Mike Williams can sandwich what was the biggest win in recent Rutgers basketball history with an individual milestone Friday night.
The senior guard stands 6 points shy of 1,000 career points and his next opportunity comes against his head coach’s former team Stony Brook. A week after his backcourt partner Corey Sanders reached that same millennium mark (the first slice of the sandwich) and six days after he grabbed the game-sealing rebound in the Scarlet Knights upset of in-state rival No. 15 Seton Hall (the meat), it’s Williams time to take the spotlight himself with the second slice of bread.
“First of all, Mike is an awesome person,” said Steve Pikiell of his captain. “He’s a good student, he’s a great representative of Rutgers basketball and Rutgers University. I love Mike, he comes in every day, he’s overachieving in a lot of areas and just proud of him. Anytime you can score 1,000 points in this league, it’s a heck of a statement about your career, about persistence, about getting better and the whole nine yards. Real proud of him and he’s in line here to graduate next semester right on time. So he’s done a great job in all areas here and certainly next year at this time, we’ll be talking about how much we miss him.”
The last of Williams’ four rebounds against the Pirates may very well be the most significant moment of his career on the Banks, a symbolic measure of how he quietly makes big contributions to the program.
The Brooklyn, New York, native was rarely, if ever, the focal point of the Scarlet Knights offense, but he does all the little things that makes the team tick with his hustle and heart. His acceptance of his role as the team’s sixth man provides Pikiell with an instant spark whenever Rutgers needs it and it’s a credit to Williams’ selflessness.
He stayed on board with the Scarlet Knights when Eddie Jordan, the head coach who he signed on to play for, was fired following Williams’ senior season and helped Pikiell build a foundation for the program.
“Mike’s very important,” Pikiell said. “He comes off the bench and he gives us a lift. He’s instant energy. He’s really good rebounding the ball and he gives us some leadership. He’s been through a lot, he’s been through four Seton Hall games, he knows what that rivalry is about, he knows how tough those teams can be. He’s a good team guy, a good chemistry guy, he’s a good leader because he’s been through the wars. You said he’s one of the only four time Big Ten players to play here so he brings a lot to us. He’s accepting of his role coming off the bench and he’s ready when I call on him. That’s a real luxury for a coach.”
Williams’ leadership is a main reason why Pikiell named Williams a team captain midway through last season and why he retained that tag for his final collegiate season.
Wherever Williams goes, his teammates follow. Look no further than freshman guard Geo Baker for proof.
“He’s been a real leader for me,” Baker said of Williams. “(He’s) showing me the ropes, showing me how college basketball works, especially during big games. He’s always telling me just to stay relaxed and play my game and I really appreciate it a lot.”
Throughout his career, Williams cited a desire to turn Rutgers around as a program as a big reason he elected to play his college basketball in Piscataway. His desire was always to take the Scarlet Knights to the NCAA Tournament, a goal he maintains in his final go-around. With Big Ten play approaching, there remains much work to achieve his ultimate goal. But with six points to go to 1,000, he can get the next best thing this Friday.
“(1,000 career points) would be a great accomplishment, but my real accomplishment is to make the (NCAA) Tournament,” Williams said following a win over Fordham. “That would make it a great career for me — get a 1,000 points and get to the tournament.”