Garner Cleveland: Sports

A similar feeling for Garner, UNC legend Donald Williams

Garner assistant coach Donald Williams, second from left, on the bench behind head coach Eddie Gray with (from left) fellow assistant coaches Kent Blom, and Jeff Smith, starred during many basketball games at the Dean E. Smith Center. He said helping coach his alma mater to a state title ranks right up there with his days playing for North Carolina.
Garner assistant coach Donald Williams, second from left, on the bench behind head coach Eddie Gray with (from left) fellow assistant coaches Kent Blom, and Jeff Smith, starred during many basketball games at the Dean E. Smith Center. He said helping coach his alma mater to a state title ranks right up there with his days playing for North Carolina. newsobserver.com

Donald Williams’ play in a Garner uniform 25 years ago earned him the chance to play in a uniform for the University of North Carolina.

Those two worlds collided again Saturday night in the Dean E. Smith Center as Williams helped coach the Trojans to the NCHSAA 4A boys basketball championship. The MVP of the 1993 UNC national championship team, whose jersey hangs in the rafters, is an assistant, along with Kent Bloms and Jeff Smith, to Garner head coach Eddie Gray.

“This feeling ranks right up there with those highlight moments as a player here,” Williams said. “Just to be a part of the job coach Gray did with what’s really still a young team is just a really special thing. And to see it happen here in Chapel Hill makes it even more special.”

Williams said he tried to impart a little home court knowledge with Garner’s players about how playing in the Dean Dome is different than other courts.

“I just talked to them about how great the court felt with those springs underneath it,” Williams said. “And how you have to remember this court is 10 feet longer than what they’re used to and how that plays in to the game.”

Kuhns’ play provides punch on both ends: Garner junior forward Nick Kuhns did something he can do but doesn’t normally do to start the state championship game. He found himself open for 3-pointers on two early Garner possessions and promptly drilled them both during Garner’s blistering 5-of-7 start from 3-point range.

Garner shot 50 percent from 3-point range on the night (8-of-16), but didn’t expect to take as many as it did early in the game.

“We knew we wanted to get up on them and start scoring early,” Kuhns said. “We were able to get some open looks at 3-pointers and knocked them down. It really helped us start to build momentum early.”

Kuhns finished with 13 points and was 5-of-8 from the field and 1-of-1 at the foul line.

Defensively, he shined when he was matched up one-on-one against standout Ardrey Kell scorer Steven Santa Ana.

Garner played mostly man-to-man defense in the opening quarter when Santa Ana was held to just two points and Kuhns was often matched up against him.

Santa Ana certainly found his stroke the rest of the way scoring on 3-pointers and drives, until the Trojans went to a box-and-one defense.

“We went to a gimmick defense at the end, like Coach (Jim) Valvano used to do,” Gray said. “We put Kuhns on (Santa Ana) and the rest of our guys in a zone. It took them a little bit of time to adjust to it.

“I tell you, if there was a second runner up for MVP, the unsung one would be Nick Kuhns for us. He played really inspired basketball.”

A championship effort in the stands: Just as it did during the Trojans’ appearance in the 2011 state 4AA football championship game, the Blue Crew performed at a championship level Saturday.

The group, made up of Garner High students, was the largest student cheering section of the four games held at the Smith Center, numbering in the hundreds. The mix of alumni and town supporters that nearly filled the Garner end of the lower seating bowl gave Garner a decided cheering advantage.

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Garner Trojans 2014-15 Statistical Leaders

Scoring Average: Thomas Allen 17.44, Julius Barnes 14.65, Jashaun Smith 13.89, Alex Reed 9.87, Nick Kuhns 6.72.

Rebounds Per Game: Smith 7.17, Reed 6.31, Kenyon Burt 4.79, Allen 4.48, Kuhns 3.45.

Steals Per Game: Allen 2.93, Barnes 2.69.

Assists Per Game: Barnes 6.82, Allen 4.31.

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