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Remembering Mike Williams

Designated Hitter: Remembering UMass' Mike Williams
By Howard Herman, The Berkshire Eagle, 7/30/20211)

The Mount Rushmore of UMass basketball might not include Mike Williams. Williams, however, was there for perhaps the seminal moment in the school’s basketball history.

Mike Williams is in my thoughts this weekend because former Minuteman Donta Bright posted on social media Friday morning that Williams had passed away.

That moment was when he beat Temple’s Rick Brunson and made a floater in the lane to beat the Owls 56-55 in a nationally televised showdown in the Mullins Center on Feb. 13, 1994. It was a game that later became infamous because of the post-game near brawl between two Hall of Fame coaches, John Calipari and Temple’s John Chaney.

The final two of Williams’ 17 points gave the Minutemen a 56-55 win over Temple in a battle for supremacy in the Atlantic 10.

“I can’t think of one [moment] that would surpass that,” former UMass guard Derek Kellogg told me. “It was kind of a changing of the guard with UMass overtaking Temple to a certain extent. Cal kind of cementing his legacy in the A-10 and also putting [UMass] on the national scene. Just the way it happened, for the whole area and for UMass basketball.

“It was a special time.”

Kellogg played for Calipari coming out of Springfield Cathedral High School and later coached the Minutemen for nine seasons, going 155-137. Kellogg, now the head coach at LIU-Brooklyn, is still No. 3 all-time in wins in UMass history, trailing only the late Jack Leaman (217) and Calipari (193).

Williams’ resume at UMass was a pretty good one. He averaged 10.3 points per game in three-plus seasons, before being suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. The suspension came just about one year to the date after the Temple game.

Williams was a member of the Atlantic 10 All-Tournament team following the 1994 post-season event. He was also second team All-District as named by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

The set up to the game was like this: UMass was 19-4 and Temple was 17-4. Chaney’s Owls came into that Saturday afternoon game ranked eighth in the country while Calipari’s Minutemen were ranked 13th. There were 9,493 basketball fans jammed into every nook and cranny of the still new Mullins Center. The game itself was nationally televised by ABC.

UMass’ starting lineup consisted of forwards Lou Roe and Dana Dingle, center Marcus Camby, and guards Kellogg and Edgar Padilla. Current Temple coach Aaron McKie was a starter for the Owls, along with Brunson at guard, Derek Battie and Eddie Jones at forward and William Cunningham in the middle.

For those of you who don’t remember, the final seconds and the entire game broadcast can be found on a dive into YouTube.

UMass was down 47-39 with 7 minutes, 47 seconds left but had rallied to take a 54-53 lead with 11 seconds left on two free throws by Jones, who played 16 seasons in the NBA and made three All-Star teams.

The Minutemen got the ball to midcourt, called time out and set up a final play. Dingle inbounded the ball from in front of the scorer’s table to Williams. The Hartford, Conn., native took Brunson — a 12-year NBA veteran and the father of former NCAA basketball player of the year Jalen Brunson of Villanova — off the dribble and put up a floater from just inside the foul line. The ball found the bottom of the goal and the Minutemen had their win.

“It was good to have Mike at crunch time,” Calipari said in the post-game news conference. “Everyone knew who was going to get the ball. Mike was to go out and create a play, and, if he was covered, Derek Kellogg was alone in the corner, so he could pass it to him. And the others were to crash the boards hard.”

When I asked Kellogg about that game and that moment, the former Minuteman did not have to stop and think much about it.

“Mike was kind of our superhero,” said Kellogg. “The euphoria when Mike banked it in and saving the game down the stretch. Followed by being in the media room. I know he was in there with me and the theatrics that took place afterward didn’t really overshadow heroics.

“It felt like it was the 50th time he had done that not only that year, but the year before.”

Williams did it again 11 days later in Temple’s McGonigle Hall. His 3-point basket with eight seconds left gave UMass a 51-50 win over Temple. It was the first time Calipari’s Minutemen swept the regular-season series from Chaney’s Owls.

Williams was a combo guard who could play both the point and the off-guard spots. Having a player like that made Kellogg’s job easier.

“He could always relieve pressure for me,” the former UMass point guard said. “He was a combo guard who could play on and off the ball. You knew if you gave him the ball, he could make a play for himself or for others. In the locker room, we all thought that Mike was a guy who had definite NBA potential and a kid that was thought of — at least in our circles — one of the top guards in the country.”

Williams’ UMass career might have ended prematurely. It did not, however, lessen what his teammates felt.

“Mike was great,” said Kellogg. “He had a really good personality. He was really fun to be around. You knew that when the game started, he was always ready when the lights went on.”

Howard Herman can be reached at [email protected] or 413-496-6253. On Twitter: @howardherman

news20210730_remembering_mike_williams.txt · Last modified: 2023/07/17 17:54 by mikeuma