersey to Connecticut. There was nothing my father wouldn’t do for our family.” 

Throwback photo of baby Maurice and his mother Bertha Williamson

For Maurice, seeing basketball icons like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Julius Erving at his house for dinner was a normal thing. When his father won the ABA championship, Maurice was only six years old. Maurice laughed, “I remember being in the locker room and guys were celebrating and pouring champagne on one another. The ball boy at the time poured some champagne on me and then asked me to take a bottle and shower him with champagne to celebrate the ABA Championship. Please keep in mind, I’m six, my eyes are still stinging from the champagne and I was just a kid. What happened next, please don’t judge me. As I poured the champagne on him, I unfortunately dropped the bottle on his head because it was so heavy. I saw him a few years ago and he reminded me of the story and still has the scar where he had to get stitches above his eyebrow.” It wasn’t until Maurice got older that he could fully comprehend the fact that his father was a talented professional basketball player. There isn’t a day that goes by that Moe doesn’t get stopped by people in his community to hear a new story about his father or what his father meant to them.

 

MOE’S LEGACY AT WILBUR CROSS

Maurice started his freshman year of high school in East Orange, New Jersey, but was able to talk his father into transferring him to Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven, Connecticut, before the start of the basketball season. His father had been very hesitant to enroll him at Wilbur Cross because of the added pressure he knew his son would face. John carved out his own legacy there and, for Maurice, it was just a matter of time before he would be compared to his father. Maurice ensured his father he wanted to go and was willing to do whatever needed to be done to make the team. A fun fact about Maurice: His legal name is John Maurice Williamson. When he got to Wilbur Cross, he went by “John.” But, by his junior year, he asked everyone at school to call him “Maurice” to avoid the comparison to his legendary father “John.” At home, his family called him Maurice, so it was all the same to him.

(L-R) Coach Robert Saulsbury, Maurice and John Williamson

Maurice was faced with a long road ahead of him, “I remember going to Wilbur Cross and the team had 3-4 All Americans and they were not about to let John Williamson’s son just take their spot based solely on my last name. The practices were rough, there were fights, and a lot of mental gamesmanship was had by the varsity team. One afternoon, it got so bad I decided to skip practice and go to my grandmother’s place after school. The next thing I know my high school basketball coach, Robert Saulsbury, was knocking on my grandmother’s door looking for me. I gave him a weak excuse as to why I wasn’t at practice and he brought me back to the gym and told me, ‘I never want to see you run away from adversity again!’”

Respect on the hardwood was earned, not given. Maurice would practice with Mike Smith, an older player on the team. Mike truly believed if Moe could hang with him, there’s no reason why he can’t demonstrate that same confidence with his fellow teammates and opponents. It took time but the process was worth it. Maurice would soon earn the respect and acceptance of his teammates, starting with the co-captains, Troy Bradford and Ron Moye, for his hard work and dedication to the game. By the end of his freshman year, Maurice earned a spot in the starting lineup. In 1985, when Maurice was a freshman at Wilbur Cross, he won the state championship. To date, his team is the last Wilbur Cross team to win a state title.

 

MAURICE DROPS 78 POINTS AT CROSS

Behind every special milestone or great achievement, there’s the story within the story that often never gets told. For Maurice, scoring 78 points in a high school game was truly a night he was almost too exhausted to remember. The moments leading up to that evening, to what was going through his mind during the offensive brilliance he displayed, all the way to his father’s post-game reaction is what makes this story priceless.

Maurice recalls, “The day before I scored 78 points, we lost to one of our rivals, Hillhouse High School. After the game a few of my teammates came over to my house for dinner. My mom made spaghetti and meatballs and during dinner my teammates were joking around about our losing night. I remember I got really upset at the dinner table and ended up kicking them out of the house. I took the game seriously and didn’t like to lose. The very next day, there was uncertainty around whether or not this game would happen. There was a big snow storm and luckily the opposing team was en route so the game didn’t get cancelled. I remember when our opponents came into the gym I was shooting by myself. I’ll never forget what the guys from Westbury (L.I.) High School was saying to us. The other team said, ‘Yo this team is small, we’re gonna kill em. Don’t they realize the varsity team is supposed to play first?’ (This was them taking a jab at us and calling us a JV team based on our size.) I remember my teammates taking offense and saying to them, ‘We are the varsity team.’ I personally didn’t get involved in the words exchanged but instead used it as fuel to the fire burning inside of me. 

“When the game started, every shot I put up, went in. I was getting double teamed and even triple teamed. At half time this lady told me, ‘keep shooting, you have 40 points.’ My teammates knew I was in the zone and kept feeding me but they wouldn’t shoot. I was personally mad because I was getting really worn out from all the scoring I had to do. By the fourth quarter, Coach Saulsbury told me I had to break the 60-point record set by Earl Kelley, who played for Wilbur Cross and UConn. On the last play he called, I took myself out of the game even though the coach wanted me to score 80. I shot 25 of the 44 from the field, including 8 three-point field goals, and shot 20–27 from the free throw line. My final stat line for the night was 78 points with 16 rebounds, 8 assists, and 6 steals. We defeated Westbury High School from Long Island with a final score of 108–92.

After the game my father laid into me and asked me, ‘Why didn’t you go back into the game?’ I told him I was tired. While I broke the state record and even shattered my father’s record at Cross, he criticized me for missing seven free throws. Fast forward to 2019, my daughter Tyree Allen was the MVP of last year’s State Championship Team with Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Connecticut. As a father, coach, and a former basketball player, I couldn’t help but notice the things she could have done better but I had to stop myself from doing to her what my father did to me. I decided to remove judgment and let my amazingly talented daughter enjoy the moment and tell her how proud she made me feel. As people, there will always be something to refine or learn from. In my experience, encouragement and positivity far outweigh the trap of perfection and judgment when it comes to your children.”

 

LSU LEGACY BEGINS

For Maurice, it was inevitable that he would take his game to the next level and play college basketball for a major Division I basketball program. Maurice was getting letters from universities as early as his sophomore year in high school. “I remember programs like Boston College because of Head Coach Al Skinner who played in the ABA with my father. Florida State had a local New Haven star by the name of Tharon Mayes playing there. Then there was Norfolk State, which had commitments from several talented players I knew through travel ball. The dark horse that came late in the picture was Louisiana State University (LSU).” The basketball community at all levels tends to be intertwined or have some type of 6 degrees of separation of coaches knowing coaches. Craig Carse was the assistant coach at LSU and fully aware of Maurice’s ability. Another advocate of Moe’s talent was Herb Turetzky who had been with the Nets Organization since the ABA days and a close personal friend of the Williamson family. Herb just happened to be personal friends with Craig and reached out to him to let him know about Moe’s potential fit at LSU with Stanley and Mahmoud (Chris Jackson). The final piece of the puzzle was Maurice’s future head coach, Dale Brown, who just so happened to be close to Coach Saulsbury. “Fun fact, my father almost committed to Utah State where Dale was a head coach, but the deal breaker was the fact that he had to get on a small plane to get there. My father was not a fan of small planes so that wasn’t happening, so he committed to New Mexico State University.

(L-R) Coach Robert Saulsbury, Dale Brown and Maurice Williamson

“When I visited the campus, Ricky Blanton and Wayne Sims looked out for me, kept it real, and showed me everything I needed to know about Baton Rouge. Once I got home, I told my family LSU is where I wanted to be. The fact that Coach Brown reminded me of Coach Saulsbury made me feel at home and I knew Coach Brown genuinely cared about his players. Another attraction was being away from family and friends to avoid any distractions. I knew I wanted to mature as a young man and experience new things and being close to home wasn’t going to allow me to achieve that. I also knew by being in Louisiana, I would not have to worry about the frigid winter weather of Connecticut and the east coast.”

In his personal life, Maurice wanted to focus on what he’s grateful for and the lessons he learned from his teammates, coaches, and his entire LSU family. “I’m grateful for the friendships and brotherhood I formed from my LSU days. Coach Brown provided me the opportunity to receive a higher education and play college basketball at a high level. He always taught me to be respectful, remain humble, and be a caring person. That’s also something my father ingrained in me. Coach Saulsbury preached the same values and it continued on through with Coach Brown at LSU. When we played, Coach Brown would leave clippings on our chairs with motivational quotes or newspaper articles for us to read. I saved all those items and share them with my players today. While it might not resonate with them now, it will all make sense in time.”

 

THE OPEN GYM 1 ON 1 CHALLENGE AT LSU: MOE VS. MAHMOUD

LSU Alum and NBA Legend, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf

Maurice was joining a highly talented team at LSU that consisted of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (Chris Jackson). Stanley Roberts, Wayne Sims, Vernel Singleton, Harold Boudreaux, and a nice group of incoming freshman including Shaquille O’Neal the following year. “On paper I always felt we could make a run for a National Championship. I remember one summer while on campus: I’d leave my apartment and head to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center at 11 ᴘᴍ to shoot around. While most guys were out partying, I was focused on staying ready. I figured I’d be the only person in that gym but I was wrong. There was Mahmoud, drenched in sweat and getting his shots in.”

 

MAURICE SHARES HIS GRATITUDE

Long time friends and LSU teammates – Shaquille O’Neal and Maurice Williamson

As part of the Beyond the Legacy brand, I encourage athletes, family, and friends to start and end their day with gratitude. For Maurice, his gratitude starts with every single person he considers family. “First and foremost, my gratitude starts with my mother, Bertha Williamson, and father, John Williamson. (Rest in peace mom and dad up in heaven.) I would not be who I am today without their loving support and guidance in this world. To my high school coach at Wilbur Cross, Robert Saulsbury, I can’t thank you enough for not giving up on me and pushing me to see my true potential as an athlete. Our talks mean the world to me and I’m blessed to have played for such a tremendous coach and mentor. To Dale Brown, you are the primary reason why I chose LSU. Your authenticity and the love for your players is what I try to lead with as an assistant coach at Wilbur Cross High School. To this day, I look forward to your emails at least 2–3 times per week to check on me or when you send me something inspirational to read. Of course, thank you to all of my teammates at LSU. Everyone knows I’m a very private person and the continued brotherhood of Stanley Roberts, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Shaquille O’Neal, Wayne Sims, and Vernel Singleton means everything to me.”

 

A MOMENT OF PAUSE

Post LSU, Maurice continued his basketball dreams by playing in the CBA with the Rapid City Thrillers. After being cut in the mid 90s, Maurice went through a state of depression and questioned whether or not he was good enough to play the game he loves. During this same time, his father was ill but before his father passed, Maurice shared words of wisdom his father gave him, “my father had a reality check conversation with me and it was straight and to the point. He told me, ‘Son you are going to do one of three things: go back to school, continue playing basketball, or get a job.’” 

 

PAYING IT FORWARD—THE CHILDREN CENTER 

“In 1996, I was back in New Haven and my uncle, Mink Fernandez, kept reminding me that I was wasting my talent by both not pursuing basketball and not giving back to the community.” Between Maurice’s basketball career getting cut short and his father being ill, he turned to drinking and was dealing with depression. One day it dawned on him that he truly was doing what Coach Saulsbury told him to never do again, he was hiding from adversity. Maurice decided to volunteer one afternoon to talk to the kids at The Children Center in Hamden, Connecticut. That brief moment in time opened his eyes to kids with behavioral problems, psychological issues, and more. Maurice filled out an application and, before he knew it, he became an employee at the center. Maurice reflects, “As crazy as this sounds, the kids taught me how to deal with depression and opened my eyes into their reality and struggles. My ability to relate, build trust, and realize I could create change motivated me to accept this challenge to mentor them.” Maurice has been working for The Children Center for 24-plus years and not a day goes by where he takes the impact he’s creating in his community for granted. 

When I talked to Maurice about the children he impacted from The Children’s Center, I asked him if any of them reconnected with him or kept in touch. Maurice shared a story about an individual he helped years ago that just happened to be working as a cook at 5 Guys. When Maurice walked into the restaurant, this young man said, “Mr. Moe, do you remember me?”

 

WELCOME BACK TO WILBUR CROSS, COACH MOE

Present day, Maurice is the assistant coach for his high school alma mater, Wilbur Cross. The boys varsity basketball team are back-to-back SCC champs (2019 and 2020) under Moe’s leadership. And, for the past 5 years, he’s said, “This will be my last year.” However, it’s never been the case because for Maurice: “I coach because I love the game. I grew up being around basketball since I was a baby. The smell of the gym, hearing the ball bounce, sneakers squeaking, listening to the net swish, and the constant vibration of the ball hitting the rim. I often see coaches walk away because they gave everything they had to the game or maybe they can foresee that their team is due for a decline. I personally love the challenge and giving back to the game that I fell in love with as a kid.”

LSU Alum: Maurice Williamson and Tremont Waters

As a coach, communication and patience are key. You can’t coach two players the same way, it comes down to understanding individual personas and the best way to reach and inspire each player. It’s not about talent, it’s about who is willing to put in the work, listen, evolve, dig deeper, and contribute to the team. Maurice is a firm believer in hard work and sacrifice. He personally brought up the story of Wilbur Cross Alumni, LSU Alumni, and current Boston Celtic, Tremont Waters. “I remember driving to work and seeing Tremont’s father on a bicycle with him jogging beside wearing a weighted vest. Keep in mind, Tremont was only in the 5th grade! His father would come to me and say, ‘Am I pushing my son too hard?’ I’d tell him keep pushing him as long as he’s embracing it and willing to put in the work. This kid wanted it from day one and knew what playing basketball at the highest level meant for his family. When I think about a blueprint for my players, Tremont is a fine example to emulate.”

As for what the future holds for Maurice, in his words, “I turned 50 in March and I keep telling people, it’s about everyone else now. My family calls me the old soul. I’m just happy enjoying life, giving back to my community, coaching, being around my family, and, of course, seeing my grandchildren grow up before my eyes.” 

 

LOVE FOR FAMILY

Maurice wanted to close our talk by giving praise and love to his children. “My oldest daughter, Kristen, lives in Franklin, Louisiana, and is the proud mother to my adorable grandchildren, Kairo and Kanaan. My son, Tavon Allen, played basketball in high school and played on the same AAU team as current NBA star, Andre Drummond. Tavon scored 1,000 points at Drexel University and I’m always proud of him with anything he pursues in life. My daughter, Shalera Jones, didn’t play any sports but she is a very accomplished individual and such a beautiful soul to be around. And finally, my daughter, Tyree Allen, is ending her freshman year at Coppin State and playing for their women’s basketball team. She’s a student of the game and is constantly throwing legendary names my way from YouTube and content she finds online. She’s called me in the past and asked, ‘Daddy, do you know who Earl Manigault is? Did you know about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?’ I’m so proud of her and, as a student athlete on full scholarship, she has aspirations of becoming a physical therapist.” 

 

THE WILLIAMSON LEGACY

“My legacy is not about the mini chapters or accomplishments I’ve amassed as an athlete. It’s truly about the change I’m creating in my New Haven community, the leadership and lessons I’m sharing with my players as their coach and mentor, and the fact that family is everything! The promise I made to my parents was to always bring grace and honor to the Williamson name. I remind my children all the time: Through good and bad times, always be there for your family. I constantly tell them I love them and that I’m blessed they are a continuation of my legacy. In the end, I hope my story can inspire someone to not question if they can create an impact but make them realize they can be the positive change society needs more of.

More about Drew Stephens

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