In his U-17 USA Basketball bio, Johnathan Williams III said his favorite superhero is Superman. Seems about right. The studious, soft-spoken, deeply religious, self-professed comic book nerd is Clark Kent for most of the week. Then, for 80 or so minutes on the basketball court, he’s the Man of Steel.
On a team of Ferraris, he’s the Dodge Hellcat. If Sabonis was a Rembrandt in the post, he’s Jackson Pollock. No drop-steps, up-and-unders nor fade away jumpers, JWIII is going over you. Power, pure athletic power; you either fall victim to an unblockable sweeping hook or he’s going to posterize you with a dunk. The guy can fly; the Zags now win game opening jump balls, Alley-oops are now part of the offense and shots are blocked on the perimeter as well as under the goal. And he does it all with just the right amount of humility and swagger.
In a November, 2016 Spokesman-Review article, JWII said he spent his redshirt season “learning to dunk on people” and “finishing through contact”, “natural gifts” he didn’t possess. He learned his lessons well. Something JWIII also accomplished during his redshirt season was improving his defense. Spend a year of practice chasing Wiltjer around the perimeter and banging Domas in the post and defensive improvements occur spontaneously. Add in a year of Travis Knight’s conditioning and the only thing missing is a Rockyesque training montage with “feeling strong now” playing in the background.
Recruited to Missouri by Coach Frank Haith. Mizzou appeared to be a program on the rise winning at least 23 games in each of the past six seasons and 30 twice in that span. In 2014, Haith bolted to Tulsa and Mizzou won only nine games the following season. JWIII decided to transfer. He considered Michigan State, Georgetown and SMU but developed a telephone bond with Coach Brian Michaelson leading him to choose Gonzaga. Announcing his transfer on social media, he wrote, “I am proud to say I'm a ZAG! God take the wheel, you're in control!".
JWIII moved to Spokane with his brother Johnny, a 6’8” 260 lb. former George Mason player, “so he wasn’t out here by himself”. A serious student, JWIII was on the honor roll from middle school throughout high school. He wears the number 3 not as a tribute to Adam Morrison, but because “Christ rose on the third day”.
His Gonzaga debut was inauspicious at best; 1 of 3 against Utah Valley with four turnovers, 1 of 9 against San Diego State, then four more turnovers the following game against Bryant. Rust maybe, trying too hard, definitely. He was no longer the best player on a bad team who had to force his shot, he now had two point guards and a point center who’d get him the ball in a position to score. Obviously he’s a quick study. Over the next 3 games in the AdvoCare invitational, he’d go 18 for 21 from the field against a surprisingly strong Quinnipiac, Florida and Iowa State. He had 24 turnovers in his first 12 games, 8 in the next 12.
As the season progressed, it seemed the bigger the game, the better he performed. He was 14 for 18 from the field in the two regular season St. Mary’s wins and 4 for 5 at Provo. He scored in double-digits in all three WCC Tournament games, shut-down South Dakota’s Mike Daum, and ensured GU handled West Virginia’s press.
Yesterday, he was the best player on the floor in the most important game in Gonzaga’s basketball’s history. His performance was both spectacular and workmanlike, awesome dunks, a timely 3, offensive rebounds, steals and blocks. This game should earn him a place in the pantheon of all-time great Zag tourney victories. Sure, there was no game winning tip-in, last minute drive down the floor or a clutch 3-pointer, just the best athlete on the floor flying all over the place and dominating in all aspects of the game. Well just about all aspects, his free throw shooting leaves a lot to be desired. It would probably be too much to expect if he were 80% from the charity stripe, after all, every Superman has his Kryptonite.