From one look at Brian Williams going through one of Louisiana-Lafayette’s preseason basketball drills, it’s obvious he enjoys practice.
“He’s just a pleasure to coach,” Ragin’ Cajuns coach Bob Marlin said of the former Glen Oaks of Baton Rouge standout. “He’s had some really good practices, and he has a chance to have a special year.”
But behind that enjoyment, there is a sense of urgency for the 6-foot-5 forward. The upcoming UL-Lafayette season is his one and only chance to fulfill Marlin’s special-year predictions.
“The other guys here have two or three years,” Williams said. “It’s a marathon for most of them. For me, it’s a sprint now.”
The collegiate finish line for him is markedly close, only five months away, after Williams transferred from Oklahoma State following his 2013-14 junior year.
He has immediate eligibility, having earned his OSU degree in May, and only a couple of weeks after graduation the former Cowboy was in summertime drills with his new Cajuns teammates.
Marlin already knew about Williams the basketball player, the one who started most of his freshman year, battled back from a sophomore-year wrist injury and averaged 7.8 points per game through the first two-thirds of his junior season at OSU.
What he didn’t know as much was Williams the person, and it’s that area that has Marlin excited going into this season.
“What a great young man,” Marlin said. “It’s tricky when an older guy comes in for just one season, but he showed his leadership from Day 1. He got here in the summer, went to summer school and started being a leader there.
“What he’s done for our team, in practice, off the floor, saying the right things to the right people ... I’m excited about coaching him this year.”
The Dave Matthews Band struggled with a decision in its “Stay or Leave.” Williams agonized over the same choice — remain a Cowboy and face a senior year in which his role was less than certain, or find another place to call home for one final season.
It was tough at the time, and even though the “Stay or Leave” opening line was spot on in comparing the Lafayette and Stillwater winters (“Maybe different, but remember winter’s warm there”), his decision had little to do with the weather.
Instead, Williams thought about the final 12 games of his OSU career, when he was replaced in the lineup by Phil Forte and saw his points (3.3) and minutes (18.5) decrease dramatically.
He didn’t have a double-figure game in that closing stretch, after starting the first 26 games for a Cowboys squad that eventually finished 21-13 and reached the NCAA tournament.
He visited several programs before choosing a spot not far from where he was Louisiana’s Class 4A Outstanding Player as a junior and led Glen Oaks to the state’s No. 1 ranking. He averaged 25.9 points and 13.6 rebounds for the Panthers as a junior and added 25-point, 12-rebound averages as a senior in making The Advocate’s All-Metro Team.
“It was a tough decision,” he said, “but I know now it was the right decision. It’s definitely different and an adjustment, and the scheme is different with Shawn (Long) as an anchor in the paint. But it’s everything I expected and a little bit more.
“I know they (the Cajuns coaches) have my best interests at heart, so I try to go out there and do what they need me to do.”
What Marlin is looking for is defense, rebounding and athletic ability, something Williams figures to bring to a Cajuns team coming off its own 23-12 season and NCAA tourney outing. Three primary cogs from that team are gone, including top-10 NBA draft pick Elfrid Payton and forward Elridge Moore, who played a key role despite his lack of size and bulk.
“I can guard a little bit,” Williams said. “I take pride in it. I don’t like getting scored on.”
“We’re going to have a better defensive and rebounding club,” Marlin said. “We’ve added players that can really help, with size, strength and shooting.
“We’re going to be better in all those categories, and Brian is a big part of that. He’s just an outstanding athlete.”
The Big 12 already knew that. Williams started 20 of 32 games as a freshman for the Cowboys and had the second-lowest turnover ratio in OSU history (1.22 turnovers per 40 minutes), and also proved he could score with a career-high 23 on 9-of-15 shooting against sixth-ranked Baylor. He missed the first 18 games of his sophomore year after a preseason wrist injury, but scored double-digits in five of his first six games as a junior.
He hopes to bring that kind of production into his final collegiate season.
“I want to leave my mark as much as possible and as much as I can,” he said. “I’m not going to be here long, so I’m going to try to make the most of it. Every game matters for me.”