It’s a trivia question most would fail, with an answer that would likely be followed by raised eyebrows and a quizzical “really?”
Who is the only returning basketball All-American in the state of Utah?
The answer: Isiah Williams, starting shooting guard at Utah Valley University.
For better or worse, Williams finds himself inheriting former BYU guard Jimmer Fredette’s status as Utah’s best. As different as they seem, however, the similarities become equally apparent.
Like Fredette, Williams was named AP All-American Honorable Mention as a junior. Both earned the honor via scoring, with Williams averaging 17.4 points per game to lead the Wolverines to a 19-11 record last season.
That leads to the next similarity. Like Fredette, Williams is seen as a too-small scoring guard who doesn’t have the natural skill set to be a point guard after averaging 1.9 assists per game last season. It’s a stigma Williams desperately wants to shed. To him, being able to score does not mean he is unable to pass.
“A lot of people don’t think I can do the little things or be a point guard,” Williams said. “I’ve been trying to work on my point guard skills. On the next level, I’m not going to be a two-guard. I’m going to have the ball most of the time and be running plays, but able to score if I wanted to.”
This would be a welcome improvement for the Wolverines, who didn’t boast one player averaging at least four assists per game last season. For Williams, it may simply require a different state of mind. While lethal from the outside, he is a natural slasher, often getting to the rim at will and drawing the defense with him. It creates opportunities for others, assuming Williams is driving to create as much as to score.
Williams insists this year will provide more opportunities to do so.
“We’ve got a lot more athletic players that can score this year,” Williams said. “Last year we didn’t have a whole lot of people that could score. This year I think we’ll have a really good bench, too.”
Williams’ desire to distribute is already there, instilled by the example of a childhood idol who bears the same namesake: former Detroit Pistons star and NBA Hall of Fame point guard Isaiah Thomas. Williams’ father grew up with Thomas, and Williams himself has maintained contact throughout the years. Thomas currently coaches Florida International University and brought the team for a non-conference game at UVU last year.
It was supposed to be a reunion of friends. Instead, Isiah the player dropped 26 points on Isaiah the coach. Thomas’ professional career presents a curve Williams would like to follow. For five straight years in the 1980s, Thomas averaged over 20 points per game. It wasn’t until his scoring dipped to just over 18ppg, however, that Detroit won back-to-back NBA championships.
“I would always watch a lot of old clips of Isaiah Thomas,” Williams said. “I also like Chauncey Billups and the way he could score if his team needed to score and he would make right decisions.”
For the Wolverines, Williams’ first right decision was simply coming here. A junior transfer from the College of Eastern Utah, Williams was swayed by head coach Dick Hunsaker’s up-front manner during the recruiting process.
“I just felt that Dick Hunsaker was being real honest with me from the start of recruiting me,” Williams said. “He came out personally to recruit me. I went home and talked to my cousin and told him about the coach. My cousin was like, ‘yeah, I think he’s a good coach.’ It’s hard to come by coaches that are going to be honest with you.”
“I just have to be patient and take what the defense gives me,” Williams said. “I know I’m not going to have a lot of open looks like I did last year. Just being patient, working hard and looking for other things to do besides scoring.”
It’s an adjustment that, in the end, may have Utah basketball fans also looking in time to see it happen.
Matt Petersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.