A leader on offense and defense, senior guard Lateef Williams is determined to get Annapolis back to the state semifinals

Shooting for return

Basketball

February 21, 2007|By Glenn Graham | Glenn Graham,Sun Reporter

When Annapolis senior guard Lateef Williams talks about the state basketball tournament experience from his sophomore year, the story begins on the night before and extends to the following day all the way to tip-off.

Sleep was replaced with a case of nerves and excitement. The following school day dragged, but the hallways were buzzing with anticipation. And the locker room at the Comcast Center was filled with emotion before it was time to take the floor.

"It was one of the best feelings in the world for me - just a real good feeling," Williams said.

A role player at the time in his first varsity season, Williams scored 12 points in a disappointing, 60-52 semifinal loss to Bethesda-Chevy Chase that showed his promising potential.

"He had a real good game, and that was kind of an indication of what we could expect," Annapolis coach John Brady said. "But what you could expect and what happens doesn't always turn out to be the same thing."

In Williams' case, it was a clear indicator.

After earning second-team All-County honors on a senior-laden team last year, the 6-foot-4 Williams has put his stamp on an 18-4 team that has its sights on a return trip to the Comcast Center after a one-year absence.

The lone returning starter and team captain averages 20 points, seven rebounds and 3.5 assists per game this season with a fine all-around game that is smooth, poised and consistent.

With 12 points in an 80-66 win at North County on Saturday, he became the 11th player in the program to reach 1,000 points and went into yesterday's county championship game ranked eighth on the all-time list with 1,003 points.

"This year, I just feel like we need to make it back there because of the team we have," Williams said. "We're hungry. I think we have a good team and it's a shame to let a good team go to waste. I think we're supposed to be back there."

Williams has thrived in his role as team leader this season. He keeps the team loose and positive in the locker room before games and makes sure to set the tone during play.

"He's always real calm and composed out there, and it kind of triggers the whole team," fellow senior captain Zack Gassman said. "When he shows that poise, it makes everybody else on the team want to play the same way. He does a good job of picking us up when we're down and keeping us strong when we're up."

While Williams consistently plays strong defense, brings down timely rebounds and sees the floor very well, his ability to score is his biggest asset for the Panthers.

With hard work and repetition in practice, he has developed a reliable outside shot and has an effective pull-up jumper when the Panthers are pushing the ball up the court. But it's his uncanny ability to drive to the basket and either finish or get fouled that makes most people take note.

"He's got an instinct as to when and where to attack," Brady said. "A lot of players can beat the first guy when getting to the basket, but when help comes, a player has to be able to deal with that second defense and that's something he does very well."

For the season, Williams has scored 12 or more points in every game but one, and he's surpassed 20 in 13 contests. Glen Burnie coach Mike Rudd certainly noticed the 29-point effort Williams had in leading the Panthers to an 84-69 win over his Gophers this month.

"Wow, we couldn't do anything with him - he just attacked us off the dribble all night," said Rudd, who added that he used three different players to guard Williams with little success. "The kid knows how to score and he has a calm demeanor about him."

Brady has banked heavily on Williams' steady play.

"Every successful team needs at least one player that you know you can count on and Lateef is our guy," he said. "He plays with great consistency. He's not a guy that gets 20-plus points one night and nine the next. And the thing is, everybody else on the team plays off of what he does."

It's a role Williams has cherished in his final year of high school basketball.

"A lot of times during certain pressure situations, I usually tell myself: `I can do. It's easy, and I've been here before.' I think it's just confidence and believing in yourself," he said.

Williams, who started playing basketball when he was 11, is still weighing his college options.

"Basketball means a lot to me," he said. "At first, it was just a sport for me to play. But now, it's a natural part of my life."

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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