Modesto Christian’s Tyler Williams spent the final stretch of his sophomore season at the back-end of coach Richard Midgley’s rotation.
It was punishment, he said, for not working hard enough in practice and taking plays off during games.
No one doubted Williams’ potential at either guard position, but the Crusader coaching staff questioned the fight in the 6-foot-3 super athlete.
So Williams, with all that first-string talent, found himself buried on the bench. He didn’t understand the decision at the time, but he gets it now.
Today, the junior holds nothing back.
Williams is playing his best basketball in three varsity seasons, largely because he can sense opportunity in the gym.
Coaches from San Jose State, Northern Colorado, Sonoma State, Simpson University, Cal Maritime and seven junior colleges have attended the four-day tournament, scouting the region’s talent.
Williams, who says he has interest from the University of Houston, has left nothing to chance, staying as far away from first-year coach Brice Fantazia’s bench as possible.
Through the first three games at the Holiday Hoop Classic, Williams is averaging 14 points and 9.3 rebounds, terrorizing the offensive glass. Of his 28 total rebounds, 17 have come on the offensive end, extending possessions for the Crusaders.
In a semifinal loss to Central of Fresno, Williams electrified the hometown crowd with a one-handed dunk in traffic. He finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, but the Crusaders fell short in overtime, 83-79.
Williams spoke with The Bee about how the frustrations of yesteryear have fueled his performances at the Holiday Hoop Classic.
Question: In a season when almost everything went right for Modesto Christian – the Crusaders won a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title and played in the CIF Northern California Open Division final – what went wrong for you?
Answer: Last year, everything I did was on me. I had the potential to be in the starting lineup, but I didn’t really prove myself in practice. Coach Midgley went off his first instincts and put in the players he thought should be in the games.
Q: Was it frustrating? Or did you see it as an opportunity to get better?
A: Kind of both. I was frustrated, but I had to deal with it. I had to work on it in practice. Waiting your turn will make you strive to do what I’m doing today.
Q: Specifically, what did you learn?
A: From watching Christian (Ellis) and Rob (Idehen), I mean they’re always going at it. They don’t take any plays off. Last year, I took some plays off, I’m not going to lie. That’s one thing you can’t do and that’s why I didn’t play as much as I wanted to.
Q: Were you hoping to make a splash at the Holiday Hoop Classic?
A: Coach said there would be college coaches out here watching, so I’ve tried to play my hardest and play with energy. We all wanted to be in first place, but sadly we didn’t have that outcome. We got to keep working hard and get first next year.
Q: You’ve been at your best on the offensive glass. What does it take to be a strong offensive rebounder?
A: You have to have that dog in you, like nobody can out-tough you when you get on the glass. Especially if you have hops, you got to use them.
Q: With a team this young – Modesto Christian currently has nine underclassmen on the roster – someone has to provide leadership. Have you tried to fill that role?
A: I haven’t as much as I need to. That’s one thing I need to work on, because the coaches have told me to be a leader. I’m one of the oldest. I’ve been on varsity since my freshman year and I know what it’s like. I have to get the young guys into it.
Q: The expectations at Modesto Christian are higher than they are anywhere else in the Stanislaus District. So, too, is the magnifying glass. Given this team’s youth and inexperience, should today’s Crusaders be held to the same standard as the others?
A: We have the talent. Right now, the preseason is prepping us for the regular season. We’ve had some breakdowns on defense, but that’s going to stop. They’re going to stop because we’re going to work hard in practice.
Q: What do you need to do to make yourself a more attractive recruit for college coaches?
A: I just need to be aggressive on defense and not take any plays off. This tournament right here, this has been one of my best tournaments on defense because I’ve had a lot of energy. This gives me the motivation to go higher.