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Don Owen: Now a footnote in Norse hoops history, talented Williams seeks ‘right fit’ at next school

Have you ever accidentally deleted a file from your computer? You know, that simple text document that you assumed would be easily found in its folder when needed.

Suddenly it’s lost in the trash, permanently deleted and emptied into a cyberspace landfill. No retrieval program available to restore the file, either.

It’s not the computer’s fault, but you still feel like unleashing a chorus of nasty words at the machine. Aggravation and anger converge at the keyboard, with no middle ground to separate them.

Carson Williams throws down a dunk against Wright State this past season at BB&T Arena. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

It happened to me about three months ago, just after I starting drafting a column idea about a basketball player at Northern Kentucky University. A standout for the Norse whose style of play reminded me somewhat of former Auburn star Charles Barkley, albeit at the mid-major level.

While doing some organizational housekeeping on my computer’s desktop, trashing a number of older documents, I unintentionally and idiotically deleted the text file. Several days later, as I prepared to resume writing the column, I noticed the file was missing. I then recalled deleting a number of documents and realized I had accidentally trashed it.

It turned out to be the best mistake I’ve ever made. It was also very symbolic in many respects.

The player I was going to feature was NKU sophomore Carson Williams.

Yes, the same Carson Williams who recently decided to transfer from NKU to a yet-to-be-determined school to continue his academic and basketball career. The same Carson Williams who amazed NKU fans with his forceful, rim-rattling dunks for two years. Not to mention his aggressive, bouncy inside moves against taller opponents. The same Carson Williams who scored 21 points against the University of Kentucky only a year earlier during the NCAA Tournament.

That Carson Williams, however, was not the same player by the time his sophomore season ended. Or, some will argue, he wasn’t being utilized in the same fashion that had made him so effective as a freshman and the first two months of this past season. His minutes had decreased. His shot attempts dwindled. He’d lost his starting position. He no longer appeared to be having fun on the basketball court. Something had changed, but what?

“I don’t know what changed,” Williams said this week when asked about the difference from early in the season to the end as far as his shot attempts, minutes played, etc. “That’s a good question.”

By this point, I felt grateful that text file on my computer had been trashed and deleted back in January. My ill-fated column idea also disappeared into cyberspace at almost the same moment Williams’ playing time and statistics started diminishing. By the end of the season, I even thought that I’d perhaps jinxed Williams by even contemplating a humorous, lighthearted article equating him to a mid-major Barkley.

Auburn’s Charles Barkley

So, why a Carson Williams/Charles Barkley comparison in the first place, you ask? One played in the Southeastern Conference, the other in the Horizon League. The SEC is a powerhouse group that routinely sends multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament, and the Horizon is a one-bid league. One is in the NBA Hall of Fame, the other will likely never play professionally unless it’s overseas.

But let’s examine the similarities. Both Williams and Barkley stand in the 6-foot-5 range, though each is generously listed at 6-6 in their respective college media guides. Two undersized post players height-wise, but able to excel against taller opponents — though admittedly at completely different levels of Division I basketball. Powerful dunkers, effective at running the floor or posting up. Entertaining performers who shoot high percentages from the floor.

I was also going to point out that unlike Barkley, who bolted from Auburn after his junior year for the NBA, Williams would be a four-year star at NKU.

Thank goodness I unwittingly deleted that text file.

The comparison was initially motivated by the way Williams totally dominated Eastern Kentucky in December during a 91-63 NKU victory at BB&T Arena. He scored 23 points on 9-for-10 shooting from the field and displayed an uncanny explosiveness against taller EKU players that evening. He also collected five steals, added three assists and was the best player on the floor that particular night. I even jotted down a note that Williams is “Barkley-esque” with his strength, leaping ability and ability to get up and down the court. This just a few days after Williams had poured in 22 points on 10-for-13 shooting from the field against a very good East Tennessee State team and 7-footer Peter Jurkin.

On Dec. 17, Williams netted 21 points against Maryland-Baltimore County — yes, the same UMBC team that later made history in March during the NCAA Tournament by becoming the first No. 16 seed to knock off a 1 seed — and was looking like an All-Horizon League performer. Then, during an 87-83 win at Oakland on Jan. 5, Williams scored 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Norse.

This is when I began drafting the column with a lighthearted angle that suggested Williams was the Horizon League’s modern-day answer to Barkley, only more physically fit as a collegian. Williams was outstanding in that victory at Oakland. He was so dominant, in fact, Oakland dedicated its entire game plan around containing Williams in the rematch at Highland Heights three weeks later.

Just ask Oakland head coach Greg Kampe.

“We made a real adjustment on how we guarded Carson Williams,” Kampe said after his Golden Grizzlies posted an 83-70 victory over NKU at BB&T Arena on Jan. 26. “He killed us the first game, but we changed up some things tonight and defended him differently, and the players did a great job on him tonight.”

Oakland limited Williams to just four points and three rebounds in that game. Either give Kampe an A+ for an outstanding coaching adjustment, or take a closer look at what had changed from three weeks earlier.

Williams attempted just two shots the entire game against Oakland in the Jan. 26 rematch. Yes, two shots. What’s more amazing is the fact Williams did not take a shot the entire first half. None. Zero. Zilch. And he played 11 minutes without committing a foul during that opening half.

Did his teammates do a bad job of delivering the ball inside? Did Williams not work diligently enough to get into position? Or, as Kampe suggested, was Oakland’s defense that good?

We may never know.

Carson Williams scores the final basket of his NKU career, a layup that was goaltended off the glass by Louisville 7-footer Anas Mahmoud. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

What we can clearly see is the fact in the 11 games that followed, Williams’ numbers and minutes plummeted. He scored in double figures five times during that span and averaged 24 minutes on the floor in the final seven games. During the NIT matchup against Louisville, Williams saw action in only 16 minutes and finished 2-for-4 from the field. His final basket at NKU came early in the second half, a layup that was goaltended off the glass by Louisville 7-footer Anas Mahmoud. Williams also did not commit a personal foul and had no steals, blocks, assists nor free-throw attempts in that season-ending loss.

Just like the text file that contained the draft I had started to write in January, the Carson Williams from November, December and the first week of 2018 had basically disappeared by season’s end.

But unlike the lost file from my computer desktop, Williams still has a chance to find the player who entertained NKU fans for two years, and possibly better that performance. He still has the opportunity to write — symbolically, of course — a triumphant conclusion to his own hoops story on the court.

It’ll just be with another basketball program.

Williams indicated he has “no idea at this point” where his next stop will be. “Most everyone has been supportive of my decision,” he said. “My teammates have been like a family to me and want what’s best for me. I couldn’t have asked for better guys to be around the past two years, and I’m thankful for how they’ve treated me in this process.”

The reaction to Williams leaving NKU was swift and loud from social media. Most were shocked, many were angry, and virtually all were confused. NKU fans were looking forward to having a pair of former Kentucky Mr. Basketball honorees on the same roster next season, with Williams (2016 Mr. Basketball) and incoming recruit Trevon Faulkner (2018 Mr. Basketball) giving the Norse that rare double-double from the Commonwealth. They will have to settle for one.

Williams chose to take the high road when pressed for reasons behind the impending transfer. And he constantly praised his teammates for helping him achieve so much in just two years at NKU.

“I can attribute a lot of the successes and accomplishments I had to playing alongside some great teammates,” he said, sounding much better than most press releases. “[They] pushed me to compete and get better every day.”

NKU’s Carson Williams

Just 13 days after Williams was granted his release to transfer to another school, fellow sophomore Mason Faulkner announced he would also leave NKU. They arrived in Highland Heights in 2016 as part of a heralded recruiting class, described by one publication as one of the nation’s best among mid-major programs. Williams and Faulkner combined to score more than 6,000 career points in high school, eye-popping numbers that helped NKU generate a ton of positive publicity after signing the talented in-state duo.

But as they departed, NKU offered no comment. That, by the way, is standard operating procedure for most schools when a player leaves the program. Loudly trumpet a recruit’s arrival, but remain silent when they unexpectedly decide they need a change of scenery. Welcome to modern-day college athletics, featuring a never-ending conga line of transfers.

For the record, Williams averaged 12.0 points and shot a team-leading 60.8 percent from the field as NKU won the Horizon League regular-season championship in 2017-18. He finished his two years at NKU with 764 career points (11.4 ppg) and converted 60.5 percent of his attempts from the field. The Owenton native will also go down as the answer to a trivia question in Norse history: Name NKU’s first-ever Kentucky Mr. Basketball.

But many other questions will remain unanswered about Williams’ departure — and where he will next play.

“I’m just hoping to find somewhere to start fresh and find the right fit for me,” he said, offering no additional details on his next destination.

An honor student at NKU and a member of the Horizon League’s All-Academic Team, Williams will no doubt find the right fit. And his search for a new school will certainly be an easier task than locating my deleted column idea from three months ago, I can assure you.

Contact Don Owen at don@nkytrib.com and follow him on Twitter at @dontribunesport

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