Tournament Tales: Mo Williams

In their particular Tournament Tales, Chris Jent and Mo Williams have something in common: They both were hoops stars at schools where football will always be king.

Jent, of course, played alongside Jimmy Jackson on the Buckeyes team that reached the Elite Eight. Mo Williams took his Alabama team to the Tourney as a freshman in 2002, the Tide’s first appearance in the Big Dance since 1995.

In his first year in Tuscaloosa, Mo averaged 10.4 points and 4.5 assists and was named the SEC’s Freshman of the Year. He started all 35 games that season, and would go on to start all 62 in his college career.

Many local college hoops fans remember Mo’s first Tournament appearance, but not for any reason Williams might like.

That was the year an upstart Kent State team featuring Trevor Huffman and current Chargers tight end, Antonio Gates. Mo’s Tide came in as SEC Champs with a mark of 27-7. But the Golden Flashes limited Williams to just a dozen points after he blew up for 33 in the opening game against Florida Atlantic.

In Mo’s sophomore season, he had averaged 16.4 ppg, but ‘Bama took a dip in the standings. They still reached the NCAA’s at 17-12, but were dropped in the opening game by Mike Davis’ Hoosiers – 67-62. Despite the loss, Mo finished with 26 points, going 10-for-19 from the floor.

After that, Mo Williams made himself eligible for the NBA Draft and was subsequently selected 47th overall by the Utah Jazz. The rest, as they say, is history.

In today’s Tournament Tale, Mo talks about rolling with the Tide …

Previous Tournament Tales: Daniel Gibson | Jawad Williams | Chris Jent

With a ton of pressure on you as a high-profile freshman in the Tournament, what were your nerves like?

Mo Williams: Really, I’ve never been a guy to get nervous. Obviously, the bigger the game, the greater the anticipation. But nerves, no.

I’ve always been like that. No matter how big the game is – I’m either going to play great, play well or play poorly, but I try not to worry about it before the game. Sometimes you put added pressure on yourself and that’s something I try not to do. I don’t play well when I don't want to do something too bad. When I let the game come to me, that’s when I play my best.

Was a season in the SEC back then ‘baptism-by-fire’ – especially for a freshman?

Williams: The SEC, when I was in school those two years, was the number one conference in the country. Every team in the conference was good. Even teams towards the bottom could beat the number one team.

We won the SEC my freshman year and we lost to a couple teams that were at the lower end of the conference. It’s similar to what the Big East is like this year – real good teams but just so deep. They weren’t all great teams, but everyone in that conference had a good team.

That’s what made us so balanced and that’s what made us so tough. Every night you had to come out and play.

In your sophomore season, ‘Bama fell in the first round to Indiana. How tough was that?

Williams: We were up 11 at the half. So you go up 15 at the half, you feel like you’re in for the next round. That was the year we were ranked No. 1 during the season, but we lost a lot of games outside the conference and fell out of the rankings. And it was a disappointing season.

In the Tournament, we felt like it was our time to make it up. And that first half against Indiana was great. But we just kind of fell apart in the second half and it ended our season.

With that being said, your memories are always great. And I have nothing but the best memories from college.

Do you still keep in touch with some of the guys from that team?

Williams: Yeah, all the time. I keep in touch with all the guys overseas. Antoine Pettway is a coach at ‘Bama now. And all the rest of those guys are playing overseas.

Alabama is known as a football school. Does Alabama basketball have its own identity?

Williams: No. And that’s why I think we had the coaching change. We’ve got coach Anthony Grant now.

With our teams back then, we were getting there. We set a foundation. We were number one in the country and we were doing really well. And then the program went downhill. So I think the new coach with new aspirations can get us back to the top. I think he’ll do it.