It took DeAngelo Williams three years and three transfers, but the senior seems to have found both a home and a family at Modesto High.
His route took him from Central Valley High to Modesto Christian and back to Central Valley before transferring to Modesto for his senior year. On Wednesday night, he played as if he'd been a Panther all along, scoring 21 points in Modesto's 60-41 victory over Downey.
"It's been hard trying to adapt to new atmospheres every year, and I was a little afraid coming here because I didn't think I would get along with anybody," Williams said. "But as soon as I came here I've felt like family and it's all been good."
Perhaps the best thing for the Panthers in their win was the ease. A 21-0 scoring run, in which Modesto held Downey scoreless for eight minutes, 55 seconds, of the second and third quarters, allowed coach Donnie Wallace to rest his starters for most of the second half.
That's important because the Panthers (10-14, 5-2 in the Modesto Metro Conference) will have little rest before facing MMC leader Davis High tonight in the Spartans' gym.
A Modesto win would cement its position in the Division I playoffs, since the Panthers entered the week ranked No. 16 in the power rankings. The Spartans can clinch the outright MMC crown with a win.
Williams played the key role in Modesto's scoring run against the Knights. The game was tied 20-20 when Michael Foreman hit a short jumper for Downey with 5:27 left in the half.
The Knights would not scored again until Tim Richard got inside for a basket with 4:32 remaining in the third quarter. Foreman and Richard finished with 10 points apiece for Downey (7-18, 3-5.)
Between those hoops, Modesto's defense took over, forcing 12 turnovers to spur the Panthers' scoring run. Klayton Miller had two baskets as Modesto first grew the lead to 28-20, then Williams scored the last nine points of the first half and first four of the second half as the Panthers rolled to a 41-20 lead barely three minutes into the second half.
"I didn't get many touches in the first quarter and I felt a little off," Williams said. "But as soon as I started running and getting my adrenaline pumping in the second quarter the points started coming."
At Central Valley, Williams' future appeared to be in football as a wide receiver. He's grown into a swift, 6-foot, 3-inch athlete with great hands, so football still might lie ahead, but he did not play football last fall for Modesto's league champion squad.
"Here's a kid who has a 3.5 grade point average and who is a delight to coach," Wallace said. "We're lucky he's here. I just knew about him in football, and really wasn't aware of his basketball ability. It's taken a long time for him to get into basketball shape because he didn't play last year."
Williams' development this season has mirrored his team's surge. The Panthers, who went 1-26 last year, foundered through a 5-12 preseason.
"We needed to get back to the classroom," Wallace said. "We took a four-day break after the Columbia tournament and since then it's been nothing but work.
"It's not just DeAngelo, it's been everybody. They're realizing that what the coaches say to them works, and DeAngelo has blossomed along with the other guys."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.