Playing It Smooth
Jan. 26, 2000
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – By now, most Cavalier insiders know Virginia guard/forward Chris Williams often goes by the nickname “Big Smooth.” He earned the name from his teammates for his quiet, almost reserved demeanor, which defines his style of play. Far from a flashy, high-flying, or even powerful type of player, it is Williams’ ability to go almost unnoticed at times that has attracted so much attention. He makes playing the game of basketball look easy, and what he does on the court often appears almost effortless. Rarely part of the big show-stopping plays that bring the crowd to its feet, Williams quietly plugs along, using conventional methods and consistent play to help his team win. Following a game, it is not uncommon to see his teammates shake their heads and smile as they read the box score, noticing he once again quietly racked-up more points, rebounds, and blocks than they had initially guessed. “His name speaks for itself: ‘Smooth’. You never know what can happen, because he is such an explosive scorer,” said Virginia point guard Donald Hand. “For example, against Duke, I did not really think he had that many points, but at the end of the night, he ended up with 27 points and eight boards.”
Yet, before Chris Williams was “Big Smooth,” he was simply Chris Williams. He came to Virginia last season as an unheralded recruit from Birmingham, Alabama, and his arrival caused little fanfare. He quickly became lost in the mix as most Cavalier fans focused their attention towards the arrival of then first-year head coach Pete Gillen and his staff. It would not take long for Williams’ to make his presence known, however, as his play on the court quickly began to speak for itself.
In the Cavaliers’ season opener last year, he became only the second freshman in school history to record a “double double” in his debut, dropping in 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. That first game against VCU marked the beginning of an unbelievable season for Williams as he became one of the most decorated freshman basketball players ever to play at Virginia. His remarkable efforts earned him ACC Rookie of the Year, All-ACC Freshman Team, and All-ACC third team honors. In addition, he finished the year ranked second on the team in scoring (16.8), and his 34-point effort against Liberty set a UVa freshman record for scoring in a single game. His 7.5 rebounds per game ranked fifth in the ACC last year, and his six “double doubles” tied for sixth in the league and were tops by a rookie. By season’s end, he was a top-rated player in one of the nation’s most respected basketball conferences, and it was obvious “Big Smooth” had made a name for himself.
Williams returned in 1999-2000 looking to pick up right where he left off the previous season, yet a combination of several different factors caused “Big Smooth” to get off to a rough start. A severe ankle sprain just prior to the start of the season hampered Williams throughout most of the Cavaliers’ first 12 non-conference games. In addition, he often found himself playing at the three position due to the return of 6-9 forward/center Colin Ducharme and the addition of 6-7 freshman forward Travis Watson. In Virginia’s first seven games, he only once tied as UVa’s leading scorer. He posted a sub-par six-point performance against VMI and a nine-point outing against Providence.
Yet, as his ankle began to heal and he once again returned to his role as guard/forward, the “Big Smooth” of old emerged. In a seven game stretch beginning at St. John’s, Williams led the team in scoring on five occasions. During that time, he averaged 18.4 points per game and shot 65.8 percent from the floor. In back-to-back home games against Belmont and Dartmouth, the 6-7 sophomore put up a total of 44 points, earning him ACC Player of the Week honors. In Virginia’s ACC opener against Duke, he led all scorers with 27 points and chipped in 14 points against Georgia Tech to help the Cavaliers notch their first conference victory. “Early on in the year, I was moved up to be a guard and nothing was flowing right,” said Williams. “[The coaches and I] decided we would go back to basics like last year. I like going down inside as well as outside. Whichever is working best [inside or outside], that is where I go. Now that I am scoring, I feel more comfortable out there.”
Through Virginia’s first 14 games, he averaged a team-high 15.3 points per game. Yet, beyond his nonchalant way of scoring and uncanny ability to make it all look so simple, Williams displays a deep-rooted desire to win. As evidence, he also leads the team in steals (23 through the first 14 games) and ranks second in rebounding (5.5 rpg through 14 games). His often emotionless demeanor on the court does not reflect his relentless drive for success. A total team player, Williams enters each game prepared to do whatever he can to help Virginia prove victorious. “Even when he does not have a great night, he will do the other things for the team like dive for loose balls or block a shot here and there,” said Hand. “I am sure he would always rather score only [a few points] and win, and that is what kind of player you need on your team.
In order for this young, talented Cavalier squad to meet ever-rising expectations, Williams knows he must step forward as a leader on this team. Due to his reserved, soft-spoken nature, he often leads by setting an example for others to follow. He hopes other players will recognize the hard work and all-out effort he puts into each game and use that as a measuring stick to gauge their own performance. Like all great players, Williams answered the call when his team needed it most. Entering the crucial ACC portion of the schedule, he raised his game to a new level in order to match the increased competition. No matter the situation, Williams seems always to take the necessary measures to help guide the Cavaliers down a course to success. “Maybe off the floor it is a little bit harder, but on the floor I feel like I am the leader and that everyone is going to feed off of me,” said Williams. “So, I try to go out and give 100 percent each game. Whatever type of leader I need to be to help the team, I will do what it takes.”
Williams’ slender 205 pound frame shoulders a large portion of the responsibility on this year’s squad. Though only a sophomore, the Alabama native serves as one of the team’s key leaders and must continue to play beyond his years. His own personal play often greatly affects the overall team’s performance, and like all standout players, he almost always rises to the occasion. Through it all, Williams remains as calm and collect as humanly possible, only further proving he is truly worthy of the nickname “Big Smooth.” “We have been saying it from the start that when he plays well, the team plays well,” said Donald Hand. “Against Duke, he went out there and played with a lot of confidence and did what he does best. He was a slasher, attacked the boards, got put-backs, and brought his game both inside and out. He just has to keep it up.”