Chaz Williams leading UMass from regional force to national player

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The 5'9 senior might be the smallest guy on the court, but he doesn't play that way.

When you're 5'9 and playing serious minutes for a Division I basketball team, you need to bring a little something extra.

Whatever that something is, Chaz Williams has plenty of it. The Massachusetts senior is a leader on the court and off, and his stats (15.4 points per game, 7.5 assists per game, 43 percent shooting from three) don't tell half the story.

He commands the offense for Derek Kellogg's team with a tasteful, yet electric swagger. He drives to the basket and finishes like a player 10 inches taller -- though you might expect that from a guard out of Brooklyn. And, most importantly, he's led the Minutemen to a 15-1 start and a spot in the national spotlight.

The UMass roster is filled with talent, and even though Williams leads the team in scoring and assists, his greatest asset might be his play in the clutch.

That ability with time winding down got its biggest test of the 2013-14 season Wednesday night with UMass trailing, 87-83, at George Mason with 26 seconds left. UMass had the ball and Williams had control. He drove right and forced a layup, missing, but drawing a foul. He made one of two free throws, then after a Patriots turnover, found himself free for another layup.

What came next? A Williams steal in the backcourt that allowed for the game-winning basket from Derrick Gordon with eight seconds left.

It was a five-point turnaround in 18 seconds, led by the smallest man on the court. Williams played the role of hero on Wednesday, something he has done before, despite having to fight just to get a chance at all.

Earlier this season, ESPN's Myron Medcalf wrote this piece, talking extensively about Williams' background. He lost his father to illness when he was in elementary school. The loss was crushing, and Williams let basketball go for a while. It was the game that helped build such a strong bond between him and his father.

He picked it back up again in middle school, using a garbage can in his grandmother's driveway as a hoop, according to Medcalf. That eventually led to a spot on the team at Bishop Ford High School, then to scholarships at Hofstra and, after transferring, UMass.

Now, he's playing for his three-year-old daughter, Cheree, who lives home in Brooklyn. Williams hopes to one day be able to support her with a career in the NBA.

Though his size is against him, he stands an outside shot at being drafted. Williams is second in the country in assists per game this year, which is probably the only reason he doesn't rank higher on the list of the Atlantic 10's leading scorers.

He's quick and crafty enough to find his way onto a pro team. Many probably won't expect him to stay in the league for long, if he makes it at all. Then again, the guard from Brooklyn has never been one to back down from a challenge.

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