For more than two months, Modesto Christian’s high-flyer was grounded with a temperamental leg injury.
Tyler Williams thought he was going to lose his mind, too, along with his springs. The senior strained his groin during an AAU practice in July and was sidelined through the Crusaders’ summer and fall programs.
“It was two days before an L.A. tournament and I did a spin move and I guess I threw my leg out too far. I tried to run and I couldn’t,” said Williams, a third-year varsity player. “I was out for a long time.
“It sets you back. The most you can do with that type of injury is form shooting. Anything and everything you do is going to hurt your groin. You have to stay off it. When you can’t put in the work, when you finally get back out there, you’re tired and sluggish. That’s how I was.”
Williams has regained his form, sparking the Crusaders with his ability to play above the rim and in the passing lanes. He had a season-high 19 points in a win over San Joaquin Memorial at the Nike Invitational and then set the pace during Wednesday’s victory over Ripon at the 18th annual Holiday Hoop Classic.
Williams tallied 17 points, five rebounds, four assists and a block in less than three quarters as the Crusaders thundered into the second round with an 81-43 victory over the Indians.
Modesto Christian blew the game open with a 17-7 spurt in the second quarter. Williams scored eight during that stretch, reassuring the college coaches in attendance that his athleticism was still second to none.
“Groin injuries are tough on an athlete with all the cutting and jumping they have to do,” Modesto Christian’s second-year coach Brice Fantazia said. "He didn’t have his athleticism for the last couple of months. The last two weeks, though, it’s started to come back with all the dunks. Defensively, he’s getting his hands on a lot of balls and getting deflections. Obviously, he's one of our best players when he’s playing with energy.”
Williams is one of four players averaging double figures for Modesto Christian, a Holiday Hoop Classic favorite and Cal-Hi Sports’ seventh-ranked team in the state. He has scored 12 or more points in five of the team’s seven games and is averaging 16 over the last three.
“I feel like I’m playing my way back into rhythm,” Williams said as he was heckled by former Modesto Christian teammate and All-District Player of the Year Robinson Idehen.
If the Crusaders are going to make a run at their second Holiday Hoop Classic title in three years, Fantazia said Williams’ energy and explosiveness are going to be key ingredients.
He believes the senior’s struggles in the offseason have turned him into a more well-rounded player. Without his ability to jump, Williams focused on developing his shot and sharing the ball.
Those facets were on display Wednesday as the Crusaders weathered early foul trouble against a former Trans-Valley League foe.
“He struggled a lot,” Fantazia said of Williams. “I think it was messing with his head. He’s used to having his athleticism. When someone has that athleticism taken away, it’s hard. But I also think it helped him, because he’s shooting the ball better and he’s making better decisions. That’s from when he didn’t have his athleticism.”
Kyle Sisk and Vincent Olmo paced the Indians (5-6) with 10 points apiece. Ripon will play Manteca (3-7) in an all-Stanislaus District showdown in the consolation bracket at noon.
Baljot Sahi matched Williams with a team-high 17 points. The reserve guard was forced into the game early after Michael Pearson picked up two fouls in the game’s opening minute. Sahi responded with five 3-pointers, each pure.
Dathan Satchell chipped in 14, while 6-foot-8 center Gabe Murphy had nine points and six rebounds in his first game in two weeks. Murphy had been sidelined with back spasms.
Williams hopes his play opens a door at the next level.
The Crusaders’ other seniors — Murphy (Northwest Nazarene) and Lathrop transfer Junior Ballard (Cal Poly) — have already signed letters of intent.
“There were multiple college coaches here to see him,” Fantazia said of Williams. "He had some offers and didn’t sign early. For awhile, I think it was affecting him. Now, though, he’s just relaxed and having fun.”
Modesto Christian will tangle with Campolindo, another Northern California heavyweight. The Cougars (8-3) thumped Manteca in their opener, 63-52. The Buffaloes struggled with rhythm and continuity in the loss. With Williams soaring through the lane again, Modesto Christian doesn’t appear to have any of those problems.