Tyler Williams is chasing more than a state championship when the CIF State Northern California Open Division tournament begins Friday evening.
The Modesto Christian High senior is second on the program's all-time wins list with 112 victories, three shy of former teammate Christian Ellis.
To pass Ellis, now a sophomore at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Williams will have to lead Modesto Christian (28-3) to its third state crown ... in the Open Division, no less.
"It's a definitely a challenge I look forward to," Williams said during a mid-morning shootaround on Thursday. "It would mean a lot to have the most wins and to win state. That would be really, really good."
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Four years ago, the high-riser couldn't have predicted this for himself.
He was the new kid on the Crusaders' bench; a varsity player as a freshman, but one who wouldn't see the floor often.
Williams' growing pains would extend into his sophomore season, when then coach Richard Midgley looked elsewhere for a spark. Williams missed 10 games, many coming at the end of the season as the Crusaders chased a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title.
His talent, natural bounce and through-the-roof potential weren't the issue. His maturity was.
"Those first couple of years, individually, it was a tough ride," Williams said. "I had older people in front of me. I was trying to get stronger, trying to get more experience. I was the young one."
Look at him now.
Williams developed into an MVP-caliber player as a junior, taking the reigns from Ellis and Robinson Idehen, the Bee's All-District co-Players of the Year in 2016. Today, he stands on the cusp of eclipsing them all on the only list that matters -- wins.
Raymond Bowles and Townes are third on the all-time wins list with 111 victories. Reeves Nelson won 110 games during his career, and Adrian Oliver and Mike Porter are tied for fifth with 109 win.
"They taught me to never give up and never take any possessions off," Williams said of Ellis and Idehen.
Williams has embraced a leadership role on a team that features five sophomores and seven juniors. He is one of just three seniors, along with Gabe Murphy and Junior Ballard, but he's the only player to play all four years at the varsity level.
"At the end of the day, I have more experience than any of them," Williams said. "I know what it takes, so I have to give advice at times. ... I've got to bring that energy to the team."
In the Division I section final, Williams led by example, beating the buzzer in the second and third quarters as Modesto Christian edged Sheldon, 60-56. A 6-foot-3 guard, Williams led the team with 13 points and eight rebounds, and closed the game at the free-throw line.
The win vaulted Modesto Christian into the Open Division tournament as the No. 3 seed. The Crusaders host No. 6 Bellarmine (24-3), though coach Brice Fantazia believes home-court advantage doesn't exist in the Open Division, where each of the eight elite are accustomed to winning on the road.
Case in point: In 2015, seventh-seeded Modesto Christian won its first two games on the road, upsetting No. 2 Monte Vista and No. 6 Serra.
"The teams are loaded and they're battle-tested. All of them have studs," Fantazia said. "They take pride in being one of the best teams in Northern California. Nobody fears anyone, and everyone thinks they're the best. Those neutralize the home-court advantage."
Bellarmine is the Central Coast Section's Open Division champion, a program ranked No. 3 in the state and No. 20 in the nation, according to MaxPreps. The Bells are 11th in Cal-Hi Sports' latest state poll, five spots behind Modesto Christian.
"In the Open, it doesn't matter," Fantazia said of rankings and seedings. "When you've got the eight best teams in Northern California, anyone can beat anyone. We have to be ready to play."
Siena College-bound shooter Jake Wojcik poured in 24 points and Kendall Stubblefield, the son of former San Francisco 49er lineman Dana Stubblefield, had 14 as the Bells dispatched Archbishop Mitty in the CCS section final, 66-58.
Together, they have helped turnaround the Bells in short order. The section title was the program's first and followed the end of a 16-year league title drought in 2017.
"They'll be one of the best teams we see," Fantazia said.
Williams hopes to see three more beyond the Bells.
"He came in as a freshman and didn't play much. His sophomore year he was a role player. Last year, he stepped up and had to be a leader," Fantazia said. "This year, he's gone back to being a role player because we're so stacked. The one thing about him, though, he's never complained.
"He's an X-factor. When he plays well, we're one of the best teams in state."