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Don't forget about Alan Williams

9/5/2014

In 2013-14, Alan Williams averaged 21.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 1.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game.

Did you finish that sentence?

In 2013-14, Williams took 37 percent of UC Santa Barbara's shots, the fourth-highest mark in the country, and he shot 53 percent from the field. He accounted for 35.1 percent of his team's possessions, the third-highest mark in the country -- higher than Doug McDermott (32.9 percent), higher than T.J. Warren (33.9).

Did you get through that paragraph?

In 2013-14, Williams finished top-20 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. He blocked 9.1 percent of opponents' shots.

Still here? Does Alan Williams have your attention yet?

You're not supposed to lead with the numbers. That's a cardinal rule of communication in general, and it applies exponentially to the Internet. You have to lure your audience in. Getting people's attention is hard.

In this case, we'll make an exception, because that's sort of the point: In 2013-14, Williams had one of the best individual statistical seasons in any league at any level of college basketball, and basically nobody noticed.

A variety of factors kept Williams nominally under the radar. The first, and most obvious, was his team. The Gauchos were decent but never a trendy mid-major pick. They finished the season 21-9, and 12-4 in the Big West, a league that hovers in the same qualitative space as the Patriot League and Sun Belt. In recent seasons -- beginning with a talented group in 2011-12 -- Long Beach State coach Dan Monson has built some of the most insane nonconference schedules in recent memory, an implicit nod to the difficulty of generating widespread notice in the Big West. Combine the league itself with the West Coast time zone and the paucity of broadcast availability, and voila: Under the radar you go.

There's also the lack of NBA attention. At 6-foot-7, Williams is an undersized "true" center. His skills don't stretch to the perimeter, and NBA scouts seem bearish on his ability to score against bigger, more physical players. If Williams was a hot NBA prospect, surely more people would tune in.

But those reasons don't explain Williams' total anonymity. After all, UCSB beat UNLV and Cal early in the season, back when both were considered fringe NCAA tournament teams. Also, it's not as if Williams' skills can be appreciated only through the prism of wonky stats: He was putting up huge counting numbers, too. The Internet has made it easier to watch a Big West game than ever before. Casual fans can be forgiven, but those of us who do this for a living -- yours truly included -- shouldn't have missed out.

Ken Pomeroy was one of the few who didn't. On his blog, Pomeroy devoted a section -- The Alan Williams Watch -- of his weekly roundup to Big Al's various exploits, and Pomeroy was rarely short of material. In early February, following 20-17-5 and 27-20 lines against Hawaii and UC Davis, Williams cracked Pomeroy's statistically based player of the year list. Pomeroy wrote:

At least for today, Williams stands 10th in the kPOY standings, marking his first appearance on the list this season. But the global conspiracy continues. Nary a single reputable individual is considering Williams for his or her player of the year list, even when that list extends to ten or twenty or even 100 players. I mean, there are some fine players on these lists, but they all stink compared to Williams, who sits sixth-nationally in the media-friendly category of scoring average and third in rebounding average, all while playing for a pretty good team that happens to play its games during East Coast sleepy-time. Investigate that, people.

The 2014-15 season is a chance to right the injustice of 2013-14. Williams is back for his senior season, and much of his team is with him. Whether you hear Williams' name in early March will be incumbent less on his production -- which is basically guaranteed -- than on his teammates' ability to shore up a defense that allowed well over a point per possession last season. Bob Williams' team will open at Kansas, which should help boost the big man's profile, but there can't be a repeat of last season's inexplicable early conference tournament exit. (The Gauchos lost 69-38 in the first round of the Big West tournament, to 11-19 Cal Poly. They scored 0.72 points per possession.)

But the focus Williams deserves shouldn't take until March, anyway. It need not hinge on UCSB's tournament participation. Williams is already one of the best players in the country, and the most overlooked.

Getting people's attention is hard. When you're as good as Williams is, it shouldn't be.