Mark A. Williams is an educator and basketball coach at August Martin High School in South Jamaica, Queens, New York. He formed a bond with partner Taliek Brown after years of sharing offseason workouts during Brown’s stint as a college and pro player. Together they are the founding fathers of Team Footprintz, a revolutionary skills enhancement basketball program.
In Part I of "Team Footprintz: New York City Basketball’s Secret Weapon," The Shadow League spoke to Brown, a former NCAA basketball champ with UConn in 2004.
In Part II, Williams, the Executive Director of Team Footprintz speaks to The Shadow League about his company's come up and philosophies, his role in the movement, his past life as an aspiring hoopster and his vision for the future.
Mark A. Williams: We’re not going to sit there and try to thrill you with the sizzle drills. We’re going to give you relevant, game, stuff. We’re not trying to produce Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey dribblers or Harlem Globetrotter dribblers. We’re teaching things that are relevant to the game.
I started playing basketball in ‘83 in South Jersey when I was 13 years old. I was a 1970’s baby. Then I moved to NY. I played on the streets and I played at Thomas Edison High School and graduated in ‘88. Then in ’88 I went to Juco College in Upstate New York, Jefferson CC. Then in 1990 I moved to Vermont. I had a short stint at the University of Vermont, but it didn’t work out so I went NAIA and went to the College of St. Joseph (VT.) and I dabbled in the pro thing; nothing major.
Then I became a coach at the collegiate level at St. Joe’s in Vermont. I was head coach of the girl’s team for three years and took a program that was 7-12 and went 22-9 and 21-8. We were quite successful and then I moved back home to New York City and I started coaching girl’s junior varsity basketball at August Martin High School, just to get my foot in the door of the New York coaching scene. All the while, I was still playing on the street ball circuit and growing my name as a basketball player. Then I formed Team Footprintz. The whole mission of TF originally was to give kids the opportunity to have them participate in after school activities.
I gained access to the gym after school due to the fact that I am real cool with the principal because I understood the mission and what was needed to uplift and educate these kids.
I then transformed that into helping professional basketball players get better in addition to the kids. Then I honed my training skills to a pro level, just working out with the pros and that’s where I met Taliek. Then one day we sat down and he came up with the basic idea and that’s where our relationship grew and we started working out high school and college players, pros were coming in here working out with us and I was trying to get a lot of kids in here as far as recruitment. We have a great relationship with most of the AAU coaches in NYC because that’s where we grew up for the most part. And then Taliek having played and won a National Championship at UConn –that added tremendous credibility to the program.
What distinguishes Team Footprintz?
The way we run our drills. That's just something nobody in this area is doing. No disrespect to other trainers or anything, but it’s a little different how we break everything down as far as the game is concerned. We don’t focus on fancy drills that a person won’t ever use in a game. We focus on skills that are relevant to the game.
The big time difference is that when you go on YouTube, you see a lot of what we call “YouTube trainers.” You have a guy that looks at a drill, they see something and then players mimic that. But the moves they are learning on YouTube and various social media aren’t relevant to a basketball game.
At no point with us, will you see a guy throw a tennis ball in the air, catch a tire iron and then run across the street and then come back and grab the basketball. That’s just not relevant to the game.
Taliek has played on the highest of levels and being that I played at a semi-high level in NYC, which is primarily the Mecca of Basketball, we know exactly what you need to be successful in the game. One move, two moves and go.
Talk about your various trips to Asia.
When I was playing in the NYC City streetball circuit with Pro City and Fireball, eventually I started coaching. I had a lot of access to the pros because I had a gym and I was working them out. So I met a guy Marcus Douthit through another kid at Providence that I know Sekou Kaba. So, we started interacting on Facebook and then he got naturalized over in the Philippines and he was playing for the National Team but they only convened maybe twice a year, but he was still getting paid to be on the National Team.
But he wasn’t playing against anybody, so he had me come over there the first time and work him out and he loved it. He knew Taliek already and he had us come over another time, and before you know it all of the players from The National Team were jumping into our workouts. They enjoyed them and they started getting better and what helped immensely was that they did well in the FIBA tournaments and ended up advancing to the World Championships.
Now the coaches let us basically run the workouts for the team. We have a great rapport with them. We may look at it here in America as something weaker than American basketball, but to put it in perspective, The Philippines national team is equivalent to The Dream Team here in America. Basketball is "it" in the Philippines. You have the poorest people in the poorest areas playing and the rich are playing. For them to even embrace us was remarkable and a tribute to those guys and what we do.
The last time we went out there we held a camp for the community. As you know they were hit with that Tsunami and those that were poor became poorer and they basically had nothing. The country has a very rural environment. Gatorade opened up a facility, a gym there and we held a clinic for 25 kids. It was a free clinic, and being that Marcus has a name over there, it helped out. For one, he’s Marcus. And one other thing Marcus did for the community is when he played in the Asian games, he donated cash for every point he scored and every rebound he gained and produced help for the community financially. And we offered free fundamental skills on a basketball level to the interested kids.
With unlimited access to all of these dope, young ballers, why do you guys focus on honing skills rather than starting your own AAU program?
AAU is good for those that do it, but that’s just not what we do. We want to be friends to all the programs. Once you get in bed with an AAU team that may create conflict with other kids and coaches who think you’re trying to steal players and then players may be hesitant to work out under our tutelage and that’s not our goal. Nothing against the Gauchos and The Rens and programs like those, but I don’t want your players. I just want to make them better. So to avoid all of that we don’t want to upset anybody’s apple cart and in New York City, it’s a dirty game and people have money on the line with these AAU programs and such, sometimes you lose focus of the kids.
But our focus is on the kids and wanting them to get better. That’s where we gain our satisfaction. So we’re cool with being the man behind the scenes that made “Fred.” But the AAU coaches are cool with it because they know “Fred” or “John” is getting better working with us. We’re good in our skin
What else makes you guys different from other basketball training programs?
We have a knack. One of our things is to be a little different from everyone else that does workouts and training.
We also offer an App. Not too many people have apps. That was way off the charts as far as people offering an App to book classes and sessions. For Apple to support us by allowing us an app, well they are software giants, so that says a lot. The app is also on Androids… Google Play…Blackberry… If you want to make an appointment to work out with us at say, 7:15 p.m., you just go online and book it. If we had to field phone calls all day to book appointments, honestly we would forget some of them.
Also we don’t let our classes get any bigger than 12 students per session and we have different levels on different days so we don’t have Kobe Bryant working out with the worst player in the world…say John Stickhead…because John Stickhead can’t do what Kobe Bryant can do, so does it hurt us financially? Of course, because we’d love to have John Stickhead come five days a week and he would love to come, but the stark reality is that we have to cater to everyone.
We offer Groupons… trying to move basketball training programs further into the corporate world. We are merging with big-time companies on these endeavors on a national and international scale.
What’s your vision for Team Footprintz?
I see us getting bigger but not too big as to where we lose contact with the parents. Most of our parents we know on a first name basis and we want to maintain that relationship. We want to expand more into the Asian market because it's obviously one of the, if not the biggest market. We want to have a global presence yet a local feel. I know it’s hard to maintain that as you grow, but we really are going to make an effort to keep that global appeal with a local, mom and pop feel.