Shock and disbelief were the first two reactions from members of UL-Lafayette’s basketball team late Monday night when they received word of the sudden death of Ragin’ Cajuns signee Herman Williams.
“I had just finished tutoring and looked at my phone and saw a group message,” junior guard Frank Bartley IV said. “I just shook. I just dropped my phone, sat in the car and said a prayer for his family and loved ones.
“I was shook the whole night and woke up shook this morning. I still don’t believe it … he was supposed to be with us in a few weeks. Just that fast, he’s not going to be with us.”
The just-graduated product of Marianna (Florida) High collapsed and died Monday evening after playing pickup basketball at an outdoor court at Marianna’s First Baptist Church. Efforts to revive him at Jackson County Hospital were unsuccessful.
Cajuns coach Bob Marlin said Tuesday that cause of death had not been determined, but said that cardiac arrest or heat stroke were possible.
“We’re just not really sure right now,” he said.
“Just shock,” junior guard Johnathan Stove said. “We’re a family and we lost a brother. He was excited to get here and start putting in the work. He was one of us already. … He would have fit perfectly.”
“Our program’s been dealt a severe blow,” said Marlin, who made Williams one of his five-signee recruiting class last fall. “A very bright young man with a very bright future. He had a bounce in his step, a smile that was contagious and he already loved the Ragin’ Cajuns. He was going to be a perfect complement to our team as a person as well as a basketball player.”
Williams, a 6-foot-3 guard, turned 19 on Sunday and was scheduled to arrive on campus July 5 to take classes in the school’s second summer session.
“It’s unbelievable,” junior forward Bryce Washington said. “I’d talked to him two days before, and when he came on his visit I spent a lot of time with him. He was always happy, and really excited. He kept saying he couldn’t wait to get here.”
Williams averaged 29 points, seven rebounds and four assists as a junior at Marianna High before a knee injury seven games into the season sidelined him for the rest of that year. While continuing to recover, he averaged 17 points, 11 rebounds and four assists while leading the Bulldogs to 20 wins and a playoff appearance as a senior.
“Even injured, he was still explosive,” Washington said. “I thought he was really gonna help us, especially on the defensive end. He could guard 94 feet. He was fearless.”
Marlin said he’s been in contact with Williams’ high school coach Matt Anderson, who told a Pensacola television station that Williams was a vocal leader and an incredibly hard worker.
“I was just at a loss for words,” said Marlin, who added that he had never had to go through this type of loss in his 34 years of coaching college basketball.
Williams and fellow freshman signee Roydell Brown of New Orleans took official visits to UL-Lafayette at the same time last November. They had met the previous summer during an AAU tournament in South Carolina.
“Before we left we talked,” Brown said of those visits. “We both said we were going to commit the next week and sign early because we wanted to be teammates and we liked how each other played. Since then we talked every week, checking on each other to see how we were doing. He was supposed to be my roommate and his locker’s next to mine.”
A memorial is tentatively scheduled from noon-2 p.m. at Marianna High Saturday and that funeral services would follow in the small 6,000-population town in the Florida panhandle.
“Coach (Gus) Hauser and I flew over and met with him at the school last year,” Marlin said, “and the principal, the counselors, the teachers, the cafeteria workers, everyone at that school rallied behind that young man. Coach Hauser said he’d never seen a school commit to someone as much as Marianna High committed to Herman.”