Nigel Williams-Goss remembers clearly the first time he met Lorenzo Romar.
He was 14 and attending a Portland Trail Blazers game with his mother Valerie when the Washington men’s basketball coach walked into the room.
Romar was there to watch his former UW star Brandon Roy, not knowing he was sitting in front of the No. 1-rated seventh-grade basketball player in the nation.
Williams-Goss introduced himself and said he was interested in attending a UW basketball summer camp.
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“I knew basketball was something that I wanted to do for a long time,” Williams-Goss said. “Meeting people and making those connections as early as possible is something that I’ve always done.”
Said Romar: “I was impressed with how he handled himself.”
Five years later, the UW coach made a similar statement Sunday after Williams-Goss led a second-half comeback in Washington’s 92-80 win over Eastern Washington.
In just his third game, the touted freshman delivered a veteran-like performance — 22 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals in 35 minutes — proving the trust Romar has placed in him is justified.
“He’s just one of those rare type of individuals that you don’t come across too often,” Romar said. “And I’m not just talking about basketball. He’s got some special gifts.”
In just a short time, Williams-Goss, a 6-foot-3 point guard, has cemented his role with the Huskies.
Heading into Thursday’s 2K Sports Classic semifinal against Indiana (4-0) at New York’s Madison Square Garden, he’s first on the team in assists (5.3 per game) and steals (3.0), tied for second in points (13.7) and fourth in rebounds (4.3).
“If you were building the prototypical point guard, you’d build someone like Nigel,” senior co-captain C.J. Wilcox said. “He’s just always in control, and he knows where to deliver the ball.
“That’s probably the best thing I can say about him. He makes good decisions.”
Williams-Goss credits an extraordinary upbringing for helping him adjust so quickly to college basketball and the academic responsibilities.
“I’m able to draw from experiences from the past and the positions I’ve put myself in to prepare myself for this,” he said. “But it starts with my parents. They deserve the most credit.”
Four years ago Virgil Williams-Goss, a former Air Force staff sergeant and licensed insurance broker, and his wife Valerie, a former bodybuilder turned private-practice therapist, uprooted their family — grandmother included. They moved from Happy Valley, Ore., a few miles southeast of Portland, to Las Vegas so Nigel could attend the prestigious Findlay Prep basketball academy.
His teammates included future NBA players Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Anthony Bennett.
Williams-Goss, a three-year starter, is the only four-year letterman in Findlay history. His teams compiled a 124-8 record and won mythical national championships when he was a freshman and junior.
“Everything he’s received, he’s earned,” said Todd Simon, the former Findlay coach who is now an assistant at UNLV. “During his time at Findlay, he put himself in challenging situations.
“When things didn’t go his way, he fought harder. He worked harder. He figured out a way to make it work. But that’s his character. That’s his personality. I wouldn’t bet against him in any walk of life or whatever he sets his mind to.”
After his senior year, Williams-Goss, a four-star prospect, was showered with awards and accolades. He was selected to the Parade Magazine and McDonald’s All-American teams and played in the Jordan Brand Classic game.
In June, he started on the USA under-19 national team that won a gold medal in the Czech Republic.
Off the court, Williams-Goss’ exploits are equally impressive.
He’s a 4.0 student who has never received anything other than an A in high school. If he hadn’t chosen the Huskies, Williams-Goss would have gone to Harvard.
He intends to double-major in psychology and communications at Washington. If he leaves school early for the NBA draft, he promises he’ll earn both degrees.
And did we mention Williams-Goss studied Mandarin in the fifth grade?
Or the part about him volunteering at homeless shelters and distributing meals at church functions and food banks since the third grade?
“Again, that’s my parents,” he said. “My dad has been my trainer ever since I started playing basketball. I’ve learned all of my basketball, really, from him.
“And then my mom has handled the academic side for me. Really those two, that’s where I get my balance. They didn’t want me to be the typical athlete…. Every day I thank God for them.”
Williams-Goss is a unique package of contradictions.
He’s selfless, humble and soft-spoken off the court, but on the court he’s a chatterbox who understands when he needs to take over games. With UW trailing by 12 points midway in the second half against Eastern, he scored nine points in a decisive 22-6 run that keyed the win.
At 19, Williams-Goss is one of the youngest players on the team, but he’s also a natural leader who has played with older kids since he started playing basketball at 3 years old.
“I don’t really worry about what age or anything like that,” Williams-Goss said. “We’re all on the court together.
“It just goes back to preparation. I get all the confidence in the world from all of the hard work I put in.”
In just a short time, Williams-Goss has won over teammates, and the Huskies have no qualms putting their fate in the hands of someone so young.
“Young people so often want to fight the system,” Romar said. “They want to do it their way so much, you have to fight that battle all the time. He has one agenda: to be the best, and to help his team be the best. When he’s out there playing, it’s refreshing to see that.”
|Nigel Williams-Goss, by the numbers|
Washington freshman guard Nigel Williams-Goss scored 22 points in his last game, a victory over Eastern Washington. A look at how he has done in his first three games with the Huskies:
|Averages, 3 games||13.7||4.3||5.3||3.0||1.3||30.3|
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @percyallen