evening, after top-seeded Connecticut beat Kentucky 87-83 to advance to the
Sweet 16, Huskies coach Jim Calhoun stood in a hallway inside Philadelphia's
Wachovia Center and answered questions from a small group of reporters. Having
narrowly survived the first two rounds, Calhoun was discussing UConn's chances
of making a deep run in the tournament.
is Marcus Williams to this team?" one reporter asked.
most important player for us," Calhoun said. Then he paused. "And I
think he may be the most important player in this tournament."
That's not just a
typically myopic view from a coach. The Huskies arguably have more talent than
any other team in the field of 65 and were a popular pretournament choice to
win it all, but for them to fulfill their immense promise, Williams, as point
guard, must make all the pieces work.
A short time
before Calhoun's comments, the 6'3" junior had coolly demonstrated his
worth. Inside the last 30 seconds of a nail-biter against the Wildcats,
Williams sank four clutch free throws to keep alive UConn's bid for a second
national championship in three years. He finished the game with 20 points and
eight assists. "He goes to the basket when he needs to, and he passes when
he needs to," says Kentucky guard Ravi Moss. "He's the brain that keeps
leadership is unquestioned among the Huskies. When sophomore forward Rudy Gay
failed to put a hand in the face of Wildcats guard Patrick Sparks, allowing
Sparks to swish a three-pointer, Williams let Gay have it. "He's going to
tell us when we mess up," says junior big man Josh Boone, "but that's
what a good point guard does."
third in the nation in assists a year ago, and his 8.5 average this season
would have led the country if he hadn't been suspended for UConn's first 11
games. Last August he and redshirt freshman guard A.J. Price were arrested and
charged with four counts of third-degree larceny after attempting to sell
laptop computers that had been stolen from UConn dorms. Williams was sentenced
to 18 months of probation and ordered to perform 400 hours of community
service. The university suspended him for the first semester and gave him an
additional 25 hours of community service. He was banished from the team and
told to move out of university housing.
"I was very
stern with him, but I was also caring," Calhoun says of Williams. "I
told him I'd have his back the rest of his life, but right now I'm going to
kick his ass."
into an off-campus apartment with his mother, Michele, who relocated from Los
Angeles after his arrest to support her son. He maintained his regular course
load in school, though, and every night after class he went to the local high
school and worked on his shot for two hours. As part of his community service,
he also spent three weekends in Meriden, Conn., at the rural campus of the
Franciscan Life Center, where he worked with the nuns pulling weeds, hauling
firewood and even tending the goats, chickens and rabbits.
Since his return
to action on Jan. 3, Williams has focused on regaining the trust of his coaches
and teammates. The Huskies have had their ups and downs while adjusting to
having him back (all three of their losses have come with Williams in the
lineup), but it is clear that they play their best basketball when he is on top
of his game. In its NCAA tournament opener against 16th-seeded Albany, UConn
trailed by 12 with 11:34 remaining before Williams jump-started the team by
hitting a three-pointer. He scored 10 more points the rest of the way as the
Huskies won by 13.