Williams soaring at USC
Photo/South Carolina Athletics Department Brenton Williams drives to the basket against Auburn during their SEC game at the Colonial Life Arena this season. The former OHS standout leads the Gamecocks with a 14.8 scoring average, and he leads the nation with a 95.4 free throw shooting percentage.
Former Kowboy wrapping up SEC career
By Rick Pedone
The light seemed to go on for Brenton Williams at the 2009 Great Florida Shootout basketball tournament.
The Osceola Kowboys’ guard already was one of Central Florida’s most dynamic players according to his coaches, but the player himself didn’t seem to realize that until the Shootout.
There, he elevated his game, averaging 28 points over four games, to help Osceola place third at the tournament.
“That was a turning point for me. That’s where I kind of made a name for myself. It was my senior year, so the timing was good,” Williams said by phone from the University of South Carolina, where he is wrapping up a very successful college career, one of the best ever by an OHS alum.
Williams led the Gamecocks, SEC cellar dwellers, to a stunning 72-67 upset victory over No. 17 Kentucky Saturday, scoring 24 points and hitting 15-of-16 free throws.
Williams and his teammates were mobbed by Gamecocks fans after the wild contest that saw Kentucky Coach John Calipari ejected after he picked up two technical fouls.
It was the kind of spectacular victory that will be long-remembered.
Williams thought the team would play well against the Wildcats.
“All you can do is to keep playing, trying to get better, and we are,” Williams said. “It’s been tough at times. Since this is my senior year, I’ve tried to take on a leadership role.”
After graduating from OHS as the News-Gazette’s Player of the Year, Williams attracted plenty of attention from college coaches, but not much from the major conferences. As things turned out, those coaches probably made a mistake.
“I got passed on by a lot of coaches because they thought I was too small (5-11),” Williams said. “Basically, I wanted to prove what I could do.”
Williams chose to go to Santa Fe Community College and it was a good move both for the explosive Williams and the college. Williams quickly adapted to college basketball and began lighting it up.
“It was a big transition from high school to college. The players are all a lot bigger and faster,” Williams said. “But, I saw that I could compete with those guys. I knew that I belonged there.”
Williams didn’t stay at Santa Fe long. He was signed by former Gamecocks Coach Darrin Horn after his freshman season, and once again, Williams did not disappoint.
“It was a dream of mine to play in the SEC, one of the biggest and most powerful conferences there is,” Williams said. “It’s been an unbelievable experience. You play in those great arenas against great programs like Kentucky and LSU. It’s exciting. You go into (Kentucky’s) Rupp Arena and all you see is a sea of blue and white, and they are making noise the whole game. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.”
Williams’ parents, Katrina and Frederick, and brothers Tony and Deontae, all keep track of his progress.
“I’ve probably worn my car out going back and forth,” Frederick Williams said at a recent Osceola High basketball game. “I get up there for as many games as I can. It’s a great campus up there and I enjoy the games.”
In his sophomore year at South Carolina, Williams was playing regularly off the bench and finished the season averaging 6.1 points in 23 games despite missing several games with a knee injury.
His role increased as a junior when former Kansas State Coach Frank Martin took over the program after Horn was fired following a 10-21 season. Williams started seven games and averaged 11 points and he went off for a career-high 38 points in a game against Mississippi State.
That led to his status this season as the basketball team’s “elder statesman”, where he is averaging a team-high 14.8 points and leads the nation in free throw shooting percentage (95.4).
Williams said this season was a challenge because many veterans left last summer.
“We started the season with me and mostly a bunch of freshmen,” he said.
Martin’s fiery, hard-nosed coaching style is controversial. One of his tirades was directed at Williams during a January loss to Mississippi. That angered many South Carolina fans and Martin later apologized to Williams.
Williams has done what he can to help the team. He scored 29 points in a 71-64 loss at Arkansas two weeks ago and had 26 in a 83-67 loss against Auburn, where he was 5-of-9 from 3-point range.
Not surprisingly, Williams has gotten more attention from defenses this season.
“It’s not so much that they are doubling on me, but they are paying more attention to what I do. They seem to be game-planning for me now, which I didn’t see before this year,” he said.
Former Osceola basketball coach Steve Mason, who coached Williams at the JV and varsity levels, has enjoyed watching Williams’ success.
“He is a great example for the younger Kowboys to look up to and he always stops by when he is home to speak to the younger players about becoming better players and people,” Mason said. “To play in such a prestigious conference as the SEC and excel is a testament to Brenton as a person and how he was as a high school player. He led by example and through hard work. Brenton comes from a great family and he is the perfect example of what a student-athlete should be.”
South Carolina’s high after the Kentucky win disappeared in the second half of their game Tuesday against top-ranked Florida at the Colonial Life Arena. The Gators led by two, 28-26, in the first half, then ramped it up for a 72-46 blowout victory.
Williams said that UF is the legitimate No. 1 team.
“Yeah, those guys are pretty quick, and they have a lot of depth. Coach (Billy) Donovan has done a good job there,” he said. “We’ve played some other pretty good teams in tournaments and I can say that they definitely deserve to be where they are.”
Even after the Kentucky win it would take an amazing run for USC to reach the NCAA tournament. The Gamecocks, at 11-19 and 4-13 in the SEC, would have to win the SEC tournament at Atlanta next week.
The Gamecocks wrap up the regular season today at Mississippi State.
Williams will have plenty of options to consider after the season ends. He has earned a spot on the SEC academic honor roll throughout his stay at South Carolina and he will graduate this spring with a degree in African-American studies.
He will consider opportunities to play professionally, most likely in a European league.
“Yeah, that is a possibility, but it’s not something I’ve thought about a lot because we’ve still got a season to finish,” he said.
There’s also a chance, he said, that he might coach one day.
“I’ve thought about that a little, too,” he said. “We’ll see.”