High School Basketball

Fan favorite: Roosevelt High's talented yet humble Bryson Williams easy to root for

Bryson Williams would like to just blend in with his Roosevelt High School basketball teammates.

But at 6-foot-8 and with skills that seem to grow exponentially each year, Williams can’t help but stand out – especially in a senior season when he has scored a Central Section-record 1,005 points and counting.

And he has the Rough Riders in position to win their first section title in 39 years – all while Fresno State eagerly awaits his arrival next season.

“He’s going to be good – really good,” says Arturo Ormond, Williams’ private basketball coach the past four years. “I just think his ceiling is so high when you look at where he’s come from and where he’s at now.

“But because he doesn’t brag or do any of that extra stuff, you would never know he was a star player.”

Fans and opponents know. They’re quick to congratulate Williams after games – even those he’s dunked on.

“Everyone wants to be able to say one day that they played against Bryson, because they see an up-and-coming superstar,” says McLane athletic director Javan Childs. “They admire his talents. He’s someone everyone wants to root for.”

As his statistics indicate and his low-key mannerism suggests, Williams can make the game look easy.

He has strong footwork and can play both with his back to the basket and facing up.

He has good timing and aggressiveness when it comes to rebounding and blocking shots.

He can dribble well for a big man and showcases a mid-range jump shot on occasion.

His free throws still need a lot of work, but it’s not for lack of effort – Williams regularly spends 60 to 90 minutes on his own before school shooting free throws.

“I love basketball,” Williams says. “I love working hard to get better.”

That work ethic has fueled Williams’ rise in basketball, one that’s been scripted since middle school.

Developing his game

Ormond, who was an assistant at Fresno State from 2002 to 2005 before coaching at Edison for five years, noticed Williams as a sixth-grader attending Edison’s little hoopster camp.

Soon thereafter, Ormond was let go at Edison. He went into one-on-one coaching, working with former local standouts such as Edison alums Darshawn McClellan and Greg Smith and Memorial’s Robert Upshaw.

All went on to play college basketball. Ormond saw that potential in Williams, too.

“People see the product of what he is now, but they have no idea how hard he worked to get there,” Ormond says. “He sacrificed going to parties, never had a social media account.

“I asked him early, ‘How badly do you want to play college basketball?’ He said he’ll do anything. And he’s done everything asked of him since. You just don’t realize how much he’s driven until you see him work.”

Ormond started with the basics – like how to run up and down the court.

“He used to drag his feet,” Ormond says. “So we worked on him picking up his feet while he ran up and down the court.”

Ormond also broke down what practicing really meant – practice with the team during that designated time, then two hours on his own each day.

For strength training, Williams did 100-plus pushups while watching TV. Ormond nixed lifting weights out of concern it might stunt Williams’ growth.

“He’s been a great mentor for Bryson,” says Denise Williams, Bryson’s mother. “He always watched out for him.”

Roosevelt coach Jamarr Chisom noticed Williams’ improvements each year.

“He started off as just a rebounder and someone who could score on putbacks,” Chisom says. “His game has evolved so much now, Bryson can pretty much do it all. The only thing I remind him about is staying patient when he’s double- and triple-teamed by defenders.

“He’s an unselfish player. He always looks to make the smart play.”

Bulldogs await Williams’ arrival

Williams was not exactly “Bulldog born, Bulldog bred.” He never followed Fresno State basketball closely or rooted for the Bulldogs as a child.

That changed after he attended one of Fresno State coach Rodney Terry’s first summer camps.

By the end of Williams’ sophomore year, Fresno State was a fan of his, the first school to offer him a scholarship. Williams’ commitment has been unwavering, even after hearing from a handful of Pacific-12 Conference programs.

Why? “Just it being my hometown (school), and I actually was good enough for them to offer me,” Williams says. “It was really an exciting feeling and I really want to be a part of that program.”

Ormond also likes the idea of Williams finding a good fit.

“You put Bryson on the bench, he’ll say nothing, never complain; he’s just very unselfish like that,” Ormond says. “I just didn’t want him to get lost in the shuffle. Picking the school you play at it isn’t just going to the most popular program with the biggest venue. It’s what’s the best fit.

“In the right environment, there’s nothing he can’t do.”

Terry envisions Williams playing center or power forward.

When Terry initially offered Williams a scholarship, the Roosevelt star stood 6-6. He’s since grown almost three inches.

“And if he grows another inch or two, he’ll be a real problem for other teams,” Terry says. “He’s really blossomed into a really good player that has a chance to play early in his career.

“He’s got a great skill set to be a face-up 4 (power forward). He’s got enough girth to play the 5 (center). Whatever we need him to do, I think he’ll be able to do. It’s exciting.”

Rough riding it at Roosevelt

First, there’s the matter of the Central Section playoffs that begin this week.

In the back corner of its renovated gym, Roosevelt’s last section championship banner from 1977 hangs from the rafter. It’s often overlooked.

The Rough Riders’ program has been largely an afterthought for the past 39 years, too. Williams has helped change that after rejecting suggestions from friends and fans to play at more established programs such as Bullard, Edison or Memorial.

“Once he was in middle school, his heart was set on going to Roosevelt,” his mother says. “The school’s just down the street from our house. He wanted to help turn around Roosevelt.”

The Rough Riders were a combined 73-127 in the eight seasons before Williams’ arrival. They’re 88-34 since.

The program has been revamped with an infusion of talent and a facility upgrade. The old Roosevelt gym received a significant face lift last summer with a bright, new court.

The only thing missing is a recent section banner.

Last season, Roosevelt reached the semifinals of the Division II playoffs. During the 2013-14 season, the Rough Riders lost in the D-III championship game by one point. Williams’ freshman season in 2012-13 ended in a second-round D-III knockout.

In Williams’ final try to win a championship, the Rough Riders (22-7) are seeded No. 1 in D-III and received a first-round bye. The bracket includes No. 2 West (20-8) and No. 3 Selma (22-6), which defeated the Rough Riders 71-70 in double overtime on a buzzer beater in early January.

“We lost everyone but two guys from last year’s team,” Chisom says. “So it’s been tough getting back to this point with all of our ups and downs, working with a lot of young guys. Bryson’s game has really grown and helped kind of stabilize the situation.

“Those slip-ups that we’ve had earlier in the year helped us refocus. I think these guys understand that we cannot overlook anyone.”

Williams says he wants to win a section title not so much for him, but for his school.

“Knowing that you have the whole school behind you and how the basketball team has become the face of the school, we just want to go out and win it all for them,” Williams says. “The pressure is there. But it’s nothing we can’t handle.”

Bryant-Jon Anteola: (559) 441-6362, @Banteola_TheBee

Bryson Williams file

School: Roosevelt High, signed with Fresno State

Height/weight: 6-foot-8, 220 pounds

Season per-game averages: 34.7 points, 20.3 rebounds, 6.5 blocks