The recruiting pitch seems to contradict what a four- and five-star basketball prospect wants to hear.
Great weather, a winning program and a family atmosphere. Sure, that resonates.
Focus on defense, come off the bench, play with unselfishness. That doesn’t always resonate.
Florida State wins with depth and if you’ve watched the ACC this year it’s one area where many of the established coaches just don’t have it. Notre Dame, Syracuse and Miami typically use about eight players. FSU coaches willingly go 12 deep.
Patrick Williams was one of those five-star prospects and could have gone elsewhere. Just about anywhere he would have started from day 1. Not at Florida State, not under coach Leonard Hamilton.
Williams said Hamilton’s pitch of learning defense and making the most of minutes hit home with him as he was choosing a school. There was a development plan for Williams. Learn the defensive principles. Work hard. Come off the bench.
“I thank coach Ham for that a lot,” Williams said. “He could definitely have put pressure on me. So could everybody else, my teammates, put a lot of pressure on me to come in and score. They let me find my face. They kept feeding me confidence. They kept telling me, ‘Focus on defense first. Offense will find itself.’ ”
Offense has certainly been found. Williams has been at his best in FSU’s last five games, averaging 13.6 points and 5.6 rebounds. While his season high was an 18-point game in November against Western Carolina, Williams’ best two ACC games have been his last two as he scored 17 points on 7 of 14 shooting in the win over Syracuse and then 16 points on 7 of 12 shooting vs. Pittsburgh.
It’s of little coincidence that FSU is 4-1 in that stretch. Williams has been incredibly efficient, shooting 50 percent or more from the floor in the majority of his games. And his 87.5 percent free-throw percentage leads the team.
Williams has typically played between 17 and 26 minutes in an ACC game, coming off the bench in all 24 games. He did play a season-high 32 minutes against Syracuse, mostly out of necessity as Devin Vassell did not play by coach’s decision and M.J. Walker took an elbow to the mouth and missed large portions of the game.
FSU is ranked No. 8 in the nation and has all of the ingredients to make a deep run in March. Williams had been an important piece of the team all along, but his role has become more significant in the last five games.
“Patrick Williams is a big-time NBA prospect,” FSU assistant coach Charlton Young said. “Not a ball-dominant guy. You almost have to make him be aggressive, score. Because he wants to play the game the right way.”
Young saw that in Williams from the start. The phone calls came early, from friends in the coaching community in Charlotte, N.C. High school coaches could see the talent and the NBA potential. When Young was able to visit and watch the high school freshman he had made up his mind in just five minutes: Williams would be offered a scholarship.
“I could not believe the blue bloods weren’t in on him,” Young said. “I could not believe that Kentucky was not in on him.”
Young kept in contact frequently after that offer. As Williams got older, he didn’t listen to the hype about him being one of his state’s top players. He asked Young instead, “Coach, How can I get better?”
“He has a tremendous amount of humility,” Young said.
FSU had to hold off a number of schools. NC State, who FSU will play on Saturday, was one. Louisville and Ohio State were pursuing Williams, too. (Duke and North Carolina didn’t put as much of a priority on Williams a point that to his credit he has tried to downplay.)
But Williams is typical of the personality that FSU coaches are looking for. Young calls them high-character gym rats. They have the skill set, the height and length. But also the work ethic, desire to play defense at a high level and the unselfishness to share minutes and not be just a scorer.
And Williams shows that on the defensive end, with pressure, blocks and steals. On the offensive end, there is the athleticism, skying for rebounds and dunks.
“He’s a superior athlete,” Hamilton said. “He has the ability to go get rebounds in crowds. He has such fast-twich muscles that he can spring up in an instant and get a nice, uncontested shot. He made a big difference in getting his hand up and changing shots.”
Opposing coaches see it, too. They come into the interview room after losses at the Donald L. Tucker Center and are often asked about Williams. There is much more than coachspeak.
Pittsburgh’s Jeff Capel on Williams’ improvement in February: “He’s more poised. He understands college basketball better now. He understands what’s needed of him. He’s shooting the ball better, he’s handling the ball better. He’s a big-time prospect.”
Miami’s Jim Larranaga: “He’s a pro. Everything about him says he’s an NBA player. His height, his athletic ability, his shooting ability. … He stays in college, he’s going to be a tremendous college player. If he goes pro, I think he’s a first-round draft choice.”
Williams has a big decision to make. If you think he may be a one-and-done, mark FSU’s final two home games on your calendar: Monday against Louisville and March 7 vs. Boston College. But even if you can’t make it to see him in Tallahassee, or if his performance simply keeps you waiting to watch him again on TV, know that Williams and FSU still have more than a month of basketball to go.
FSU (22-4, 12-3) is poised to make a run in the ACC Tournament (March 10-14) and the NCAA Tournament because of its guards, depth and defense. And because of Williams, the humble kid whose basketball maturity and athleticism is on display each night.