Nov. 25, 1997
Left Coast is the Right Coast for this Trojan
Gary Williams, the starting power forward for the USC men's basketball team, doesn't mind being all the way across the country from his hometown of Bay Shore, N.Y. -- it's a trek he's made many times.
"When my mother and father separated (Williams was in the second grade), she came out here and I came out to live with her for a year," the 6-foot-7, 235-pound senior said. "Then I went back to New York for a year, then back here for a year, then back there.
"I never really got close to anyone. I ended up being an independent person and that's basically how I am now."
Independent, perhaps, but his early years also helped shape his fierce work ethic and a desire to help others.
This week, he plans to start working with youngsters from the nearby Foshay Learning Center. He's also a team leader who is eager to prepare the Trojan newcomers to play at the Division I level and under head coach Henry Bibby's system.
"I'd like to go down (to Foshay) and talk to the kids," Williams said. "I had a pretty rough road growing up, and I'm pretty sure these kids are going through similar things, if not worse, to what I went through. Maybe I can help them. I'm willing to try."
Most recently, that road took him from Bay Shore High to the University of Richmond (Va.), then to Riverside (Calif.) Community College and finally to USC.
"I've been so many places," he said. "But I wouldn't change it because every last place has helped me.
"Out of high school, I could have gone anywhere I wanted to. I went to Richmond thinking I could play right away, but that didn't happen. I got real frustrated and developed an attitude. That was immaturity on my part, and it put me further on the bench.
"I went home for a couple of months and almost stopped playing basketball. But I got a call from my AAU coach who was looking at some places for me to transfer, and I went to Riverside because three players from my AAU team in Long Island were there. I had a good year there.
"A lot of schools contacted me, so it was important to make the best decision I could so I would be comfortable with my last two years. USC was the best decision. I really believe that."
As a 1996-97 junior, Williams started 21 games for the Trojans, averaging 7.9 points and 4.0 rebounds and earning Pac-10 All-Newcomer honorable mention honors. He shot 76 percent from the foul line (third best on the team) and had a season-high 16 points twice, against UCLA and Arizona State.
He's expecting more of himself as a senior, but even more, he's planning on being a good role model for his teammates.
"I'd like a little bit bigger role than I had last year because I'm a senior now," Williams said. "I want to do better than I did last year. I want to rebound a lot better and play a lot smarter. I'd like to be more of a threat so that opponents will have to focus on me, and that'll open up things for our other players.
"I want to be a leader. I want people to follow my example. I want them to see that I'm going to come in and work hard every day and maybe that'll give them the motivation to work hard also. It'll be like a virus and everyone will catch it."
Bibby agrees that Williams must provide leadership to USC's young players.
"Last year we depended on our seniors because we had so many new players, and we need to do that again," Bibby said. "Our seniors, including Gary Williams, must play well every game. Gary is a leader on our team and he plays with a lot of emotion."
There's a reason, Williams explains, why he works so hard.
"My work ethic is something new, it really only started last year," he said. "I just don't want to fold under pressure. As far as basketball, I'm not as talented as a lot of other players so I have to work harder. I can't just go out there like I did in high school or junior college and cruise. I have to work harder than everyone else. It's the same with academics."
His teammates could certainly learn a lesson from his academic example. He's pushed himself so that he'll graduate on time in May with a bachelor's degree in history. In his first semester at USC, he had a 3.4 grade-point average.
"In previous years in school I never really had to put the work in," Williams said. "Circumstances dictated how hard I worked. But I wanted to prove to everyone that I could do this. I didn't want to be an athlete who was just here to play basketball and wasn't smart enough to be at this school. I know I can do anything that anyone gives to me."
He also wants to prove himself on the court in 1997-98, because he has plans for the future that depend on it.
"I'd like to play well enough this season so that I can go overseas next year and play there," Williams said. "Basically, my life starts over if I can do that because there are some business ventures that I want to get into with the money that I could make over there. I need to have a good season so someone will see me."
The main business deal involves returning to Bay Shore someday and opening up his own barber shop. Williams plans on taking some business courses before he leaves USC to help him with this. But it won't be just any barber shop.
"Everyone in Bay Shore knows that I cut hair, and everyone knows me because of basketball, so people are going to come," Williams said. "I have ideas that will make my place unique."
For now, though, he's keeping his innovations quiet.
"I can't give away my ideas now, but one thing I don't mind saying is that I'll be giving back to the community," Williams said. "A lot of kids there don't have anything and that's why they get in trouble. I want to sponsor events, picnics, all-star basketball games, anything that will give back to the community. This won't just be a barber shop. The people of Bay Shore will get something for their haircut."
That's because Williams believes in giving -- whether it's an all-out effort on the court, advice to others or to his hometown.By Roger Horne, Assistant Sports Information Director