NASHVILLE, Tenn. – For Casey Alexander and his staff watching the impact that Josh Williams and J.C. Hampton have had on the Lipscomb Bisons is basketball’s equivalent to finding two really nice presents hidden behind the Christmas tree under mounds of discarded wrapping paper.
Both were unknown quantities. But they have both proven to be pleasant surprises to the coaching staff. Both were named to the Atlantic Sun All-Freshman Team for their efforts this season on Monday. Hampton was a unanimous choice of the conference coaches.
“We knew we had Martin and Malcolm Smith and Khion Sankey,” Alexander said. “One of the real highlights of year has been finding guys, like these two, who are not just able to play but who have made such a significant impact.”
Alexander points to both of them as two of the reasons the Bisons are on the road at ETSU Tuesday night in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Sun basketball tournament.
Williams signed in the interim period last season between the departure of former coach Scott Sanderson and the arrival of Alexander. Williams was ready to honor his signing, but he and Alexander had some intensive discussion sessions.
Alexander wanted to honor Lipscomb’s commitment to Williams. But he also wanted to make sure this was where Williams wanted to be both athletically and academically.
“It was a unique situation for him,” Alexander said. “To Josh’s credit he was committed 100 percent. He never wavered at all.
“But we did have some hard conversations just to make sure this was where he wanted to be. Those were initiated by me. We just needed to get to know each other. We needed to make sure he was coming here for the right reasons. We wanted to make sure it was going to be a place where he could be successful.”
Williams pointed to the city of Nashville and the reputation of Lipscomb’s business department as two of the reasons he wanted to stay with the Bisons despite the coaching change.
“There are a bunch of opportunities being a student at a place like Lipscomb,” Williams said. “I felt like I had a clean slate as a player and I could come in and make a good impression from the start.”
Williams started as a role player and has emerged as one of the Bisons top scorers. Alexander admits it was not an easy task deciding where and how to play Williams since he missed most of preseason practice with an injury.
“He is in significantly better shape now than he was back in the summer,” Alexander said. “In high school, from what I know, Josh was a player who could survive on talent alone. The real fundamentals of the game were not really always necessary for him to be impactful and be significant for his team. That is not atypical.”
All in the details
Alexander and his staff are detail-oriented. That approach to the game was a major adjustment for Williams.
“We could tell he was a talented and athletic player,” Alexander said. “But we had a lot of changes to make with him in general. I think it was pretty overwhelming at first.”
As a star at Jackson Preparatory School in Jackson, Miss., Williams was known for his overall athletic talent, but not as a prolific scorer.
“Offensively is where he has made the most improvement,” Alexander said. “He was not a high level scorer in high school. That was not his reputation. That wasn’t where his production came from.
“I think it has surprised everybody that he has been as successful as he has offensively. I think our system kind of plays to him. He has a lot of freedom. We give him the green light. He has a lot of confidence.”
Since coming back from Christmas break Williams has scored a career high 34 points at ETSU (1/9/), 27 points against Jacksonville (1-30) and closed out the regular season Saturday with 23 points and 13 rebounds against Stetson.
“He had some monster games,” Alexander said. “He has probably improved the most with understanding how we play and why we do what we do.
“He has been an All-Conference player. He has had three or four games already that good players never have in their careers. There are a lot of good players that never get 28 points or 34 points in a game. There are good players who never get 23 points and 13 rebounds in the same game.”
He is 15th overall in the A-Sun in scoring with 12.8 points per game and sixth in A-Sun games only with 15.2. He has been named the A-Sun Newcomer of the Week a league-best four times this season.
“We put up a lot of shots in practice,” Williams said. “As you do that you start to have more confidence. When you have confidence in your shot, when the time comes to shoot in a game, you just step up and knock them down.”
Williams is fourth on the team in scoring and second in rebounding with five per game. He is tied for the lead in steals with 1.1 per game.
“The adversity and injuries we have faced opened the door for him,” Alexander said. “He played a lot more early than he was actually ready for. But he had to play.
“He didn’t have to go through the usual `finding your self-stage’ that most freshmen go through. He was thrown into the fire.”
Hampton gets the point
Alexander knew Hampton was going to be his point guard. However, he didn’t know that Hampton would be a scoring point guard as well.
“J.C. has been the starting point guard since day one,” Alexander said. “He has been one of our leading scorers the whole way through. He was handed quite a responsibility. He has shouldered the load.
“We knew J.C. was a talented player. As a freshman with no game experience carrying the load as a scoring point guard is difficult. He has met that challenge and exceeded it quite well.”
The top scoring freshman in the league, Hampton, from Gainesville, Ga., is seventh overall in scoring in the A-Sun with 14.7 points per game and fifth in A-Sun games only with a 15.3 average.
“I wouldn’t say it was hard to be the point guard,” Hampton said. “I had to adjust to the coaching staff like everybody else. I wanted to show them what I could do and what I could bring to the table.
“It is all about learning. I am still learning every day and trying to get better.”
Hampton didn’t play the point until his senior year of high school. When he first met Alexander he told him about his ability to shoot.
“I was always a spot-up shooter in high school,” Hampton said. “I told coach I could shoot the ball. I could score.
“I am a good passer. I have a good basketball I.Q. Being able to score makes it even tougher to guard me.”
He is second on the team in scoring with 14.7 points per game average. He leads the team in numerous categories such as assists (2.9), field goals made (4.6), field goal attempts (10.8), 3-point field goal percentage (.403), 3-point field goal attempts (6.9) and 3-point field goals made (2.8).
“J.C. has been a difference maker time after time,” Alexander said. “It was a safer assumption for us that he was going to score for us than it was to think he was going to be able to play the point guard role.
“Even though he had point guard skills his strength was his ability to score. In my style of play I want my point guard to totally drive the train. Whatever punch the point guard can give us offensively is a bonus. He has plenty of growth left, but has handled it and done an admirable job so far.”