Coming into the new season and adding only two new players to the team, UAB Basketball Head Coach Jerod Haase knew that most of his production was going to come from guys that were on the team a year ago.
With conference play underway, a new face has quickly emerged as a key factor for the Blazers. Dirk Williams, from Homewood, Ala., attended Tallahassee Community College before making his return to the 205. Since joining the Blazers, Dirk has fit in nicely and been a key contributor for the team so far. When asked what it meant to him to finally be playing Division 1 Basketball he said, “It feels pretty good, I have been through a lot, and didn’t think that I would make it, it’s just a blessing.” At 6-foot-5, the junior guard prides himself with his jump shot, but also plays tremendous defense not only on the perimeter, but down low as well.
A guy who has a ton of energy, runs the floor very well, and is a very dynamic player, Williams has won over his coaches and teammates trust. “I fit right in, I felt like I was a missing piece that we needed, all my teammates made me feel very welcomed.” said Williams on what it was like being one of the new guys. Add that “missing piece” to a team that won the Conference USA Tournament last year and made it to the 3rd Round of the NCAA Tournament, just think about what they could accomplish this year.
Averaging right at 8.6 points and 4.1 rebounds a game, his stats do not really jump off the page, but you would have to watch a whole game and see how Williams truly affects the outcome. A timely three-pointer here, a solid rebound, an aggressive block, or an unselfish pass, are all ways that Dirk helps the Blazers win. Teams also have learned that in transition if you leave Williams open, he will make you pay.
Many of you have probably heard of Mark Jackson, the former Golden State Warriors Coach and ESPN analyst who is known for his famous phrase, “Hand down, Man down.” Well, every time Williams shoots, this phrase comes to mind. He is a guy who is not afraid to shoot it, and has one of the better strokes on the Blazers. When asked who his favorite NBA player was growing up and who he tried to emulate his game after he said, “Growing up I would say Tracy McGrady, and as of now I would say Kevin Durant and Jamal Crawford.”
His coming out party was against South Carolina Upstate where he shot 9-of-11 from the field and made 4 three-pointers. He scored 22 that night, which was a career-high, and showed just what he can do when he catches fire. Asked to describe the season so far in one word, “Exciting.” An understatement at best as this season has been a memorable one for the Blazers, who look to keep adding to the history books.
Dirk also brought the house down against Alabama State with back-to-back breakaway dunks. This shows just how rounded his game has become. Coming from junior college, I asked him what was the biggest difference between Division 1 and JUCO, and what adjustments he had to make in his game, “Division 1 is just so much faster, I just had to get with the pace,” Williams said.
At times, it has looked like Williams has been at a different pace, and others needed to catch up. Credit UAB Strength and Conditioning Coach Corey Schlesinger for the work not only that he has done with Dirk, but the entire team. The Blazers clearly have been a much more physical team this year.
Late in the first half with UAB down to Middle Tennessee State, in the opening game of conference play, Williams went up and caught a pass from point guard Denzel Watts and threw it down. As he landed Dirk showed a lot of emotion and insisted the crowd to get on their feet. This is the energy that he brings to the game off the bench. I asked him what his message to the fans and students would be as the season rolls on, “Just be ready to support us,” he said. With big games still left on the schedule and the way the Blazers are playing, the support should be their.
Would he want to be in the starting five, sure, who wouldn’t? But everyone has a role and Dirk is excelling in his. “It actually feels pretty good, feels good to be able to play in front of my family and friends that I grew up with,” answered Williams on what it’s like playing at UAB, which is so close to Homewood.
While the Blazers are off to an excellent start in conference play, they know there will be big games on the road that will be played in tough environments. “Coach has told us the whole season, we are no longer the hunters, we are being hunted. Everyone will give us their A-Game, every game,” the 6-foot-5 guard added.
Williams has proven he can be the spark off the bench when the team needs him the most, whether it comes from a clutch three, or a tomahawk dunk, the Homewood native is thriving with the Blazers.