Going into his senior year of high school, forward Mark Williams knew he had to make a change.
It was a change that took him nearly 400 miles from his home state of Ohio, but improved his recruiting prospects. Williams transferred to Montrose Christian School in Maryland, the same school that produced NBA star Kevin Durant.
A year later and an additional 140 miles north, the 6-foot-8-inch power forward now hones his shooting skills on the basketball court at McGonigle Hall under the watchful eye of coach Fran Dunphy.
“It’s a jump,” Williams said. “It’s a great opportunity for me to come to Temple. Temple has a great tradition, so I am blessed to be here.”
Williams, who received a national ranking of 246 in the recruiting class of 2013 by 247Sports.com, committed to Temple in May after receiving offers from Kent State, Niagara and Vanderbilt. He joins Josh Brown as one of the only two freshmen on this year’s roster.
“It was academics and then basketball,” Williams said. “Academic-wise, Temple is a great school. You can get your degree in whatever you want to get your degree in. Athletically, of course, you can’t go wrong. Socially, I am in a big city where I can meet people who go to Temple and meet people who are from Philly.”
At Montrose, Williams averaged a team high 15.3 points and 11 rebounds and led the team to a 19-5 record. Along the way, he earned Second Team All-Met honors.
Although Dunphy said he will have a better idea of the starting lineup a few days before the season opener, Williams is expected contribute this season.
“[Williams is] a very competitive guy, a very skilled guy,” Dunphy said. “He can make shots on the perimeter. I think he knows the game pretty well. He is going to have to give us a lot of really good minutes this year. But I think he has the requisite intelligence, toughness and skill level to help us.”
“Mark, he’s a really tough guy,” senior Dalton Pepper said. “He can shoot. He’s like a stretch forward so he can rebound. He’s undersized a little bit, but he’s a tough kid so I think he’ll be alright and contribute right away.”
The Owls lost five players to graduation last season after a run in the NCAA tournament, including forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson. As a forward, Williams said he knows what he will have to bring to the team every game.
“Defense first, rebounding and then make open shots, but just to be a glue guy,” Williams said. “Do all the rebounding, the extra passes and just bringing toughness.”
With Temple’s move to the American Athletic Conference, Williams will have to improve all facets of his game in order to compete with the big-name schools the Owls will go up against this season.
“We are going to play the defending champions and teams like Texas and Memphis,” Williams said. “I think it’s a tough transition for everybody, but for me it’s tougher because I am coming from high school to college, but we will get through it.”
Junior guard Will Cummings, who Dunphy said is one of the team leaders, said he’s more than willing to support the freshmen.
“College basketball is a hard game sometimes,” Cummings said. “Just keeping them mentally in the game so they don’t lose focus by the end of the game. Just making sure they go at their own pace and not really get sped up and kind of control the game. I will make sure they know when it is time to score and all those little things.”
Recently, Williams was able to get a taste of what college basketball was like by playing in a scrimmage against Penn State.
“It was different.” Williams said. “You go from practice where you pretty much know everybody and what they are doing, but in scrimmage you know of guys but you don’t know them. So it was different, because every day we are beating up on each other but we finally got to beat up on another team.”
With the season opener just around the corner, Williams said he’s excited to get his college basketball career started.
“We just want to make a name for ourselves,” Williams said. “People have questions and we are willing to answer all of them. No talking, just to go out there and play.”
Danielle Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Dan_Nels.