April 28, 2015

Williams Jr. returns home

Kevin McCarthy

The lead here could be a play of words off the Thomas Wolfe novel titled "You Can't Go Home Again" but the Gary Williams Jr. signing with San Jose State University has an even stronger nexus with both persistence and, yes, fearlessness.

photo of Gary Williams

Perseverance because of his circuitous route in earning his ticket back to the Bay Area and courage due to the fact that he has but two years of eligibility remaining and desires to be a ringleader in elevating a woebegone Spartan basketball program into one of respect.

About the latter element, the 6-foot-5, 215 pound Williams Jr. was inspired by the now well-known Damian Lillard story. “I grew up in Vallejo, we both played in Oakland and he paved the way in helping me make my decision. He went to a mid-major and made Weber State known. I want to help put SJSU on the map.”

It was an epiphany of sorts for Williams Jr. on his visit to Sparta. “I was surprised by what I saw. There was great communication with Coach [Dave] Wojcik and he was full of energy and excitement. [Assistant Coach] Tyler Ojanen knew me in high school when he was at St. Mary's so we already had a relationship. But I didn't know much about SJSU because they had no Bay Area kids and hadn't been known for basketball for some time now. Maybe they kind of felt like they couldn't get me. They jumped in at the end, two weeks before I planned on making my decision. Coming off a unofficial visit to Cal Berkeley and planned visits to Nevada and others, I knew immediately Sparta is where I wanted to be!”

Williams Jr. was scouted by the Spartans at the National Junior College Athletic Association's annual tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas and approached by SJSU afterwards. So what will he bring to the program? “A good personality to be around, leadership and a strong work ethic. My work ethic will rub off on others and I'm used to winning so there is that to change. I'll hold teammates accountable,”

As for his best skills, Williams Jr. offered, “Attacking the basket which will open up opportunities for my teammates and my ballhandling. I've really worked on it.” He wants there to be a nightly mismatch at the point in favor of SJSU.

Part of a pair of teams which compiled a 54-9 overall record at Indian Hills Community College, he explained, “we had real strong teams with guys moving on to schools like Iowa State, Washington and Oklahoma, great coaches in Coach [Barret] Peery and Coach [John] Wardenburg, along with Pastor Phil Griffith.”

Another element Williams Jr. recalled is, “I can't call them Indian Hills fans, I can only refer to them as ‘family’ and I will be forever honored they voted me ‘Fan Favorite’ while raising money for the Red Cross.”

He continued, “In high school [Castlemont High in Oakland), I played some point but we had kind of a smaller team so I also played elsewhere. But I started as a freshman for Indian Hills and I was the smallest one in the starting lineup. I was told I handle the ball real well and play like Deron Williams and Jason Kidd.” For the uninformed, Deron Williams is listed as 6-foot-3, 210 while Kidd stood 6-foot-4, 215 in his playing days.

This season in 22 minutes a game (11 Indian Hills players averaged double figures in playing time), Williams Jr. scored 12.9 points, passed out 4.7 assists and grabbed 4.5 rebounds a game. Overall, he shot 52%, 32% from long distance and 88% at the foul line. “I always could score but I like to pass now.”

But there are still moments calling for him to take over. In what Williams Jr. calls his best moment, he buried a game-winning three with five seconds remaining in a district championship road win that sent Indian Hills to the national tournament. In all that night, he totaled 30 points, including 10-10 at the foul line. “If we hadn't won, we wouldn't have gone to Hutch and San Jose wouldn't have seen me play.”"

He also was selected as a Third Team National Junior College Athletic Association All-American honoree for his production this season.

Williams Jr. cites three powerful influences in his life. “First, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; my Dad is a big influence, definitely a big part, because he stressed using my talent to get a free education which will help in the rest of my life; and also Dr. Rodney Leggett, the pastor at the Faith Fellowship Baptist Church in Vallejo. He played basketball and football and was a quarterback at City College of San Francisco. He has really helped me and shown me how I can influence young people in a positive way in my community.”

With a planned for June enrollment date, Williams Jr. is looking to major in sports broadcasting and journalism.