Never in his wildest dreams could Chaz Williams have imagined that the area of land across from the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower in Brooklyn would one day become the Barclays Center.
Growing up, when Williams was a part of the New York Gauchos AAU team, he and his teammates would meet there before going on trips. Time after time, they met at the clock tower, but never thought anything of the abandoned rail yard, grass and trees that occupied the area across the street.
Now, five years later, just a few miles away from his home, it has become the biggest stage of Williams’ career. For the Massachusetts men’s basketball point guard, this week’s Atlantic 10 Tournament at the Barclays Center not only represents some of the most important basketball games of his career, but a chance to play in front of his family and friends for the first time in a while.
“It brings back a lot of memories,” Williams said. “It’s a surreal feeling.
“It’s gonna be a very memorable moment. Going back to Brooklyn and being able to play in front of people that haven’t been able to see me in years, that means a lot to me.”
Playing in front of those people may also bring them into a state of nostalgia. Williams starred at Bishop Ford High School, which is just about three miles away from the Barclays Center, and left as one of the best players in the school’s history.
Williams finished his career at Bishop Ford as the second leading scorer in its history and averaged 25.9 points and 6.2 assists per game as a senior. The highlight of his career, however, came during his junior season, when he led the Falcons to a state championship in a come-from-behind victory that he pioneered, as he scored 32 points and added 12 assists.
He said a lot of people, some of whom haven’t seen him play since his freshman college season at Hofstra, are looking forward to seeing him play again and potentially bring back some of those memories.
“People are tagging me on posts on Instagram and Twitter and stuff like that,” Williams said. “A lot of people are excited to finally get to see me play. It’s been a while since my freshman year of college, not too many of my friends got to see me play, so a lot of people are very happy.”
Of those that are most excited to see him play is his grandmother, Emma, who doesn’t normally get to see him play in person, but usually gets to see him play on TV.
“She’s been watching on TV and every time we lose, I get a mouthful from her,” Williams said. “So I gotta make sure we handle our business.”
He said she doesn’t know too much of the complexities about basketball, but that she knows the basics.
“She just knows score, and the turnovers,” he said. “She asks me how much I score and how much the team scores and how much I gave up.”
Despite all of the family he gets to see and the nostalgia that comes with playing back in Brooklyn, Williams said he’s trying to avoid distractions as he gets ready for the tournament. He said he’s directing ticket requests to go through his mother, Diane.
He even told her that he wants to shut his cell phone off.
“She said that wouldn’t be a smart move for me because I talk to so many people as far as family,” Williams said. “But I’m just really focused right now on just worrying about this game.
“When the season is over, I can always go back and hang out with my friends and family, so right now is not the time for it.”
UMass coach Derek Kellogg said he’s not worried about Williams getting caught up in the attention and putting too much pressure on himself coming home.
After all, it’s not like he hasn’t received this type of attention before.
“I think he’s matured some, I know he wants to play well and he’s gonna come out like a freakin’ rocket out of a cannon,” Kellogg said. “But sometimes when he does that, that’s when he plays well. I want him to be aggressive, I want him to try to go down there with something to prove and if that means he’s a little over-anxious, that’s fine.”
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.