A week before the state tournament, Marcus Williams could hardly wait. Success in the tournament was the one thing he hadn't proved in his four seasons at Roosevelt.

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A week before the state tournament, Marcus Williams could hardly wait.

He leaned back in his folding chair and clasped his hands behind his head.

“Ugh,” he said, groaning. “I just want to play!”

Williams couldn’t bear the thought of failing, not so close to the one accomplishment that would validate his status as an elite high-school player — a berth in the Class 4A state boys basketball tournament.

It was the one thing he said he hadn’t proved in his four seasons at Roosevelt.

People know about the numbers, how he averages nearly 30 points and 11 rebounds, and how for the past two years he has scored more points than any other player in the KingCo 4A Conference. They have seen his rangy 6-foot-7 frame. Heard about his scholarship to Arizona. But still they wonder: Is he a leader?

“I think that’s something a lot of people ask,” Williams says. “They know I’m a winner, but am I a leader? Am I able to lead my team to state?”

One week later, that question has been answered.

And now the real season begins for the Roughriders (20-5), who make their first state-tournament appearance since 1987 with a first-round game against South Kitsap (24-1) of Port Orchard at noon tomorrow at the Tacoma Dome.

That Williams is as attentive to his leadership skills as he is to his scoring opportunities this season might be the best thing Roosevelt has going. First-year coach Bart Brandenburg can’t emphasize this enough, offering story after story to support the point.

Several weeks ago, Williams went out of his way to pick up a freshman teammate who was stranded at a friend’s house following a school dance. The ninth-grader went home with Williams, and the next morning, they came to a Saturday practice together.

Earlier this season, Brandenburg asked Williams to say something, anything, to another freshman on the team. The kid needed a confidence boost, and Brandenburg figured the words would mean more if they came from the star.

Now it’s Williams who comes to Brandenburg with the occasional request, letting the coach know when it might be necessary to back off or give the team a little more trust.

“I think in the past he thought he was being a leader,” Brandenburg said. “This year, he has really showed positive leadership. He has really given himself to his teammates.”

And together, everybody has prospered.

After racing through KingCo 4A Conference games and finishing 13-1 atop the West Division, the Roughriders enter this week’s tournament with a real shot at playing for the championship Saturday night.

But all of this might never have happened.

Last summer, rumors began circulating that Williams wasn’t happy, that he was leaving Roosevelt, possibly for Rainier Beach, where he could team with his longtime friend Terrence Williams.

At the time, the Roughriders had no coach. And Marcus Williams had yet to experience a winning high-school season. (Roosevelt was 26-38 during his first three years.)

Williams’ mother, Gayle, said there “really wasn’t anything to” the rumors, that they were just so much talk.

But by midsummer, Williams said he still wasn’t convinced he would be playing at Roosevelt this season.

“I didn’t want to be one of them players that had all these individual accomplishments and never got a team accomplishment,” Williams said. “I feel like I gave my left leg for the program, and it just never really came around to that point. So I kind of wanted to put myself in a situation that I felt I could win.”

That’s when Brandenburg entered the picture.

The new coach organized some informal workouts. Williams attended, and said he liked what he saw. The new guy was fiery. He even challenged Williams.

One day, after one of these sessions, the two went for sandwiches. Brandenburg said he started giving Williams some pointers. Basic stuff, really, mostly about footwork. But Williams wasn’t buying it.

“Screw it,” Brandenburg remembered saying. “Let’s go to the gym right now.”

So they got in the car and drove down to Eckstein Community Center on Ravenna. And, right there, on the summer blacktop, they played a little one-on-one.

Williams easily won that day, yet the new coach’s message got through.

“He was listening, and he picked it up real fast,” Brandenburg said.

In the end, Marcus Williams stayed at Roosevelt. He says he has no regrets.

“I feel a lot better bringing a program up than going to a program that has already been up,” he said. “I think it will bring a culture to Roosevelt that I can say I was a big part of starting, maybe a new tradition that Roosevelt is a winner.”

Williams always has been something of a homegrown talent. He learned the game mostly on his own, starting when he was 6 and shooting at a hoop his mother nailed to the side of the garage.

His family moved around a lot, so he found a game wherever he could, in community centers or on playgrounds. He dribbled tennis balls to improve his ball-handling skills, and challenged himself against older players. He dunked for the first time in seventh grade.


Roosevelt’s Marcus Williams (center), grabbing a loose ball against Franklin, has added leadership to his game.

As a freshman, he made Roosevelt’s varsity, then sprouted four inches to 6-4 as a sophomore.

Today, Williams stands 6-7, with size-15 sneakers and the wingspan of a condor. He has guard skills, too, which makes him a threat from every position. Brandenburg classifies him as a “point forward,” not to mention the best player he has ever coached.

“Oh, without question,” Brandenburg said. “For what he does for our team, there is not another player in the state that I could replace him with and have as much success as we’ve had this year.”

Williams credits his mother for much of what he has accomplished, calling her one of the “strongest people I know,” and the major “reason why I’m still playing.”

Before Marcus started driving, Gayle said she used to pick her son up after games and take the long way home.

Sometimes, she’d cruise over to Golden Gardens Park, other times, downtown. So long as they were talking, it didn’t so much matter where they went or how many miles they strayed.

“She’s been by my side with basketball and my life since the beginning,” Marcus said.

“She has always encouraged me to keep going, to just keep working.”

So that’s what he does, even as his high-school career rapidly comes to a close.

Last Sunday, at the state-tournament draw in Renton, coaches from all 16 teams were asked to fill out a questionnaire for the media. One section read, “Strengths of your team.” Another said, “Keys to winning at state.”

Brandenburg scribbled the same two-word answer under both categories: “Marcus Williams.”

Matt Peterson: 206-515-5536 or mpeterson@seattletimes.com

Rising Up
Marcus Williams and the Roosevelt boys basketball team have ridden an upward trajectory for four years. The 6-foot-7 senior led the Roughriders to their first state-tournament berth since 1987:
Season G Pts. Avg. High W-L
2001-02 18 188 10.4 21 6-14
2002-03 22 418 19.0 35 9-13
2003-04 22 599 27.2 42 11-11
2004-05 24 704 29.3 48 20-5
Totals 86 1,909 22.2 48 46-43