Basketball's Williams reflects on redshirt year

Johhny Williams going up for the shot in last year's NCAA Tournament game against Jared Sullinger of Ohio State. He sat out all of this season with a medical redshirt for a shoulder injury (John Powell).
Johhny Williams going up for the shot in last year's NCAA Tournament game against Jared Sullinger of Ohio State. He sat out all of this season with a medical redshirt for a shoulder injury (John Powell).

After undergoing surgery for a torn labrum, a joint in the shoulder, forward Johnny Williams decided it would be in his best interest to sit out the 2011-12 basketball season. Knowing veteran big-men like Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison would receive the bulk of the minutes on the interior, it was certainly a logical decision.

“It was my decision because I knew coming into my junior year I wouldn’t be fully prepared,” Williams said, “so I just came to a smart conclusion and just decided to take a year off to get my shoulder [back] to 100 percent and play the next season.”

As a redshirt junior next year, he will be much needed, filling the void left by graduating seniors Pearson and Morrison.

The George Mason basketball program, by its high standards, had a down year, finishing at 24-9 and missing both the NCAA Tournament and the NIT. Not only did Williams have to sit out, but senior guard Andre Cornelius was battling legal issues and never played quite to his full potential after returning from suspension. Plus, former head coach Jim Larranaga’s departure meant a new coaching staff and the exodus of Luke Hancock, a key component to last year’s squad.

Regardless, the team still managed to finish third in the CAA regular season standings behind two very good teams: Drexel and VCU. And Sherrod Wright’s buzzer-beater to take down VCU in the Patriot Center was a Mason highlight for the ages.

The 2011-12 team was built around Pearson and Morrison. Pearson led the team in points and rebounds, earning the CAA Player of the Year award, with Morrison finishing second on the team in both categories.

Next year it will be Williams’ turn to step in and play important minutes in the paint.

He has been involved in rehabilitation for his shoulder since his offseason surgery and has been making steady progress.

“The rehab is going great,” he said, “I was just cleared to play with full contact and I’m just ready to be back on the court now with my teammates.”

Despite the progress, the training staff still has him in a rehab program to prevent future problems with the shoulder.

“I still do some rehab to make sure my arm doesn’t get stiff on me and so I won’t get tendonitis in my shoulder,” Williams said.

Joining him in the frontcourt next year will be Jonathan Arledge, Erik Copes and Anali Okoloji.

Arledge and Copes were solid contributors this season, providing breathers for Pearson and Morrison. Arledge, a sophomore, is lanky and skillful at 6’9” and is capable of knocking down outside shots. Copes, a highly touted 6’8” freshman, is bulky and known for his defense and rebounding.

Okoloji, also standing at 6’8,” was another redshirt player for the Patriots this season after transferring from Seton Hall.

Thus, Hewitt will once again have a four-man forward rotation at his disposal, just as he did this season.

Williams is glad he made the decision to redshirt, as he feels he has had a chance to become a better person on and off the court with his year away from competition. He also credits Hewitt and the new coaching staff with improving his rebounding and getting him into better physical condition.

“The new coaching staff is amazing,” Williams said. “They’ve helped me progress by helping me shed 20 pounds so I can be quicker and jump better on the court. They’ve also helped me become a better man by teaching me about life beyond the court.”

Williams is not only in the best shape of his life, but he has also been able to focus more on his schoolwork and improve his grades. In terms of his basketball abilities, he believes he has made a lot of progress as well over the past year.

“I have been working on my mid-range shot and on being more efficient in the post,” he said.

Although it has technically been a year off, in terms of game appearances, by no means has it been a year off from work for Williams. He feels he is doing all he can to improve, along with the rest of his teammates.

“People don’t get a chance to see how hard we work everyday in practice,” Williams said. “They just see us for the 40 minutes of a game; they don’t get to see what we go through to become a great team.”

After dropping their last two games of the regular season to Northeastern and VCU, and then falling again to VCU in the semi-final of the CAA Tournament, the Patriots will come out hungry next year.

Despite the new-look frontcourt, the squad will have an experienced backcourt with Bryon Allen, Sherrod Wright and Vertrail Vaughns all returning. Additionally, freshman guards Corey Edwards and Vaughn Gray now have a year of experience under their belts and should see bigger minutes next year. Gray has been dubbed “The Future” by the upperclassmen for his big potential and smooth game on the court.

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