Big Al’s Rising Sun

UCSB’s Rebounding Star Al Williams Finds Family and Game Time in Phoenix

<b>FUTURE SUN:</b> Alan Williams is flanked by his parents, Cody and Jeri, during a ceremony before his last UCSB home basketball game in 2015.

Paul Wellman (file)

FUTURE SUN: Alan Williams is flanked by his parents, Cody and Jeri, during a ceremony before his last UCSB home basketball game in 2015.

Alan Williams and his family had a lot to be thankful for when they sat down for dinner last Thursday. “My dad spoke about how blessed we were to be together,” said Williams, known as “Big Al” when he pounded the boards for UCSB’s basketball team.

It was because Alan and his mother have a way of following each other around that they were reunited with his father, Cody Williams Sr., a justice of the peace in Phoenix. Also at the table for Thanksgiving dinner was younger brother Cody Jr., a current UCSB student.

Shortly after Alan began his UCSB career in 2011, Jeri Williams left the Phoenix police department to become chief of police in Oxnard, enabling her to attend many of her son’s Gaucho games. “She’s my best friend,” Big Al said.

He graduated in 2015 as UCSB’s all-time leading rebounder — for two years, he topped all NCAA Division 1 players in that category — but the bulky 6′8″ center was bypassed in the NBA draft. To pursue his professional basketball ambitions, he signed with the Quingdao DoubleStar Eagles of the Chinese Basketball Association, which took him far away from home last fall.

When Williams returned to the states, the Phoenix Suns tried him out and offered him a provisional contract. He excelled in the NBA summer league — the leading rebounder again — and when the 2016-17 season began, he secured a guaranteed contract as a reserve center with the Suns.

Meanwhile, the city of Phoenix was searching for a new chief of police, and who should it hire but Jeri Williams, the first woman and second African American to assume that position. She was sworn in on October 28 and was introduced to an ovation at a Suns’ game two nights later.

“Mom is one of a kind,” Alan Williams said. “She has a tough job, but she gets through it with grace.” When he was young, he worried about her safety as a cop on the beat. To this day, she wears a bulletproof vest for her son’s peace of mind.

On the basketball court, Williams tries to emulate his mother by “being as professional as possible.” He shed about 30 pounds and now weighs around 260 — “less fat, more muscle,” he said — to improve his mobility. He saw action in seven of Phoenix’s 18 games through last weekend. “I’m ready whenever my number’s called,” he said. “My goal every time out is to make the most of my minutes.”

When he got significant playing time in back-to-back road games, Williams produced a pair of double-doubles: 15 points and 15 rebounds in a win over the Indiana Pacers, and 12 points and 11 rebounds in a loss at Philadelphia.

Earl Watson, the Suns’ head coach, spoke highly of the rookie during the exhibition season. “The kid is gonna play 10-15 years in the NBA just off of hustle,” Watson said. “He's a great teammate.”

Williams recently told Karen Crouse of the New York Times how his loyalty to the team threatened to fracture his relationship with his mother. In the wake of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusing to stand during the national anthem, the Suns brought up the idea of staging their own demonstration against social injustice, including police brutality. “We talked about it at length,” Williams said, and if the consensus was that they’d engage in a form of protest, he said he would go along with it, most likely to Chief Williams’s chagrin.

The predicament was avoided when the players decided to deal with the issues individually through community outreach. When the national anthem is played, Williams stands respectfully with the rest of the Suns.

There have been displays of Kaepernicking in the Thunderdome by members of the UCSB women’s basketball team. At the Gauchos’ first three home games, most of them — 11 out of 15 before they played Northern Arizona on November 20 — took a knee during the national anthem. The gesture did not find favor among many fans or university officials, although they are not about to impinge on the players’ First Amendment rights.

The Gaucho women are thoughtful, concerned human beings, not robotic athletes, but head coach Bonnie Henrickson warns that their intentions can be misinterpreted. “They don’t disrespect our military, but it can come across that they do,” Henrickson said. When they played at Iowa State on Veteran’s Day, the Gauchos were wise enough to stand throughout the anthem.

COLLEGE HOOP SCENE: There was some Big Al déjà vu at USC’s Galen Center last Sunday night when UCSB’s two 6′8″, 270-pounders went to work against the Trojans. Junior Jalen Canty had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and sophomore Ami Lakoju chipped in with 12 points and six rebounds. On the thinner side, 6′10″ junior Alex Hart added 14 points for the Gauchos. But all that domination in the paint could not prevent the torrid-shooting Trojans (14 three-pointers) from sending the Gauchos down to their fifth straight defeat, 96-72. UCSB will seek its first victory tonight (Thu., Dec. 1, 7pm) at the Thunderdome against Sonoma State. … Also today, Westmont College plays a double-header at Murchison Gym, as the No. 2–ranked (NAIA) Warrior women (4-1) take on Cal Lutheran at 5:30 p.m., and the No. 12 men’s team (6-1) faces La Sierra at 7:30 p.m. … UCSB’s women fed the ball to 6′4″ Drew Edelman, who made 18 of 26 shots in their wins over Pepperdine and Northern Arizona. … SBCC’s women will be in action at the Sports Pavilion against the College of Marin (Fri., Dec. 2, 7pm) and Victor Valley (Sat., Dec. 3, 5pm). Jocelin Petatan, a 5′7″ Vaquero guard, had 18 rebounds in a 61-54 loss to Moorpark last weekend.

GAME OF THE WEEK

12/2: College Women’s Soccer: SBCC at State Final Four The Vaqueros, seeded 14th in the Southern Cal Regional, upset the No. 3, No. 6, and No. 2 seeds to reach the Final Four for the first time. They will take a 16-6-1 record into Friday night’s semifinal against Diablo Valley (17-1-6), the No. 1 team from the North. The afternoon semifinal pits four-time defending champion Cerritos (21-1-1) against Folsom Lake (17-3-4). SBCC has three first-team all-conference players: midfielders Alexa Benitez and Chloe Montano, and forward Katherine Sheehy. Friday semifinal: 7pm. Sunday final: 2pm. Ventura College Sportsplex, 4667 Telegraph Rd., Ventura. $8-$12. Call 965-0581 or visit sbccvaqueros.com

S.B. ATHLETIC ROUND TABLE ATHLETES OF THE WEEK

Week of Nov. 14-20

Carolin Chang, SBCC golf

The sophomore rallied on the final nine holes to win her second consecutive Community College State golf championship with a 36-hole score of three-under-par 141.

Robert Hutchins, SBCC basketball

The sophomore guard scored a career-high 31 points with nine assists and seven steals in a 99-92 semifinal victory over Hancock College at the Hancock Tournament.

Week of Nov. 21-27

Jackson Stormo, San Marcos basketball

The 6′9" junior helped the Royals get the season off to a good start, scoring 18 points in a win at Pioneer Valley and 22 points in an 80-33 blowout of Nipomo.

Katherine Sheehy, SBCC soccer

After scoring a goal in a 3-1 play-off win over Ventura, the freshman forward connected in a 1-0 upset of Santiago Canyon to send SBCC into the State Final Four.

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