For C.J. Williams, The Long Wait Was Worth It
RALEIGH, NC — As NC State gathered to watch the NCAA selection show on Sunday night, senior guard C.J. Williams sat in a chair by himself. He had his specially-made NC State hat pulled over his face as he hunched over, head in his hands.
As bubble team after bubble team filled out the brackets, Williams waited eagerly to hear the only words that mattered. Iona, a team with a more questionable profile than the Wolfpack, got in. Texas. BYU. Colorado State.
Then, as Bryant Gumbel unveiled the final part of the bracket – teams 65, 66, and 67, and still no NC State – Williams prayed.
“I was saying, ‘Lord, please just give us the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament. Please give us a chance to have our name out there and play in the best show in the world,'” Williams said.
Williams has been huge for the Wolfpack (22-12, 9-7), starting every game and averaging 10.6 points in 31.0 minutes. His leadership, defense and basketball savvy have been just as valuable as his scoring. He’s struggled with his shot in the last few games, but he’s still the one called upon to defend the opponent’s best guard.
In that moment, his team was achingly close to making the NCAA tournament, and he was a big reason why. But his previous three years under former head coach Sidney Lowe were much different.
Williams saw inconsistent playing time, and State had just one postseason berth (the NIT in 2010, where State lost in the second round) and a 51-46 overall record (16-32 in the ACC). Williams had won just two ACC Tournament games in his career before notching two – and very nearly three – this year.
As he sat and waited, Williams thought about those previous three years. But he was haunted by all the missed opportunities this year. Could have beaten Virginia at home. Could have beaten Duke at Duke. Could have beaten Clemson at Clemson. Could have beaten North Carolina in the ACC Tournament.
Would those narrow losses, where just one play could have made the difference, be what kept him from his last chance at the NCAA tournament?
“I was a little nervous,” Williams said with a grin. “I should have known. Life is full of drama and that was big-time drama.”
All but one team had been announced, and it was the 11-seed in the Midwest region. It was NC State’s last chance; Williams’ last chance.
“And the fifth team out of the ACC…”
Before Gumbel could even say “the Wolfpack of NC State”, Williams had exploded out of his chair, arms outstretched.
“I just cried because I couldn’t really put into words what I was feeling. It was so many different emotions,” Williams said. “That moment right there had to be probably the worst moment of my life, just not knowing exactly what was going to happen, who was that last team that was announced? But I’m glad it was us.”
While it seemed unnecessarily cruel to leave NC State waiting so long, to Williams it was appropriate. It summed up their season.
“A lot of people weren’t talking about us in the beginning and now people are talking about us towards the end of the year, so it kind of just fit in with the script that we’ve been taking this year,” he said.
And so Williams is going to his first-ever NCAA tournament as a senior. When asked what he was looking forward to the most, he took a long pause as he let the images of March Madness dance in his head.
“Hmm,” Williams said. “I’m just ready to play, really. I’m just ready to play and see my name, see NC State go through the bracket as much as possible.
“I just want to see that, just knowing I can look at a bracket and see NC State right there and I’m a part of that is fantastic.”