Pack's C.J. Williams has come a long way, but not alone

C.J. WILLIAMS has come a long way, and his father has been there at nearly every stop

jgiglio@newsobserver.comFebruary 29, 2012 

  • Seniors C.J. Williams and Kendall Smith and graduate student Alex Johnson will be honored before tonight's game.

    C.J. Williams, 6-5, guard, Fayetteville

    The team captain for three years, Williams averages 11.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.

    Alex Johnson, 5-10, guard, Toronto

    Johnson played three seasons at Cal State Bakersfield before transferring and becoming State's top guard off the bench.

    Kendall Smith, 6-8, forward, Winston-Salem

    The walk-on from Winston-Salem has played in 27 games in his career.

— C.J. Williams fractured a bone in his left thumb before N.C. State's season started. Then in mid-January, he sprained his right shoulder.

Neither injury has prevented the senior guard from Fayetteville from putting together the best season of his college basketball career.

As Williams prepares for the Wolfpack's final scheduled home game of the season tonight against Miami , he's determined not to let his team's current four-game losing streak derail his senior season or his team's postseason goals.

"I feel like we're a better team now than we were four games ago," Williams said. "We're getting better. We understand that now is the time to go out and show it."

No one in red is more eager to get back on the court than Williams, and not because it's Senior Night. Williams is still frustrated, and disappointed, in the way the Wolfpack lost at Clemson in last Saturday's 72-69 overtime loss.

Up 62-60 with 17 seconds left in regulation, Williams missed the front end of a one-and-one which could have put the game away.

Up 69-66 with 1:28 left in overtime, Williams missed a 3-pointer -- which teasingly seemed halfway down the net before popping out -- which also could have iced the game for the Pack.

That he finished with 16 points and seven rebounds in 43 minutes against the Tigers, and put his team in position to win the game, is little consolation to Williams.

"I felt bad, even though everybody tells me the Clemson game is not my fault," Williams said. "Being a senior, I felt like I wanted to be the one to decide (the game). Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make the shots, and that's tough to deal with. You never want to miss that chance."

A father's drive

C.J. Williams will play in his 121st game for N.C. State tonight. His dad, Wendell, has been to all but two of them. From Syracuse, N.Y., to Stanford, Calif., and just about every stop in between, Wendell Williams, usually with his wife Delores, has found a way to get to his son's basketball games.

He even made it to the Wolfpack's exhibition games in Aug. 2008 in Toronto.

Before that game, C.J. Williams heard a familiar voice and then a knock on his hotel door the night before N.C. State's game against York University.

"I was like, 'What is my dad doing in Canada?' " Williams said.

There's an easy explanation according to Wendell Williams. When he was an outfielder on Florida A&M's baseball team in 1980, the father of one his teammates made every game.

"There he was down the third baseline at every game," said Williams, 51. "That left an impression on me. I made up my mind then that I wanted to be able to support my son like that."

Getting to all the games has been more of a challenge since Williams moved from Fayetteville to Warner Robins, Ga. An environmental engineer in the Air Force, he worked for 27 years at Pope Air Force Base in Fayetteville, but was relocated in December 2010.

How much of a challenge has it been to get to the games? Williams' 2010 Honda Pilot has 97,000 miles on it, thanks to a 90-minute drive, each way, to the Atlanta airport.

Williams estimates he has spent between $35,000 and $40,000 the past two seasons in travel expenses.

"It has been well worth it," he said.

Proving his worth

In his first three seasons at N.C. State, C.J. Williams was known for his hustle and leadership on teams with a shortage in both categories. A team captain as a sophomore and junior, his minutes and production didn't reflect his value to the program under former coach Sidney Lowe.

Williams has nearly tripled his career scoring average as a senior with 11.7 points per game. His minutes have gone from 17.6 per game as a junior to 31.4 this season under coach Mark Gottfried.

"He has been a great young man to coach," Gottfried said.

When Gottfried was hired in April, Williams didn't know how the new coach would utilize him, or if he would at all. Williams, who will graduate in May with a degree in business administration, considered graduating a year early and finishing his career elsewhere.

His mindset changed when he sat down with Gottfried for the first time.

"I told him I'm a leader on this team, and I plan on making the most of my last season," Williams said. "I want everyone to remember this year."

Williams' honesty and passion made an immediate impression on Gottfried. The two have forged a unique relationship, with the coach publicly challenging the senior and pushing Williams to improve. Williams credits Gottfried with giving him confidence to have the type of season that he has had.

A chance to be an integral part of a winning team is all Williams has wanted.

"This year has been really great," Wendell Williams said. "C.J. had his ups and downs, but this year, he has had the opportunity to show what he's capable of doing, and he has made the most of it."

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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