Basketball consumes Dave Williams’ life.
He’s coached at the junior college, club and high school levels, and along the way he has always been blessed to have the support and presence of his father — the Rev. Paul Williams.
Until this year.
Williams, 80, has been declining in health after having a limb amputated. It got to the point where hospice was called in recently, and he hasn’t made it to a single game this year as his son helped guide the Desert Vista boys basketball team to its first state semifinal appearance since 2008.
“It’s different,” Williams said. “He’s been heading down this road for a while, but he is hanging in there.”
It seemed to really hit Williams hard on Tuesday when the Thunder defeated Gilbert in the quarterfinals. In the moments after the postgame celebration, he was reflective, reticent and watery-eyed as he looked around Wells Fargo Arena.
Knowing the situation, it appeared he was almost looking for his father and receiving a simple approving nod that all sons look for from the man that they respect the most.
It never came, but he knew the Rev. Williams, a south Phoenix resident, would have been proud.
“I think about him sometimes and what he did for me,” Williams said Tuesday. “I get emotional sometimes because he does everything for us.”
While Williams kept it from his Thunder players all year, he couldn’t hold it in anymore and let everyone know before the second-round playoff game against Mesa Mountain View.
All the players went out and played their best game in Williams’ two years as coach and dismantled the Toros 69-37. They followed it with a nice 53-50 win over Gilbert, before falling 49-46 to top-seeded Corona del Sol on Thursday night in the semifinals.
“We were notified before the Mountain View game and that gave us some emotional firepower because we love Coach Dave,” senior forward Danny Powell said. “Every player has disagreements with coaches at times, but we are like a family and love each other. We are going to fight for each other.”
Junior guard John Marshall had similar sentiments after the win over Gilbert.
“His dad is struggling and before each game we do a prayer for his dad,” junior guard John Marshall said. “We are playing for him, and doing it for him.”
Williams, 52, has turned the Thunder around in his two seasons at the helm, winning 43 games, after a two-year blip that totaled 19 wins in Doug Harris’ final years.
He did it with the help of Powell, off to Eastern Washington, and Jeff Lowery, who will stay local at Grand Canyon.
While there is still some quality talent coming back — Connor MacDougall is a sophomore, Kyle Pitman is a junior — Williams will be tested in the years to come.
But nothing like he has been this year.
“It’s been tough,” Williams said. “He has been such a big influence on me and my life. We’ve known it was going to come to this, but it doesn’t make it any easier.”
Williams will always have basketball, even now that the season is over as the offseason cranks up after a little bit of a break.
“It’s a little window where I can think about something else,” Williams said after the loss to Corona. “Basketball has been one of things to get me through all of this. He always tells me, give your best shot and do what you can do. I walk out of here feeling like a king because I know I got every drop out these kids.”
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