By Mark F. Gray , Special to the AFRO, firstname.lastname@example.org
Howard University got a major lift for its basketball program next season by not losing its best remaining player, who was the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference first team shooting guard last season.
According to the HBCU Gameday website Charles “C.J.” Williams will return for his senior after putting his name into the NCAA’s transfer portal and declaring himself eligible for the NBA Draft. The decision follows the university’s decision to hire former Duke assistant coach Kenny Blakeney as their new coach.
Unless the Bison land a transcendent difference maker who can change the fortunes of the program immediately, this was the best possible news during this transitional offseason. Blakeney retains one of the best mid-major two guards in the nation, which helps to offset the loss of their MEAC Player of the Year R.J. Cole, who transferred to the University of Connecticut, and keeps them in contention for another run at the championship which ended in the tournament semifinals last month.
Williams averaged just under 18 points per game in his junior season and has been an All-MEAC selection in each of the past two seasons. He was named MEAC Freshman of the Year following the 2016-17 season.
Howard finished last season 17-17 and lost in the second round of the College Basketball Insiders Invitational Tournament in March. It was the first time Howard played in a national postseason tournament since 1992 when they won the MEAC championship.
Blakeney and his entire staff reportedly made it their top priority to keep Williams in the fold as soon as he was hired. They traveled as a team to his hometown Richmond to make a bid to convince to him return to Northwest, D.C., but according to HBCU Gameday the sales job didn’t wasn’t that difficult. Williams reportedly said that adding to his legacy at Howard was a big part of why he decided to return.
“I’ve made such an impact at Howard and I’ve stamped my name on their program. After that it kind of just made the decision to come back pretty easy,” Williams told HBCU Gameday. “And I love Howard. I love the atmosphere around campus. I love the program…everything. I didn’t want to leave.”
Williams had a number of major college programs that were supposedly interested in him as he weighed the options of his basketball future. Georgetown, Virginia Tech, UMass and Boston College were a few that reportedly expressed their interest in getting him to transfer according to the article. However, the prospect of being on the sidelines for a season after transferring to the next level wasn’t appealing to him.
“The whole thought process with that was I kinda didn’t want to transfer and then sit out for a year and then play when I only have one season left,” Williams reportedly told HBCU Gameday.
For Blakeney to recognize how important it was to retain Williams is good news for a Howard program that routinely hired coaches from major programs who believed that rebuilding the program meant they had to put their immediate thumbprint on their teams by disposing players who remained after the previous regime was dismissed.
However, Blakeney’s biggest statement was his understated approach to keeping their best player on the roster for his final college season. That Blakeney recognized the importance of bringing Williams back, and Williams understanding that returning for his season would be beneficial to both, was an unprecedented meeting of the minds that could have championship ramifications next season.
I’m gonna do my thing at Howard and I know [what we have] with the pieces that we’re bringing in, as far as freshmen, and the people that are coming back.”