Rich Williams remembers sitting in Steve Masiello’s office two weeks into his playing career as a Jasper.
He had not played in their first game and played just one minute against Columbia. After the train ride back from their rivalry win, the two met and Williams recalls fighting back tears.
Williams was used to being a star. He was a star in his prep year at Vermont Academy after being one of the top seniors at Transit Tech in Brooklyn.
“I was worried because I was never put in that position before, because I always was the go to guy or a vocal part of a team,” Williams said. “When I first got here and like I didn’t believe, I started not believing, so I questioned myself a lot.”
He remembers meeting after that game in Masiello’s office after their second win of the year and the coach was struck by their conversation.
“He said to me coach, ‘I don’t care if you don’t play me, I just need to know you haven’t stopped believing in me’, and it was interesting for a young man to say this to me,” Masiello said. “I was like wow, that’s coming from an 18 year-old freshman at the time, that was pretty impressive to me.”
Three games later the 6’5” wing played against Fordham and grabbed five rebounds in a loss, their next game he started and scored nine points in a win over Hofstra.
Masiello has always thought that Williams is eager to please, and after two seasons learning the system, he has taken a step forward as a junior. When Williams does well, the Jaspers usually follow. He ranks second on the team in scoring (14.5 ppg) and tied for second in rebounding (6.1 rpg).
“I mean coach always just tells me that he believes in me all the time,” Williams said. “He gives me more of a rope now, he trusts me a little bit more on the court, so get to make a little bit more mistakes, get to make up for it. It’s a better trust factor, I guess.”
With a roster that regularly plays around a seven man rotation, the leash has been loosened but Masiello still needs to reign in the junior, who tends to beat himself up when he makes mistakes. The fifth year head coach has given Williams a mantra that the only obstacle that gets in his way is himself.
“He’s a perfectionist, he’s a virgo like myself, he’s very hard on himself,” Masiello said. “We’re really really close, it’s managing his downside and when we manage his downside, he’s really good.”
“He’s a guy that needs to know how wanted he is and how much we need him to be successful and he thrives in that. He likes to know that we need him, he wants that, he needs that reassurance and that’s something we’re trying to do. When he’s going I think we’re a really tough matchup because now how do you play us: you got Calvin [Crawford], Zane [Waterman], Shane [Richards] and Rich: four guys that can all shoot the ball, can all post up, they’re tough matchups now, so it’s a nice thing when we have Rich going.”
Masiello remembered earlier this season, when Williams struggled against Fairfield on Jan. 2 and turned the ball over three times in a row. He took the junior out of the game and gave him a quick pep talk.
“I took him out and I said, you know how much I love you and how much I believe in you right,” Masiello said. “I put him right back in and he was fine. It’s just those type of moments that him and I have that, it’s nice. I enjoy it. I really enjoy it because you know you’re impacting him.”
With that comes the added confidence boost that will help push Manhattan towards a chance at their third straight MAAC tournament title.
“It just gives me the confidence, not only for me, just gives me confidence to have confidence in myself to lead other guys,” Williams said. “If I’m not getting down on myself, I’m motivating someone else, so I know if I’m in the tank I’m letting my team down, so I try to have the most energy and the most positivity towards everything.”
Williams helped the Jaspers with 16 points, five rebounds and three assists in their first round win over Marist on Thursday night. The only thing that will hold the junior back is himself.
“I always felt like you hold yourself back always, look yourself in the mirror,” Williams said. “ I evaluate myself first, see what I’m doing wrong and then I try to better myself, do a lot better than anyone else.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.