Dec. 23, 2011
BY TOM SATKOWIAK
UT Athletic Media Relations
Christmas 2003 was Tennessee assistant basketball coach Kent Williams' least favorite Christmas.
That year, Williams was a hot-shooting guard for the Fayetteville (N.C.) Patriots in the NBA Development League. While he was thankful for the opportunity to play basketball professionally, he was experiencing one of the profession's pitfalls that holiday season.
Rather than spending Christmas with his family, Williams was alone in his tiny Fayetteville apartment. He went to Walgreens and picked up a few snacks, and then spent the rest of the day watching television.
Many basketball players grow up dreaming of the lavish NBA lifestyle. But only an elite few — less than one percent of all young men playing basketball at NCAA schools — see those dreams become reality.
For many, like Williams, the life of a pro basketball player can be a lonely grind.
In his only season as a pro, Williams led the D-League with a .450 shooting percentage from 3-point range before choosing a career in coaching.
It didn't take him long to land a gig as an assistant at the Division I level, either. When Cuonzo Martin, a rising star in the profession, took over the program at Missouri State before the 2008-09 season, he named Williams to his staff.
Kent's wife, Jessica, had studied Broadcast Journalism at the University of Illinois and had worked in television in West Lafayette, Ind., during Kent's tenure on the basketball staff at Purdue (2005-08). After she and Kent had settled in at Missouri State, she began pursuing an on-air job with a station in Springfield.
In the spring of 2009, Jessica was hired at KOLR-TV, Springfield's CBS affiliate. But before she even had a chance to meet all of her new co-workers, she began feeling under the weather.
"It's crazy because she had just gotten her job," Williams said. "She had been on this new job for about a week, and she was excited about being a reporter there in Springfield and being an anchor. And she started feeling sick a little bit and before long she figured out, `I'm pregnant.'
"We were obviously excited, but at the same time, she was worried about telling her boss because she had just gotten the job."
Though the news came during the college basketball off-season — if such a thing even really exists for a coach — it was clear that the new baby would be arriving after the 2009-10 season tipped off.
The Bears were optimistic about their second season under Martin, and Williams prided himself on his meticulous scouting reports of opponents to which he was assigned.
"We were told New Year's Day was going to be the due date for the longest time," he said. "On Dec. 22, we played Arkansas at Arkansas, and I drove myself there and back just in case something happened.
"We were doing our best to plan around the basketball schedule."
"As (the due date) got closer and closer, I started looking at when I had my scouts," he said. "We played at Evansville on Dec. 29, and I had that scout. So I was thinking, `Oh, man, this is going to be close.' "
Then on Christmas Eve 2009, just six years removed from that lonely holiday in Fayetteville, N.C., Williams began seeing the makings of what would eventually become his favorite Christmas.
"What ended up happening was, on Christmas Eve, Jessica and I went shopping and got a bunch of food to make Christmas dinner the next day for each other," Williams said. "Then later at about 3 o'clock in the morning, she was in pain. And we decided, we better just go to the hospital and find out exactly what's going on.
"We got there, and it's Christmas morning and there's nobody in the hospital. Nobody. And it was starting to snow, so it actually ended up being a white Christmas. That was kind of cool.
"And they eventually told us, when you guys leave here, it will be with a daughter."
His parents, Bradley and Barbara, were already on the road, rushing from their Illinois home to Springfield to bear witness as their son received the most precious Christmas gift anyone could ever hope for.
"The plan was that both our parents were going to drive over sometime on Christmas day and be with us until the baby was born," Kent explained. "Once we were in the hospital and were told that Jessica was in labor, we called both our parents. My parents got up and drove over right then. Her parents spent Christmas morning with her sister's family and then drove over.
"My mom and dad ended up arriving right as Kennedy was being born. My mom was knocking on the door of the delivery room."
Kennedy Marie Williams (who shares the same initials as her father, Kent Michael) arrived at 11:22 a.m. on Dec. 25, 2009. Smiling and healthy, she weighed 6-pounds, 8-ounces and was 21 inches long.
When the hectic-yet-celebrated chaos subsided, Kent and Jessica and Kennedy curled up together in bed on that white Christmas morning for some much-needed rest.
Jessica was now a mother, and her television career would be put on a six-week hold.
Bradley and Barbara were proud grandparents for the second time.
Kent successfully completed his Evansville scout, game-planning the Bears to a sweet 74-60 road win.
But most importantly, he had a new, never-to-be-topped, best Christmas ever.