Nigel Williams-Goss is too smart to become the star of a one-and-done cautionary tale. Assuming an NBA team doesn’t guarantee him a first-round selection, he will suspend his NBA flirtation, return to Washington for his sophomore season and keep coach Lorenzo Romar from having a panic attack.
It’s the sensible decision, and Williams-Goss can never be accused of lacking good sense. There’s no need to hit the easy button and call him a delusional, narcissistic basketball player who doesn’t value education. That’s what we’re predisposed to doing in these cases, right? College athletes are vilified far too often for their pro eagerness, which is funny because the criticism comes from a longing to see them play more for your favorite team.
But Williams-Goss is the antithesis of a delusional, narcissistic basketball player who doesn’t value education. He is, after all, the former straight-A high-school student whose college decision came down to Washington and Harvard. He is the most articulate college freshman I’ve ever met. He comes from a great family, possesses great character and already understands the importance of preparing for life after basketball.
Yet we’re still waiting for him to make an NBA decision when there really isn’t a decision to make.
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And that’s where the real lessons reside, in the incongruity of this story, in the exploration of why the intelligent Williams-Goss is hoping against reality and in the unrealistic expectations we have for an elite young basketball player who doesn’t fit the stereotype.
This is about more than just a player evaluating his NBA draft stock after a good season. That’s the primary motivation, to realize this dream as soon as possible. But there are other factors Williams-Goss is surely considering, and at the top of that list is a steadfast refusal to be pigeonholed.
In recent days, several NBA scouts have expressed surprise about Williams-Goss’ pro thoughts because, the refrain goes, they had him pegged as a four-year player. Several scouts also believe he’ll need significant college time to become a master of the game’s nuances — to compensate for not being a Russell Westbrook-like athlete.
Williams-Goss doesn’t want to be labeled in that manner. He knows the NBA draft is a pool of potential, and while he recognizes the benefits of staying in college for several years, he also knows that college upperclassmen are heavily scrutinized. The way the draft game is played, there isn’t such a thing as “ready” anymore; it’s about figuring out when you have the best chance to be a first-round pick.
When to go is an easy decision for Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, three freshmen projected to be the top three picks in June. For Williams-Goss, who had extraordinary numbers for a freshman (averages of 13 points, four assists and four rebounds), it’s a tougher call. The benefit of this public NBA consideration likely won’t be the immediate improvement of his stock. It will be the understanding that he aspires to be a pro sooner than NBA scouts had anticipated.
What to make of the fact that Williams-Goss wants to go pro as quickly as possible? Well, that just makes him like any other McDonald’s All-American. Because he’s so well-rounded, you want him to be different. You want him to stay long enough to return the Huskies to relevance and to be a shining example of utopian player development.
It’s unfair to put that on Williams-Goss. He needs to do what he deems best for his career. As long as he’s not trying to run from Washington’s recent mediocrity, there’s nothing wrong with his desire to get to the NBA quickly. If he leaves school early, he’s almost certain to continue working toward getting a college degree.
Ultimately, Williams-Goss is just searching for the best way to realize his dream in a system that nearly everyone admits is broken. Even Kentucky coach John Calipari, who has benefited the most from this one-and-done era, is raging against the system.
Williams-Goss will do the right thing and come back next season. After that, who knows? My only concern is that, because the Huskies are struggling right now, he might be looking for an exit that doesn’t involve transferring and sitting out a year. He’s a winner, and his virtue would be even clearer if the Huskies were better around him. But fortunes can change quickly, and even if they don’t, Williams-Goss should know that NBA scouting is sophisticated enough for him to get a fair evaluation.
His time will come. It’s not now, but it probably won’t be long.
In many ways, Williams-Goss is a refreshingly different kind of star. But he’s like everyone else in his eagerness to get to The League, and honestly, in this broken system, he should be.