It didn’t take Alan Williams’ father Cody long to see that his son did not exactly have the body type of a power forward like he did. The former Sooner basketball player had started his son young — he was barely older than a toddler when he was teaching Alan and his brother footwork, shooting and even post play.
He caught on quick and his father’s instincts were correct: Williams was not a long, lean power forward, he was — and still is — a dominant center.
A dominant center, yes. The numbers tell the story: A double-double per game for UCSB with more than 11 rebounds and more than 20 points per game, ranked in the top five in all of Division I in both categories. He’s arguably the best player in the Big West Conference and one of the best in the country.
But a prototypical center? Not really.
"He’s like an SEC lineman," said Gauchos’ head coach Bob Williams.
But his version of blocking is a little different than that of the Auburn defensive line.
Listed at 6-foot-7 280, although his coach says he’s grown an inch, he doesn’t fit the build of a Division I center. Williams is short and bulky compared to most that play the position, but don’t tell him that.
"I always heard that I was undersized and overweight. Especially in high school since I wasn’t in the shape that I’m in now," he said. "It is what it is. I like where I am now."
Now, he is a leader on a Santa Barbara team that looks to have more than recovered from a down season by the Gauchos’ terms. Bob Williams has led UCSB to a winning season in eight of his 15 seasons at the helm, including back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 2010 and 2011 — right before Williams came to the Central Coast as somewhat of an underrated recruit.
Bob Williams has groomed several unheralded prospects, the Pacers’ Orlando Johnson and the Hawks’ James Nunnally most notably. The coaches first saw him while at North High School in Phoenix, Ariz. On a loaded team with a few Division I prospects, it was "Big Al" that stood out to the Gauchos with just one play.
"On a dead sprint — which Al ran pretty well for a big kid — on a dead sprint, the guard threw a bounce pass at his ankles and Al scooped it up and finger-rolled it right over the rim on a dead sprint. I looked at coach (Kevin) Bromley and said, ‘Well, that’s something you don’t see every day.’"
Bob Williams and Bromley were impressed with his athleticism, mobility, speed and his soft touch in a matter of seconds.
"That was very special," Bob Williams said. "I just knew that was something we could build around."
"They see raw talent," Williams said. "They see something in you that maybe others tend to overlook, whether it be work ethic or maybe, ‘He has good hands,’ or little stuff like that."
Two years later, Bob Williams continues to be impressed with his a-typical center. He’s a leader on the court and he’s everyone’s friend off of it. What most impresses his coaches is the person and teammate he has become.
Great team win tonight! I think it's safe to say the thunder dome is back! It's gonna be hell for the opposition all yeah #GoGauchos#ESPNU
He recently made friends with an old lady at an airport, helping her remove her luggage from the conveyor belt. He can command the respect of his teammates, push through injuries and losses with a smile on his face.
"I try to be as approachable as possible," he said. "You never know who you’re going to meet and where you’re going to meet them. Basketball is one thing but if you’re a good person that’s going to take you far."
The Gauchos are officially back on the mid-major scene and Williams is undoubtedly the star. Bob Williams says without hesitation he is an NBA prospect. But it’s not something his star player really thinks about.
It’s the mid-major way: The a-typical, the upperclassmen and the guys that the big programs didn’t want. It’s working pretty well for Williams and the Gauchos.
"I try to stay away from the individualistic aspect of the game," Williams said. "Coach believes with us, the city of Santa Barbara is believing in us and most importantly, we believe in ourselves."