UW Men's Basketball
Transfer Jamaal Williams faces old school, New Mexico
Jamaal Williams left the University of New Mexico almost three years ago, but he still can't escape it. "Every time I turn the corner, there's...
Seattle Times staff reporter
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Jamaal Williams left the University of New Mexico almost three years ago, but he still can't escape it.
"Every time I turn the corner, there's something being brought up about them," said Williams, a senior forward for the Washington Huskies.
Williams played two years at New Mexico before transferring to UW at the end of the 2002-03 season. He didn't figure he would have to cross paths with the Lobos again.
But UW's road keeps unexpectedly leading in that direction.
When the Huskies advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament last March, they were sent to Albuquerque, returning Williams to his old stomping grounds and making his New Mexico history an obvious story line.
At noon Saturday, Williams faces his past even more directly when the Huskies play New Mexico in the Wooden Classic at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, Calif. When the Huskies agreed to participate, they had no idea New Mexico would be the opponent.
"I think whoever picked this game had a little background on everything," Williams said.
Actually, it was more circumstance and finding teams that had open dates and were willing to play.
And Williams admits facing his former team will make the game more meaningful.
A native of Corona, Calif., Williams wasn't recruited much by Pac-10 schools. Most were scared off by the fact that he's a low-post player generously listed at 6 feet 6 — and headed to New Mexico, drawn by the coaching of Fran Fraschilla.
But Fraschilla was fired after Williams' freshman season. And with New Mexico's program in turmoil, Williams thought about leaving then and transferring to UW, where Lorenzo Romar was coach. He had gotten to know Romar in high school.
Williams has said previously that he and other players were upset they hadn't had more of a say in selecting the new coach.
But Romar counseled Williams to stay at New Mexico and give new Lobos coach Ritchie McKay a shot. Romar and McKay are longtime friends.
But Williams said he never fit in to McKay's system, which he said favors guards. "It's setting screens and shooting threes," Williams said. "That's not for me."
He also said he didn't hit it off with McKay, a former UW assistant. "I definitely got the picture I was no longer needed there," he said.
The two haven't talked since Williams left other than a hug that Williams called "awkward" during an open practice at the NCAA tournament in Albuquerque.
"I have nothing but respect for him and I'm glad it's worked out for him," McKay said Tuesday, adding and that he thinks Williams — who averaged 11.3 points as a sophomore at UNM — was motivated to transfer in part by a desire to play for a Pac-10 school.
"He was going to leave [before McKay got there] so he was looking for something different," McKay said. "We both kind of knew it was going to happen at the end of his sophomore year. When he was playing for us, that was our first year and we were rebuilding and we had to get some things in our system established ... There wasn't a whole lot of teamwork or unselfishness in our program at that time. Jamaal probably didn't benefit from that, the way he played."
Williams, who scored 22 points against Gonzaga and is averaging 13.9 this season, almost immediately transferred to UW and says he's a much better player now, one with higher goals.
"I don't know if they would have pushed me to the same level that coach Romar and his staff have," Williams said. "They probably would have just let me be complacent with just being good and just having a good college career.
"I left a school that was content with just trying to make the NCAA tournament to now playing for a school that has goals of winning a conference championship and making the NCAA tournament and winning games in the tournament. It's a different situation."
Williams won't see a whole lot of familiar faces Saturday. The uniforms have changed and just three players remain from his last year — starting guard Mark Walters, starting forward David Chiotti and backup guard Jeff Hart.
Asked if he has anything to prove to McKay or New Mexico, Williams shook his head.
"My proof is in the success I've had at this school," he said.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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