Britton Williams figured to see limited playing time this season as a backup point guard at Cal State Bakersfield.
Williams, who didn't earn a basketball scholarship to CSUB after graduating from Liberty High, was invited to join the team as a walk-on.
Now he's seeing significant playing time and even had his first collegiate start Sunday as the Roadrunners battle through injuries to their backcourt.
CSUB (3-6) plays host to La Verne (1-5), a Division III school east of Los Angeles, at 7 p.m. tonight in the Icardo Center.
CSUB coach Rod Barnes acknowledged this week that the decision to start Williams on Sunday when the Roadrunners played at South Dakota State was a first for him as a coach.
Williams, 18, had a team-high 18 points in 35 minutes but CSUB lost, 69-63.
"I've started walk-ons at point guard before, but never a freshman walk-on," Barnes said.
In CSUB's previous game, a 72-70 win at Cal State Fullerton on Dec. 6, Williams' driving layup through the key plus a free throw in the final 25 seconds proved pivotal.
"He's made the most of his opportunities," said senior guard Stephon Carter. "He's starting as a walk-on and doing big things.”
Williams got his opportunity after senior guards Issiah Grayson and Zach Lamb were lost for the season and Tyrone White, who pressed into the point guard spot after Lamb was sidelined by a serious dislocated ankle injury two days before Thanksgiving, was sidelined last week with an allergic reaction. Grayson decided to redshirt this season after a slower-than-expected recovery from off-season knee surgery.
Williams didn’t know he was going to start Sunday until just a few minutes before the game started.
“Every game, we go out and shoot (in warm-ups), then we come in,” Williams said. “Every game Coach puts the name on the board of who you are going to be guarding. That’s when I knew, when he put my name up there.”
Barnes said he decided a day earlier to give Williams the opportunity when it was obvious White would miss the game. Barnes said he nearly gave Williams the start in the first game after Lamb’s injury, when CSUB played at Wyoming on Nov. 24.
“But I thought that might be putting a little too much on him,” Barnes said. “A road game against a team like Wyoming. And he struggled a little bit (in that game).”
But Williams’ improvement after the Wyoming game prompted Barnes to start Williams on Sunday.
Barnes said he had other options, such as using shooting guard Javonte Maynor at the point and starting 6-foot-7 junior guard Cory Hall at forward.
“It was just one of those feelings you get as a coach,” Barnes said. “I just thought it was his time. I figured we may as well find out now rather than later (if he could handle the job). He stepped up big for us against South Dakota State.”
Williams had only one turnover and added four assists in that game.
“He’s had some good games and he has fit in,” Barnes said. “He’s been given some opportunities and he’s taken advantage of that.”
Barnes said he’s looking for Williams to improve his overall game.
“He’s still learning some things,” Barnes said. “Sometimes he’s going the wrong way or calling the wrong play, or looking for the wrong guy.
“But he’s making more better plays than he is bad lays. And that’s the great thing.
“Probably the most important thing: Even when the play’s screwed up, and he knows he screwed it up, he won’t panic. He doesn’t turn the basketball over.
“That’s the one thing you want a point guard to do is to direct traffic. You want to make sure he protects the ball.”
How often Williams starts in the future and the amount of playing time he gets will depend on the situation in each particular game, Barnes said.
“I want to protect him. I want him to get better,” Barnes said. “Right now he’s a young guy and confidence is the main thing. I’ve got to make sure not to put him into a position where he’ll lose confidence.
“There are situations he needs to perform better. As he grows, he’ll get better.
“If he’s in a tough situation, he needs to learn how to get out of it. Right now I have to help him out a lot.”
Barnes saw Williams play frequently last season when Williams started at point guard for Liberty. Barnes’ son Bray plays for the Patriots.
“I felt he would be a good player,” Barnes said. “I feel our coaches have done a great job with him.”
Williams said he talked with several schools before choosing CSUB. Among them were Westmont, Texas-Pan American “and a couple of schools in Iowa.”
“But I felt it was best to stay here, close to my family,” Williams said. “I met with Coach Barnes. He seemed like a real good guy. I liked where the program was going and he said I would have an opportunity to play. That’s all I needed to hear.”
The lack of a basketball scholarship was not a significant hurdle to accepting the chance to attend CSUB, Williams said.
“I thought about it and wondered what people would say,” Williams said. “I’ve gotten some financial aid and some other scholarships. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to me.
“As long as I’m playing, I know I’m contributing and doing my part. That’s all that matters to me. Once you’re out there, walk-on or not a walk-on, you’re playing and that gives you a chance to show what you can do.”