Sports

Santa Barbara's star big man has parents to thank for strong work ethic

In an age when it's often difficult to distinguish the sports pages from the police blotter, UC Santa Barbara basketball player Alan Williams stands out as an example of a guy whose priorities seem squarely planted in the right place.

"He gets it," coach Bob Williams said simply.

The 6-8, 265 pound senior from Phoenix is Santa Barbara's rock, a tenacious rebounder with a remarkably soft touch around the basket. Last season, Williams was the West Coast Conference Player of the Year and led the nation in rebounding with 11.5 boards per game. Through his first four games this season, Williams was averaging more than 18 points and 12 rebounds per outing.

In two games at the Great Alaska Shootout -- both wins -- Williams has been named player of the game for the Gauchos. On Friday, he scored 22 points and grabbed 22 rebounds in his team's 65-60 overtime win over Mercer, lifting UCSB into Saturday's championship game against Colorado State.

"He's not only the best player in this league, he's one of the best players in the region," said coach Williams, whose team is in Anchorage for the eight-team Great Alaska Shootout at the Alaska Airlines Center.

He said Williams is the team's unquestioned leader.

"He does everything. He's the vocal leader, he takes responsibility on his own shoulders," he said.

"Big Al" is a great example of what a college athlete should be, the coach said.

"He's a fun-loving guy, big personality, he likes laughing, he likes joking, he loves being around his teammates. He's just a regular guy around his teammates, but when he gets on the floor he's a leader," said Santa Barbara's coach of 16 years.

But as good as Williams is on the court, the 21-year-old cultural anthropology major may be even better off it. A high school honor roll student, academics led him to Santa Barbara, which boasts six Nobel laureates on its faculty and is ranked 10th by U.S. News and World Report among the nation's public universities.

"UCSB's academic pedigree is second to none when it comes to public universities in the United States," Williams said.

Williams wants to try to play pro basketball after college, but eventually he'd like to become a broadcaster.

"I love learning about people in general, how they communicate," he said.

Fluent in Spanish, the affable big man is a Harry Potter fan who prefers video games to partying.

"I don't get in a lot of trouble," he said with a smile.

Williams' good nature might have something to do with his upbringing as the son of two of the Phoenix area's most prominent law enforcement professionals. His mom, Jeri, was the highest ranking African American woman in Arizona law enforcement before becoming both the first black and first female chief of police for Oxnard, California, in 2011. His father, Cody, is a justice of the peace in Phoenix, where he also served eight years on the city council.

Chief Williams said she and her husband always tried to instill a strong sense of right and wrong in their two sons, Alan and Cody, 20.

"He's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but both of our kids understood the dynamics of consequences," she said. "They were always given choices."

She said she's most impressed with Alan's desire to make himself better.

"He's never been afraid of hard work and he loves the sport," she said.

Judge Williams -- who played college basketball at the University of Oklahoma -- said Alan always knew that he had to get his schoolwork done before basketball.

"He couldn't play if he didn't get his work done," said the judge, decked out in a blue UCSB jersey with "Beast Warrior" written above Alan's No. 15 on back.

Although he was a collegiate athlete, the judge said he and his wife never pushed their sons into sports.

"We had high expectations for him in the classroom and to be a better person," he said. "We were blessed that he was athletically gifted as well."

The couple travel to as many games as possible, and said they've enjoyed their first trip to Alaska. They stopped at the UAA campus bookstore for souvenirs and did some sightseeing around Anchorage, where they hooked up for Thanksgiving dinner with some fellow Sooners through that school's extensive alumni network.

"The mountains are so majestic, it's amazing," chief Williams said.

During halftime of the Gauchos' opening round Shootout win over Washington State -- in which Alan had 12 points and 12 rebounds -- Jeri Williams said she loves the player her son has become -- a smooth big man who plays hard but always has time for a smile.

"He's in his element," she said.

Alan Williams thinks his team has a shot at reaching the NCAA Tournament, and that's where his focus will be for the next few months.

"We just want to improve and really get better and work on what we need to work on so we're really good in March," he said.

Despite being named Arizona Player of the Year as a high school senior, Williams wasn't highly recruited out of high school. He said college coaches thought he was too short to be an effective big man at the Division I level. He's been proving those coaches wrong since arriving at UCSB.

"I try to go out there and have as much fun as possible and try to prove people wrong," he said.

If the NBA doesn't come calling, Williams said he'd love to find a job where he can engage with people and talk sports.

"If I could talk about sports all day I'd be happy," he said.

Wherever life takes him -- the NCAA Tournament, the NBA, the broadcast booth or something else entirely -- Williams said he'll always bring with him the strong values instilled by his parents.

"Everything I've done I've known was a representation of them and my family name," he said.

Cody Williams said that's all he can ask of his talented son. Although he's proud of his son's basketball accomplishments, the elder Williams said he and his wife are most proud of the man Alan has become.

"We feel blessed that he's a kind person," he said.

Contact reporter Matt Tunseth at 257-4335 or mtunseth@alaskadispatch.com

Matt Tunseth

Matt Tunseth is a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News and former editor of the Alaska Star.

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