For most, the U.S. Virgin Islands is a friendly vacation paradise in the Caribbean Sea. For sophomore forward Craig Williams, it is where he learned to play the game he loves.
Williams hails from Christiansted, a town with only a couple thousand residents. It’s also the same place NBA superstar Tim Duncan calls home.
“Growing up from the Virgin Islands, [Duncan] was the only [and] the biggest icon,” Williams said. “[He came from] a small place to play college basketball, and then he went to the [NBA]. A lot of people looked up to him.”
Three years ago, Williams attended a John Chaney-Sonny Hill summer basketball camp at the Ambler Campus. Now, instead of being just another face in the crowd, he’s schooling opposing defenses with his smooth shooting touch.
On Jan. 5, the college basketball world learned of Williams. Twenty-two minutes, 16 points and one victory helped cement his place in Fran Dunphy’s rotation. Now every Owls opponent might want to get a detailed scouting report on the 6-foot-9-inch 3-point specialist.
“I was confident in my abilities, but just the fact that I came out there and did that on that night meant a lot more,” Williams said.
The real transformation began this past summer, when Williams lost about 20 pounds. The forward has been dedicated to improving his stamina and conditioning on the court. Once buried on the bench, Williams is now averaging 14.1 minutes per game this season.
“I think Craig made some serious strides this summer,” assistant coach Shawn Trice said. “He had a chance to go home. He came back lighter and in a little bit better condition. He’s got some ways to go, but he’s made the commitment to get his body in shape.”
Williams estimates that his workout regimen takes up to six hours per day. He sacrifices early mornings traveling to Pearson Hall with assistant athletic trainer Steve Spiro to “get his blood pumping.”
In October, Williams was in the pool three times a week doing basketball-related drills.
A knee injury in practice temporarily set Williams back, as he missed the Owls’ Jan. 28 game against Rhode Island. He also had his minutes trimmed for the following two games while still recovering. However, he said he’s now healed, and his 12-point performance against Rhode Island Sunday would indicate the same.
With Williams in the starting five, the Cherry and White are 6-1. In those seven games, Williams is averaging 9.3 points per game, a welcome addition to the box score.
He has also been beneficial to the Owls’ other big men, who gratefully accept the extra minutes of rest from time to time. Sophomore forward Lavoy Allen has been able to get more production underneath the rim, as opponents are forced to crash Williams along the perimeter. Anytime Williams puts in 20-plus minutes, Allen averages just more than 14 points per game.
“Anytime there is any type of penetration and kick, [Williams is] always spotting up,” said Dion Dacons, former Owls forward and current coordinator of student development.
“Lavoy doing what he’s doing in the post, on the block and [Williams’] knocking down shots on the perimeter, it compliments each other really well.”
Williams’ consistent play stems from his ability to do all the little things right. His solid passing and catching attributes have led to minimal turnovers and quick shots from behind the arc. The next step is developing on the defensive end.
“[He needs to work on] becoming a better defender, lateral movement, [being] a little bit more athletic,” Trice said. “That will come with him continuing to lose weight, shed pounds and make the commitment to improve his foot speed.”
So far, Williams has been a lesson in hard work. His determination in the weight room has paved a path onto the hardwood. But, the real lesson is that Williams continues to stay focused on the task at hand.
“I’m trying to work on my body,” Williams said. “Coach tells me everyday, “Work on your body, work on your body,” so I’m trying to do that.”
Anthony Stipa can be reached at email@example.com.