We are in the middle of March Madness, which means when a horn goes off at the end of a postseason basketball game, things get crazy. In a way similar to college conference title games, high school playoff victories at this time of year mean that you will reach another level of the state tournament, that your season will continue while your opponent’s will end.
When that horn goes off, madness follows. Players run onto the court. Teammates sprint into each other’s arms. There are hugs between coaches and players and managers. And it is far from quiet.
And then there’s Zed Williams.
Williams is the senior leader of Silver Creek, one of the state’s best lacrosse players who is outstanding on the basketball court as well. After the Black Knights clinched their first trip to Glens Falls for the state final four with a regional victory over Mynderse at Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena, he walked to the bench, put on an orange bracelet that a coach was holding for him, and spent a few minutes by himself before joining a quiet, meaningful celebration with his team.
The orange bracelet bears the name and number of Carney Johnson, No. 28, who was a lacrosse teammate of Williams’ on the Six Nations Rebels, champions of the prestigious Ontario Lacrosse Association Junior B league. The Rebels won the title Aug. 10, 2012. Four days earlier, Johnson had taken his own life.
Williams has played with the memory of “C.J.” all season.
“I carry it with me each and every day, when I wake up and when I go to bed,” said Williams. “Or when I’m in school, writing things on my paper. It’s a mental thing for me. He’s not just with me, he’s with all of us still. I had some pretty special moments with him in the locker room. I had the pleasure of sitting by him in the locker room, me, him and my brother Zack,” who was two years ahead of Zed at Silver Creek.
“I guess you could say I’ve played with him [this season]. … I probably never said some stuff to him that I should have.”
“Every game he’s been like this,” Silver Creek coach Rob Genco said of an emotional Williams after Silver Creek defeated Middle Early College for the overall Section VI Class C title. “Zeddie feels like he should have tried to do something … that if he only could have talked to him.”
This is a special player, who has a special relationship with his coach. Genco met Zed when he was a fourth-grader in Genco’s elementary school gym class. The teacher and coach has offered his help to his students: some school lessons, some life lessons.
Zed has been extraordinary in that he has not only sought out that help, but he has become a role model himself. When Genco made a concerted effort to sit at a lunch table with students with disabilities, Zed asked why. Then he decided that he, too, would join his coach and the students at the table. Actions like that have had other teammates and classmates following Zed’s example.
“Then it’s happening with other guys, because he’s the answers to the test,” Genco said. “They watch the way he acts. … He walks on someone else’s campus and there’s garbage on the ground, and he picks it up and carries it to throw it out.”
Time out. This is where I had to cut off the coach’s story to tell him one of my own.
After Silver Creek defeated Middle Early College at Buffalo State, I asked Middle College coach Randall Rich about Williams. The first thing he said didn’t have anything to do with basketball.
“Today, as we’re pulling up on the bus, Silver Creek doesn’t see us. Zeddie Williams is the last one off their bus. He walks over to the corner, where there’s a crushed can on the ground, just laying there. The dude picks it up, walks it over to a trash can, nobody’s looking … and he throws it away. Talk about, ‘Act like your grandma’s watching – even when she’s not – be a good person all the time.’ … If you’d have to pick someone that you had to lose to, I’ll take that loss all day.”
Then Rich summed up Williams’ effect on the game.
“He killed us. He killed us. Just destroyed us.”
Williams certainly does that, but, like those postgame celebrations, he doesn’t come out and hit you over the head with it. His gait, just like on the lacrosse field, is a calm, deliberate one as he dictates the pace of play and the positioning of the defenders around him. Instead of cradling a white ball in his short stick, he is bouncing a big orange one, with his off arm similarly locked in the right angle that will protect against a defender (while not getting called for a ward in lacrosse).
The 6-foot-2 senior has a strong, wide-strided dribble that enables him to get to the basket quickly, where he can score or find teammates – either inside (6-foot-7 sophomore Bill Brooks) or out (three-point shooting threats Steve Marcey, Kaine Kettle and Brennan White).
“He’s a playmaker,” said Kettle. “Teams are worried about him, double-teaming him, and it leaves us open.”
I asked Kettle, who is a lacrosse standout as well, if that in both sports he is similarly trying to find the right spot on the field so that Williams will help set him up for a goal, or a basket. “Exactly.”
There is an unteachable brilliance in the way he orchestrates on offense, in the same way he does on the lacrosse field, where as a junior he set the New York State points scoring record (surpassing Casey Powell). He will play lacrosse at national power Virginia.
“When you watch them play lacrosse,” says Marcey, who plays baseball in the spring, “it’s pass after pass after pass, then it’s in the net, like tick-tack-toe, and that’s the way we play on the basketball court.”
Furthering the success is a trust among the teammates, all of whom are Seneca Nation members who live on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation. It is a genuine love for each other, one that is fostered unabashedly by Genco, one that has been returned by the community in this undefeated season, one of just two in the state.
When Silver Creek returned from Rochester, fire companies from Sunset, Irving and Hanover were among those who welcomed the Black Knights home. “The escort was a mile long,” said Genco. “It started at Jim White Chevrolet and went past Tim Horton’s to the Thruway.
“When we got here, there were 300 people waiting. We just opened up the cafeteria and had the whole town here just loving the guys up.”
“Hopefully we can get it done,” Williams said of the Black Knights’ trip this weekend. “Everyone is proud. I’m sure it’ll be upsetting if we don’t, but that’s not the most important thing … hopefully we can make them more proud.”
At this point, I’m not quite sure if that’s possible.
There will be a feature on McKinley, which is headed to Glens Falls for the Class A final four, published in Friday’s editions. There will be game day capsules printed for Silver Creek (Friday) and McKinley (Saturday).
Last night’s episode of PrepTalkTV reviewed last weekend’s regional action in boys and girls basketball and included a visit from McKinley senior Marcus Morris.