Williams a Dream players' coach

Fred Williams, with three decades of coaching and scouting experience, has been just the man to lead the Dream to the WNBA Finals. Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

The way Atlanta Dream coach Fred Williams usually talks about it, you might think he got where he is by sheer good fortune.

If former Southern California women's hoops coach Linda Sharp hadn't offered him a job back in the early 1980s, maybe he wouldn't have spent much of the past three decades teaching, directing and encouraging women on the basketball court.

If a relative hadn't given him an electric keyboard as a present, maybe he wouldn't have fully recognized he had a gift and a passion for music. And maybe he wouldn't have recorded a couple of hip-hop jazz CDs under the name Freddy "Bass" Williams, or found out how much skill he had writing and producing songs.

Funny thing is, the one person Fred Williams doesn't really talk much about is, well, Fred Williams. He'll tell you about himself and his career if you ask, but even then it's understated.

He doles out credit to others, such as his late mother, who taught him to respect and communicate with people. Or the great players -- like Cheryl Miller, Cynthia Cooper, Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson, among others -- whom he's gotten a chance to coach and still keeps in contact with.

"I'm kind of like the cameraman in the movie," Williams said. "The actors are going to get most of the credit, and I understand that. I want to give credit where it is due. If anyone gave me suggestions on things or helped me, I'm going to say, 'This is where that came from.'

"I'm a humble guy, but I'm also a fair guy. And I think in the long run, people respect that more, as opposed to coming off very arrogant."

Williams' team will be trying to keep its season alive Thursday (ESPN2, 8:30 p.m. ET) in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals. The Dream are back home in Atlanta … but not exactly. The game will be at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga., not downtown at Dream's normal home, Philips Arena, because of a scheduling conflict with Disney On Ice.

Hey, these things happen. Williams will roll with it, like he does everything else. But don't take the easygoing, gentle manner with which he conducts himself for a lack of drive or competitiveness.

"I have three rules: Play hard, be on time and have fun," Williams said. "I get after them just like other coaches. I'm really intense with the game. But I want players to have a good experience.

"I look at it like if it was my daughter, I would want a coach who really cares. It goes a long way, because players will play harder for you if they trust you. Pretty much every player I've coached, they've always come back and had conversations with me about basketball, but also life in general."

Where it began

Williams, 56, is from Inglewood, Calif., and was high school teammates in the 1970s with former NBA player Reggie Theus.

"Bill Laimbeer was at Palos Verdes High School, our archrival," said Williams, who then played collegiately at El Camino Community College and Boise State. "Then after college, I started doing basketball camps."

That's how he met Sharp, who built the USC women into a national power in the 1980s. She offered him a job for a pittance -- $500 -- because that's all she had. He took it, and that's how he started his coaching career.

But even before that, while in college, he would work out and compete in 3-on-3 matchups with the women's players.

"I always had respect for the women's side of the game," Williams said. "A lot of it came from my mom; I was an only child and was very close to her. She taught me to respect people in general. She passed away in 1986, and so she didn't get to see me coach in the pros or anything. But she was a good teacher."

Williams was with Southern California for the 1982 and '83 NCAA championships. He was an assistant at USC and UC Irvine before taking over as head coach of the Trojans from 1995 to '97.

He then got involved in the WNBA -- first with the Utah Starzz (who eventually relocated to San Antonio) -- and then the now-defunct Charlotte Sting, where his current WNBA Finals counterpart, Minnesota's Cheryl Reeve, also coached. Williams also did work as an NBA scout.

When the Dream franchise began in Atlanta in 2008, he became an assistant to Marynell Meadors. He was a big part of the Dream's quick rise from a 4-30 inaugural season to five consecutive playoff appearances since.

And in late August 2012 when the Dream were struggling with chemistry issues that involved star Angel McCoughtry and Meadors, it was Williams to whom the franchise turned when Meadors was fired.

"You know, a lot of the times when I've been placed in the role of head coach, it was sort of to keep the engine running," Williams said. "I've always told players I don't really change my personality from being an assistant to head coach. They know I'm going to be fair and honest about things."

One of Williams' first chores as head coach of the Dream was to suspend McCoughtry and get her to pledge to being on board with the team's goals.

"It's a position I was asked to be in to carry the team forward: to set the tone for the rest of our season, but also the future of the franchise," Williams said. "I think Angel has learned from a lot of things that have happened in the past, and she's gained respect from people by how she's overcome last year. The main thing for me was to carry the team forward."

A calming presence

The Dream made the 2012 playoffs, and Williams' job was solidified for this season. Atlanta went 17-17 with a young point guard in her first year with the Dream, Jasmine Thomas, and mostly without the services of forward Sancho Lyttle, who had a foot injury and missed much of the season. Williams has been the steady hand even when the Dream have had their ups and downs.

"He's more of a players' coach," Dream forward Le'coe Willingham said. "He's not a yeller or overbearing. He trusts in players and their talents."

Atlanta looked on the verge of a quick playoff exit after losing at home to Washington in the opener of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. But the Dream rallied to win their next four games in a row, dispatching the Mystics and then the defending WNBA champion Indiana Fever.

The WNBA Finals, though, haven't been any fun thus far for the Dream; they've lost both games to powerhouse Minnesota by 25. But just getting this far in 2013 says something about the Dream and Williams, who has two very experienced veterans on staff with him.

"He gives us a lot of freedom to make decisions and adjustments," said Julie Plank, a longtime college/WNBA coach who is one of Williams' assistants, along with Joe Ciampi, the former Auburn head coach. "He delegates and lets people do their roles."

Plank had a difficult ending to her head-coaching career in Washington in a dispute with management in 2010, despite the Mystics finishing first in the East that year. Williams was part of the reason she returned to the WNBA.

"It took me awhile to get over what happened in Washington," Plank said. "But I knew Fred, and that was a comforting thing. I trusted him as a person, even though I'd never worked with him.

"It's been good. He's very much into the players' experience and really wants to do things for the right reasons. He wants to allow them to utilize their strengths and be themselves."

And along the way in his coaching odyssey, Williams discovered something about himself. The sense of rhythm that seemed to come naturally to him in regard to basketball was applicable to music as well. He started with the keyboard that was a gift, and eventually taught himself how to play, write, record and mix music. Among his inspirations was the late NBA player and accomplished guitarist Wayman Tisdale.

So the guy who was known on the basketball court at Boise State as "Fast Freddy" has since picked up the nickname "Freddy Bass."

"I like a lot of bass in music," Williams said. "I enjoy hip-hop, jazz, some classical stuff. A lot of people like to read to relax; I like to write music. I often do it late at night. It helps my mind and kind of keeps me even-keel."

The Dream needed someone with his personality in 2012 when things were unraveling. As he said, he's been there before to step in that way when needed.

But he still gives credit to Sharp for giving him that first opportunity three decades ago, although he's paid it back many times over with his contributions to the sport.

"She said, 'You've got to respect this game if you want to be in it for the long haul,'" Williams said.

"And I've always taken those words and lived by them. To do that and have the opportunity to help this league grow has been a good feeling."