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High School Sports

Anchorage dunking phenomenon took a long, hard road to big-time college basketball

  • Author: Stephan Wiebe
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published November 7, 2017

It was an average school day at Anchorage's West High, but what 16-year-old Kwintin Williams was about to show his classmates was anything but ordinary.

With his backpack still on his back, the sweatshirt-wearing sophomore grabbed a basketball, dribbled down the court and took flight for a 360-degree slam dunk complete with a hard two-hand finish.

The gymnasium went wild.

"Everybody at West was just trippin'," said Williams, now 23 and a forward in his first season with the University of Connecticut men's basketball team. "It's a way of expressing myself. Some people like to write, some people like to sing, I like to dunk."

Williams, 6-foot-7 with an eye-popping 44.5-inch vertical jump, became a star on social media by posting insane dunks similar to the one he showcased for his classmates back at the West High gym in 2011. His Instagram feed features videos with hundreds of thousands of views, and his dunks have been shared by celebrities like pop star Chris Brown and NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal.

Now Williams has a chance to expand his audience as a sophomore for a UConn Huskies program that has won four NCAA Division I national titles since 1999.

But Williams' journey to basketball stardom and a Division I scholarship was long, grueling and hampered by a troubled childhood that stopped him from completing high school. His mother, Bobbi, struggled with health issues and Kwintin struggled with grades.

He never played a minute of high school ball in Anchorage.

"I've prayed on this every day since I was 8 years old that I wanted to be at a high major (college)," Williams said. "There were points in time where it didn't look good."

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A post shared by Kwintin Williams (@jumpmanebig) on

When Kwintin was 14, Bobbi Williams slipped a disc at work and needed neck surgery. The injury left her bedridden and unable to move without severe pain.

Kwintin took care of her while she healed. He picked her up and helped her to the bathroom, walked to Carrs to buy groceries, cleaned the house and dropped off bills.

"He was the man of the house," said Bobbi, a single mom. "We're really close."

Bobbi Williams and her son Kwintin Williams. Kwintin, now 23, is in his first year on the University of Connecticut basketball team. (Photo courtesy Bobbi Williams)

Not wanting to hinder her son's education and basketball dreams, Bobbi sent Kwintin to live with his father in Oklahoma City, where he spent parts of his freshman and sophomore years.

Williams played his only season of high school basketball in 2012 in Oklahoma as a sophomore, and he did it under the bright lights of an MTV2 show called "Nothing But Net," which happened to be showcasing his Douglass High team that season. Cameras followed the players to class, and Oklahoma City Thunder all-star Kevin Durant mentored them in practice.

Williams was treated like a star, and the attention went to his head, he said.

"I just remember that everybody treated me a certain way and everybody kind of looked up to me in a positive way," he said. "It was kind of hard to stay humble. (I) figured everything was going to be handed to me from there on out."

Instead, the opposite was true.

Williams moved back to Anchorage after the school year and fell into basketball irrelevance. Money was always tight and he struggled to focus on school. He began to fall in with a bad crowd.

It wasn't until another teenager pointed a gun at his face that Williams realized he needed to make changes.

"Being around that bad crowd, there were times where my life was threatened or my life could've been taken from me because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said. "Life is so short and I just realized I'd rather spend my time helping people … especially my mother."

Even though he couldn't play for West because of absences and poor grades, basketball remained a bright spot in Williams' life. Bobbi worked at The Alaska Club West, where every day Kwintin spent hours working on his jumpers and dunks, sometimes late into the night.

Bobbi Williams in the gym at the Alaska Club West in Anchorage, where Bobbi worked and Kwintin played a lot of ball. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)

He aspired to be better than the older players he sometimes played with, like West's Devon Bookert, who went on to play at Florida State.

"This kid lived at the basketball court," Bobbi Williams said about her son. "It was good because I knew where he was at, who he was hanging out with, and it was a positive environment for him."

Williams transferred to South for his senior year in the fall of 2013 with the hope of playing one year of basketball, but things only got worse when he was denied an eligibility waiver to play for the Wolverines and his mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. Williams had to take a part-time job doing nighttime janitorial work to help pay the bills.

Then, when it looked like his basketball career might be over for good, he got a break. South High coach Rob Galosich helped him connect with a prep academy in Arizona called Planet Athlete, which offered 19-year-old Williams a full-ride scholarship.

"That was a blessing because when we were at our lowest, when Kwintin was spending a lot of time with me in the hospital, the (Planet Athlete) coach called and it was just a blessing that he was able to continue his journey with basketball," said Bobbi, who added that she is now cancer-free.

In one of his first games at Planet Athlete, Williams scored 48 points. It was his first season of organized basketball in two years, and college coaches started to take notice.

After two seasons at Planet Athlete, Williams got his GED at 20 and his next step was junior college. He chose Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona, where he averaged 18 points and eight rebounds in 22 games for the Aztecs during the 2015-16 season.

But the hardships weren't over. Back home, a fire burned down his mother's fourplex.

"I was struggling with a math grade and I'm still trying to pick up four-year scholarships, and my mom calls me in the morning and tells me the house burned down, and that nobody was injured," Williams said.

"All my childhood memories and stuff are gone, but I'm just glad she's all right. I didn't care about nothing else."

Despite losing everything in the fire, Bobbi continued to help pay for Kwintin's housing and food when she could. At times, Williams had to take cold showers and study in the dark due to unpaid bills, but his relationship with his mother remained strong through the emotional and financial stress.

"She's believed in me and put all her effort, all her money, into my dream," Williams said. "I'm just very grateful to have a mother that will give her last dollar to see me play basketball with whatever it takes."

Williams took a break from basketball during his second year of community college in 2015-16 — which he split between Pima and Western Arizona — to focus on his grades in hopes of receiving a Division I offer.

"I took regular classes, summer classes, winter classes — I even paid for a class at another school to get qualified," he said. "It made me realize that I really love this game and I would do anything to get on the floor."

When Division I coaches realized Williams was eligible to play, the offers started rolling in. He originally considered the University of Oregon but settled on the UConn Huskies, the 2014 national champions, because of the connection he felt with the coaching staff. He has three years of eligibility remaining.

UConn basketball player Kwintin Williams, 2017. (UConn Athletics)

UConn assistant coach Raphael Chillious said Williams has untapped potential, simply because he hasn't played as much organized basketball as most college players his age.

He said Williams' strengths are in his rebounding, his determination and his athleticism. His ball-handling and shooting skills are still catching up.

"His athleticism and his motor makes it so that … he can make a play or two that no one else can make," Chillious said. "He'll do the gritty, grindy stuff, he'll rebound, he'll run, he'll dive for loose balls.

"That's right now sort of his calling card."

Williams says it wasn't until he arrived at the Storrs, Connecticut, campus this fall that he found stability for the first time in his life. His scholarship pays for food, housing and an education, and his mom is happy and healthy.

"Going through those (hardships) made me appreciate being here so much more," Williams said. "I'm so grateful to play at this level and to have this opportunity. I'm just happy to be here."

He said he receives messages daily from kids who watch his dunking videos online and ask about how he got his vertical or how he got to where he is now. He tries to reply because it reminds him of when he was a kid trying to dunk for the first time.

A young Kwintin Williams. (Photo courtesy Bobbi Williams)

Williams completed his first dunk when he was just a seventh-grader at Romig Middle School. He'd go to the gym every day at lunch and practice his jumps over and over until one day he finally dunked in a gym class.

"Everybody kind of got hyped and everybody was kind of shocked because there were guys at West who couldn't even dunk at that time, right across the hall," Williams said. "I was shocked myself.

"I didn't know back when I got my first dunk that I'd be able to one day inspire kids across America or in Alaska. I never thought I'd be a person that could influence other people.

"Anything is possible. It's never too late."

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