ONCE A BULL­DOG NOW A MINER

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY ROBERT KUWADA [email protected]­nobee.com

Ex-Fresno State stand­out Bryson Wil­liams says his de­ci­sion to trans­fer to Texas-El Paso was about im­prov­ing his game.

Bryson Wil­liams, the former Roo­sevelt High and Fresno State stand­out, says that it was a bas­ket­ball de­ci­sion and noth­ing else that led him to trans­fer to Texas-El Paso.

Leav­ing home and what could have been the best Bull­dogs team in years was all about op­por­tu­nity, a chance to im­prove his over­all game – the shot, the de­fense, the re­bound­ing, all of it.

If there still are ques­tions all these months later, he gets that. When coach Rod­ney Terry bolted the Fresno State pro­gram for UTEP af­ter a fourth 20-win Bull­dogs sea­son in five years, Wil­liams re­mem­bers what went through his mind. “El Paso …?”

But it couldn’t be go­ing any bet­ter for the 6-foot-8 for­ward, who as a Fresno State sopho­more in 2017-18 earned thirdteam All-Moun­tain West Con­fer­ence hon­ors when av­er­ag­ing 13.8 points and 6.1 re­bounds per game for Terry and the Bull­dogs.

“I just wanted to come to a place where I knew that I could be at my full po­ten­tial and be­come a bet­ter player all around, be­come more re­spon­si­ble as a player, more ma­ture a player,” he said in an in­ter­view at UTEP

last week. “I wanted to come to a place where I know that I had a coach that be­lieved in me and is go­ing to make me bet­ter as a player and as a man.

“The fa­cil­i­ties we have here, we can come in here 24/7 and work out any time we want. The school cul­ture around here is nice. That’s what the de­ci­sion was. It wasn’t per­sonal or any­thing like that. It was about be­com­ing the best player that I can be.”

SEV­ERAL FRESNO CON­NEC­TIONS

The Min­ers, a group that in­cludes former Fresno High guard Daryl Ed­wards and former San Joaquin Me­mo­rial High guard Deon Stroud as well as three former Bull­dogs in for­ward Eric Vila and guards Oun­tae Camp­bell and Gilles Dekon­inck, had just fin­ished prac­tice at the Fos­ter-Stevens Bas­ket­ball Cen­ter when Wil­liams sat down for an in­ter­view.

In that set­ting, the trans­fer made per­fect sense.

The bas­ket­ball fa­cil­ity at UTEP has two full courts, one for the men’s pro­gram and one for the women’s. There is a weight room right across the hall from the gym, a train­ing room, locker rooms. Both pro­grams have the­aters for film work, of­fice space, con­fer­ence rooms.

The play­ers get train­ing table – three meals a day year round.

Walk in the door, and front and cen­ter is col­lege bas­ket­ball his­tory – a mu­ral of the Texas West­ern team (as the uni­ver­sity was known then) coached by Don Hask­ins that beat Ken­tucky for the 1966 NCAA cham­pi­onship, the first team with five African-Amer­i­can starters to win the ti­tle.

Terry has a spa­cious of­fice with win­dows that look out over the prac­tice court.

He also has promi­nently dis­played an au­to­graphed bas­ket­ball from the Bull­dogs’ 2015-16 NCAA Tour­na­ment team.

The fa­cil­ity, it also has two shoot­ing guns – that work – which was big for Wil­liams.

At 6-8 he was one of the best bigs in the Moun­tain West, a deft scorer around the rim and mid-post. He could re­bound, in and out of his area, and block shots. He could han­dle the ball. He could de­fend mul­ti­ple po­si­tions on the floor.

The shot, though, was a point of em­pha­sis. In two sea­sons at Fresno State he took just four shots from the 3-point line, mak­ing one.

“At this stage of his ca­reer, that’s a big deal,” Terry said.

Wil­liams, who also checked out Ore­gon and Ari­zona be­fore en­rolling at UTEP, said it was more than that.

“Of course, I wanted to be a bet­ter shooter, which I re­ally put a lot of work to­ward,” he said. “But it was be­com­ing a bet­ter de­fender, be­ing smarter on de­fense and not get­ting two quick fouls in the first half. It was learn­ing the game, be­com­ing a smarter player. It was learn­ing how to take con­struc­tive crit­i­cism.

“Ev­ery lit­tle part of my game, I’m try­ing to im­prove ev­ery area to make my­self an over­all bas­ket­ball player. When I tell you the best player that I can pos­si­bly be, I mean re­ally the best player I can pos­si­bly be in ev­ery area.”

Over the sum­mer he was com­mit­ted to get­ting 1,000 shots a day from the 3-point line. He would set up the shoot­ing gun in the gym, and just go to work. The ball slips through the rim, the gun shoots it right back.

“He was mak­ing more than our guards were mak­ing, which is a prob­lem,” Terry joked.

The re­sults are there. Dur­ing and af­ter the Min­ers’ prac­tice, he knocked 3-poin­ters down at a good rate.

Fresno State has those guns, too. But last sea­son they just sat in a cor­ner of the gym – they were bro­ken. Even get­ting into the North Gym dur­ing the sum­mer could at times be an iffy propo­si­tion – there could be sched­ul­ing con­flicts with a fa­cil­ity that is used by four sports pro­grams.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love Fresno State,” Wil­liams said. “I love Fresno State to this day. That’s where I started off. I have great mem­o­ries there. I made great friends there. That’s home. That’s al­ways go­ing to be home. But I just had to make a de­ci­sion for my­self.

“It was tough, but it’s work­ing out for the bet­ter. Over­all, I just feel like it’s a bet­ter sit­u­a­tion for me. I feel like it’s a bet­ter sit­u­a­tion with bas­ket­ball. I miss my fam­ily and all that, but at the end of the day it’s about get­ting bet­ter. That’s what the end goal is.”

SAME CHURCH

“Bryson is one of those kids that, you may coach for 30 years, and you may not get a chance to coach an­other Bryson Wil­liams,” Terry said. “For­get about bas­ket­ball, he’s just an un­be­liev­able kid, the way he car­ries him­self and his man­ner­ism. He has been raised right. We go to the same church ev­ery Sun­day.

“You’re not go­ing to have a lot of Bryson Wil­liamses – and when you do have an op­por­tu­nity to coach a guy like that you have to bot­tle that ex­pe­ri­ence up, be­cause he’s such a phe­nom­e­nal kid. We know what he does in bas­ket­ball and he has a chance to be as good as he wants to be be­cause he works at it at an­other level.”

The Min­ers were just 8-21 last sea­son, Terry’s first at UTEP. But they played young, just as he did in his first sea­son at Fresno State be­fore get­ting the pro­gram mov­ing at a good clip in the right di­rec­tion.

This sea­son, Wil­liams leads a group of Di­vi­sion I trans­fers at UTEP who could flip the num­ber of wins and losses from a year ago. Wil­liams said this team could do big things in Con­fer­ence USA. The NCAA Tour­na­ment ob­vi­ously is a goal – the Min­ers’ last dance was in 2009-10.

“Hon­estly, I didn’t know what to ex­pect com­ing to El Paso,” he said. “Be­fore com­ing here I didn’t even know about El Paso. I didn’t know about the city. I didn’t know what to ex­pect. All I knew what to ex­pect is what the coaches and every­body were telling me. But get­ting out here, the peo­ple are very nice, very gen­er­ous. It’s a bas­ket­ball cul­ture, so every­body has ex­pec­ta­tions for the bas­ket­ball pro­gram and all they want is to win and that’s all we want to do. You have that ex­tra mo­ti­va­tion, that ex­tra push for you to just go.

“It’s a very good sit­u­a­tion. It’s be­yond what I could have even imag­ined.”

Bryson Wil­liams

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA [email protected]­nobee.com

Former Fresno State for­ward Bryson Wil­liams trans­ferred to UTEP, re­unit­ing with former Bull­dogs coach Rod­ney Terry. “It’s a very good sit­u­a­tion,” Wil­liams said. “It’s be­yond what I could have even imag­ined.”

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