According to Xavier University of Louisiana president, Dr. C Reynold Verret, July 5 was a great day for the Gold Rush program.
“Today, we have a coach,” said Verret.
After former head coach Dannton Jackson announced he was leaving Xavier to accept a coaching position at University of Alabama at Birmingham, Xavier athletics immediately started looking for his replacement. Jason Horn, Xavier athletics director, said it was a long process that involved over 100 applicants for the head coach job. But on June 28, Xavier announced that they had hired former Gold Rush player and former Gold Rush assistant coach, Alfred Williams, as the head coach.
“This is our first external hire since Jimmy Carter was president in ’78,” said Horn.
Williams, also called “Coach AJ,” is returning home to Xavier after one year in the head coach position at Harris-Stowe State University,
“Win, grow, and graduate,” Horn said. “I always ask myself how do we do those three things?”
The 32-year old Williams hails from Greenville, South Carolina. He played for North Carolina Wesleyan, NCAA Division III, during 2003-04, but he played as a member of the Gold Rush from 2004-05, 2006-08.
During this time, the 6-foot-4 forward became one of three Gold Rush players with at least 800 points, 500 rebounds, and 150 assists in his career. As a senior, he was All-Gulf Coast Athletic Conference, averaging 11.4 points and a team-leading 7.0 rebounds. He is number 3 in career 3-point field goal accuracy as a Gold Rush player (.411 percent). His Gold Rush career averages are 8.4 points and 5.8 rebounds in 97 games. During his three seasons as a player, Xavier went 70-30, qualified for the NAIA tournament three times, and upset no. 3 ranked Georgetown (Ky.) in 2007.
“In 2004, I knew I wanted to leave my imprint,” Williams said.
As he stated, it’s been 12 years later, he’s 20 pounds heavier, and he has a few gray hairs, and he’s done just that.
As head coach at Harris-Stowe, Williams had one of the top turnarounds for men’s basketball in the NAIA, leading his team to a 7.5 game improvement from the previous year. His 14-17 in the 2015-16 season won more games than the previous two seasons combined.
Williams had no intentions of leaving the Hornets after a year of being their head coach. So why did he?
“Chris Beard, Texas State coach, once said, ‘When Mama calls, you gotta come home.’ Well, Xavier called, and I gotta go home,” said Williams.
Williams is taking the head coach position on a Gold Rush team that has seen much success in its 78 years.
The Gold Rush have had 1261 wins, have had several NBA players and several players play overseas, and have the most 20 win seasons in all of Louisiana men’s basketball history. They can also boast 6 consecutive trips to the NAIA tournament. In 2015-16, they had a 21-13 record and were tied for third place in the Gulf Coast Atlantic Conference.
In the postseason, the Gold Rush were the GCAC tournament runner-ups for the second consecutive year, and they qualified for the NAIA Division I championship, where they lost in overtime. They averaged 66.8 ppg on offensive and held their opponents to 64.1 ppg on defense.
“There are still things to be done,” Williams said.
Williams plans for the Gold Rush to win conference championship, go to nationals and get out of the first round. In fact, the Gold Rush haven’t got out of the second round since 1973.
In order to do this, Williams plans to implement what he calls the “four pillars.” These include team—“The we over me” mentality—sacrifice; discipline; and effort.
He also wants the Gold Rush to be aggressive. He wants up-tempo offense and defense, to get stops, get out and run, early transition, and to be on the hunt.
“And a little swag, as the young fellas say,” Williams laughed.
However, Williams believes that coaching isn’t just about the “x’s and o’s.”
“I understand what it means to be a Gold Rush,” Williams said.
Xavier has a legacy of graduating its student-athletes. Not only do they graduate, but they do so with a heap of community service under their belt.
At Harris-Stowe, he had 7 student-athletes make all-conference academic team. Not only that, but his team won a community service award.
“Xavier goes from Canal to Claiborne—there should be nothing but Xavier everywhere. We can reach a lot of kids and make a big imprint from a student athlete standpoint,” said Williams.
Williams, who graduated in 2008 with a bachelor’s of science from Xavier, has a big job to take on, filling the shoes of Jackson. But it’s one he’s more than ready for.
“My goal is to the make the school look good, win basketball games, and the rest will take care of itself,” Williams said.
Standing at the podium next to Williams, Horn smiled.
“Let’s welcome AJ back to 1 Drexel Drive,” Horn announced.
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