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Thursday, May 7, 2015

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The final act: Chaz Williams looks to leave his mark at UMass

When you think of Massachusetts men’s basketball legends, the names of Julius Erving, Lou Roe and Marcus Camby are the first ones to come to mind.

Chaz Williams has a chance to be viewed in the same light.

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

A redshirt senior from Brooklyn, N.Y., Williams has restored UMass basketball, putting it back in the national spotlight in only two seasons as the team’s point guard. He’s become one of the best players in the Atlantic 10, with his up-tempo style of play and his ability to seemingly make something happen out of virtually nothing.

Entering his final college season, his hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. Much like the Minutemen’s lofty expectations, he has garnered many of his own. He was named to the preseason All-Atlantic 10 first team and was recently named to the Bob Cousy Award watch list for the second straight year, an annual award given to the nation’s top point guard.

The growth of Williams’ game has had as much to do with his maturation as it does with his skill set.
Over the offseason, Williams struggled with the decision on whether or not to go pro. His options were to either enter the NBA Draft a year early, or take a professional contract in Turkey. While both opportunities were enticing for him, he still felt that he had unfinished business at UMass.

“We still haven’t made it to the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “That’s what I came to college for. I didn’t come to college to lose in the first round of the NIT my last year here.”

The sacrifices Williams made in his decision to return for his final college season haven’t gone unnoticed amongst the team.

“I think Chaz’s major transformation just from last year to this year, is that he truly understands it’s about the team and sacrifices for the team and university,” said Roe, now an administrative assistant at UMass.

Coming out of high school, Williams wasn’t highly recruited, mainly because he was undersized. He settled in at Hofstra, where he averaged 9.8 points and 4.2 assists per game as a freshman. His strong finish to the 2009-10 season allowed him the option to transfer and join the Minutemen. But, before he could finally suit up in Maroon and White, he had to sit out a year to comply to NCAA transfer rules.

In his two seasons following since transferring, Williams has become the unquestioned leader for an improving UMass squad. He’s led the Minutemen to back-to-back appearances in the Atlantic 10 Tournament semifinals and National Invitation Tournament.

But, if he wants to be known as one of the greats in UMass history, he needs to do much more.

“Nobody remembers a loser,” Roe said. “They remember people who gave their passion, their heart and soul for the team, for the organization, for the university, for the community. You have to make an impression on people and he’s definitely on his path of doing that.”

Roe knows what it takes to go down as one of the best. He’s one of just five Minutemen to have his number retired by the school and remembers how special it was for him.

“When I heard about it, I definitely thought it was a great honor (to have my number retired) because not many people have done it in our 100-plus years of history here,” Roe said.

That just goes to show how hard it is to go down as one of the greats, so to even be in the conversation shows what Williams means to this program.

“UMass, in those great years, hasn’t had that guy that people resonate with,” Roe said. “I think Chaz is one of the guys that the community (can) resonate (with), the university resonate with and the country resonate with. I mean, people look at UMass now and the first person they think about is Chaz Williams.”

But, like Roe said, nobody remembers a loser and so far, neither Williams nor any other UMass player has gotten the team back to the NCAA Tournament in 15 years. So, if Williams wants to see his number hanging in the rafters in the future, then, according to Roe, he needs to lead the Minutemen back to the big stage.

“If he’s able to take this team and win our first conference championship in I don’t know how many years and help us qualify for the tournament after so many years, then you definitely have to say that he’s going to leave behind some kind of legacy,” he said.

Williams only has one more year left at UMass, but if he can lead the team back to national prominence and get it back to the Big Dance, then his name will forever be remembered as one of the greatest Minutemen of all-time.

Patrick Strohecker can be reached at pstrohec@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @MDC_Strohecker.

 

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