As the opposing defender slips into help the side defense, UCF guard Matt Williams switches gears as he crosses half court, slowing down 3-feet behind the arch, stopping on a dime—his muscle memory working like a machine. And before the defense can adjust, the ball lands into his hands, with his left hand locking onto the ball as his right wrist snaps with his eyes dialed onto the basket as the ball pirouettes into the hoop.
Thus, becoming a three-point master causing headaches for every opposing coach and player he meets on the court.
As UCF’s lethal weapon this season, Williams, the redshirt senior, is averaging a career best 15.4 points and 4.8 rebounds on 38 percent shooting from beyond the arch. And with 100 three pointers made this season and 248 three pointers made for his career, he is just four triples away from breaking UCF alumna Gary Johnson and Jermain Taylor ‘s UCF records.
But Williams’ rise is a direct result of his inexorable work ethic, stanch confidence and his overall commitment to leading by example. Assistant coach Jamill Jones believes that what Williams does to help the team goes far beyond the box score and that’s what makes him special.
“He’s a great guy; great work ethic,” Jones said. “Matt is a guy that leads by example … he’s really helped this young team really come together and grow.”
Williams is a 5th year senior whose career has been founded on the principles of working hard. During the summer, he wakes up around 5:30 a.m. for gym workouts. Then he comes back and work out again at around 2:30 p.m., followed by a night session where he shoots an inordinate amount of jumpers.
And it’s what he does when the stands are empty that has made what most would consider irrational confidence, reasonable belief when it’s Williams that’s taking the shots when they actually count. When asked where his hot spots are on the court, he said with a smile “really anywhere”.
“Coach doesn’t really care if it’s at half court, if I’m feeling it you know, he wants me to shoot it,” Williams said. “Don’t be surprised if I shoot a half-court shot soon.”
And in his first season as UCF’s head coach, Johnny Dawkins has an overflowing amount of trust and belief in everything Williams does on the floor.
“Four words for a coach or mentor that our very important for young people to hear is I believe in you,” Dawkins said. “And I believe in Matt … I really believe in what he’s doing and who he is as a player.”
A prime example of why Williams’ team and coaches believe in him comes from games like on January 17 at home versus UCF’s in-state rival USF. Williams scored a career-high 38 points, knocking down a school and American Athletic Conference record 11 threes.
But the most astonishing aspect of his shots was the fact that five of those 11 three pointers were taken five to six feet beyond the arch with defenders on his hip. Williams took the shots with no hesitation as he’s done all season, making heat check shots look like a routine shoot around.
But it’s Williams’ mentality on and off the court that has set the tone for UCF’s culture going forward. After nearly leaving UCF for Wake Forest in search of something new last summer, Williams has been a key cog on a Knights team that currently sits at (18-10, 9-7) with a chance to win 20 games for the first time since 2012-13 when he was a freshman.
“He has individually helped us create a culture that I think is going to be sustainable long-term and I mean that,” Jones said.” His work ethic alone these guys have to feed off and now they know what it takes to be successful.”
But Williams’ relentless desire to work on his game stems from his own understanding that it all could be taken away from him. After two solid seasons as a Knight, he felt that he was due for a breakout season his junior year, but in the season opener versus Stetson in 2014 he injured his knee, sidelining him for the season.
And that occurrence like many other setbacks has taught him a valuable lesson.
“Life isn’t a sprint it’s a marathon,” Williams said. “When I got here five years ago I thought I was going to come in and contribute right away, but God slowed me down year by year. Showed me that you got to stay who you are … you got to stay the same throughout.”
On Sunday, Williams will lace-it-up on the UCF hardwood one last time, hosting No. 15 Cincinnati with NCAA tournament dreams still in reach in his mind and a three point record waiting to be broken.
But he won’t do anything different or anything special; Williams plans to go back to his room and relax, sticking to his regular routine. He admits that it hasn’t hit him yet that Sunday’s home game will be his last home game, but he’s ready to embrace it.
“I just feel like it just came so quick, but I’m ready for it and I’m ready for whatever comes with it,” Williams said.