Jordan Williams And The Quest To Become A Complete Player
Stuck On 1,499 Points, Williams Nearly Passed Up Going Back Into His Final Game
The second-half clock read 3:12 when Jordan Williams stepped off the Legacy Arena floor to a standing ovation from the Mean Green faithful that made the trek to Birmingham, Ala., to see the North Texas senior one last time.
That walk to the bench was supposed to be the curtain call for a splendid four-year career. Luckily for Williams, North Texas strength coach Chris Seroka was paying attention to his stat line.
Williams took a seat on the bench with tears in his eyes and six points to his credit. That meant Williams sat on 1,499 points for his career - just one shy of a milestone only eight players in Mean Green history had reached.
Seroka whispered the news into head coach Tony Benford's ear, and the third-year skipper didn't hesitate. There was no way either coach was letting Williams leave that building without at least one more point.
There was only one problem; Williams was so distraught over his team's loss to Rice the individual milestone was meaningless to him.
"Jordan is such a selfless player that he was reluctant to go back into the game," Benford said. "I had to explain to him that not a lot of players in college basketball get the opportunity to score 1,500 points, and that he deserved this honor. It's something he would look back on and have pride in. I think that moment speaks to the tremendous growth Jordan has made both on and off the court."
As you know, Williams checked back into the game and Benford called a series of plays to give his senior the ball. The video above captures the moment two free throws lifted him into the exclusive club with 1,501 career points.
Now Williams could have his curtain call.
An All-CUSA team selection was a fitting bookend to Williams' career. He not only finished ninth in NT history in scoring, but was fifth in steals, seventh in 3-pointers made, ninth in field goals and 10th in free throws made and attempted.
After coming to Denton a consensus top 10 player in the state of Texas, Williams became just the third player in the program's 97-season history to lead his team in scoring, assists and steals. In fact, his 47 steals this year are the 12th most by any NT player.
He will doubtlessly be a strong candidate for the North Texas Athletic Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in five years.
"I think he's a hall of famer here at North Texas, and he'll definitely play basketball professionally somewhere," Benford said. "What's more important though, I appreciate Jordan's loyalty to me and my coaching staff, and to this university. He could have easily transferred when we came in a few years ago. Any school in the country would have taken Jordan in. But he stayed and bought into our vision, and I can't thank him enough for that. It means the world to me, and it speaks to his character."
No one doubted Williams' scoring ability when he arrived at North Texas. What he lacked was a defensive game and the maturity to understand how he can make his teammates better.
As much as the countless hours of film study and practice with his coaches helped Williams grow, it was life away from the court that slowly helped him understand his potential - both in basketball and life.
Being declared academically ineligible midway through his freshman season, as well as the birth of his son, Jaydence, during his junior year, could have sent Williams in any number of directions. He chose to use them as fuel for life, motivation for his future.
"I learned that taking care of your business off the court will help you take care of business on the court - and that's the way life works too," Williams said from a well-earned spring break vacation after wrapping up his senior season. "Jaydence made me grow up overnight and realize the opportunity that was given to me, and I will pass that along to any freshman coming into the game. Put the first things first and the rest will take care of itself."
It's hard to prove a person's mental and spiritual growth. You just have to take his word and the word of those around him. But Williams' growth on the court can be shown on the stat sheet.
After arriving at North Texas, Benford met with each player on the roster and gave them a challenge, and the one he gave to Williams might have been the most daunting of them all. While his teammates were charged with improving their boxing out skills or working on their mid-range game, Williams was asked to become a "complete player".
What is a complete player? That's the type of competitor who can do it all - score, rebound, defend, lead and most importantly make his teammates better in practice and games.
In short, Benford was asking Williams, a 19-year old who had just sat out the previous semester as an academic casualty, to basically turn into LeBron James over the next three seasons.
"There's no doubt that I saw Jordan's potential before he did," Benford said.
Williams scored 14.2 points per game under Benford as a sophomore, but only tallied 23 assists and 23 steals in 32 games. His junior campaign was even worse - 12.0 points, 14 assists and 26 steals in 32 games.
It might have been maturity, maybe his son Jaydence, or the realization that his career was coming to an end, but something clicked in the offseason prior to his senior season. For the first time in his career Williams took on a vocal leadership role, and the game seemed to slow down for him.
He entered his senior season with 62 career assists, but racked up 64 in his final season alone. Williams had 49 steals as a sophomore and junior, but tallied 47 steals in his senior season, and he did it all without his scoring figures suffering.
Despite running out of gas in the final four games of the year, Williams still averaged a career-best 14.7 points per game, and had 18 outings of at least 15 points. He also hit more free throws than ever before and reached his block total from his junior season.
The irony isn't lost on Williams that he had to learn to be a better teammate and leader to become a better scorer, which brings us back to Birmingham and Benford trying to convince Williams to go back into the game and score one more point.
"It's something I'm going to look back at some day and be proud of," Williams said. "It's a great accomplishment and everything, but I wanted him to stop calling plays for me that night. I just wanted to play for my team, and I wanted anything that came for me to come naturally."