Gold Rush basketball has a new head coach—and team—as they’ve entered the 2016-17 season.
Being a Gold Rush assistant coach prepared Gold Rush head coach, Alfred “AJ” Williams, for the opportunity to be head coach at Harris-Stowe last season; however, it wasn’t until he became head coach that he had the opportunity to learn and grow as a head coach.“And then, coming back here, it’s like a small adjustment. Not too much,” Williams said. “It’s good to be surrounded by familiar faces.”
Williams, who said he wants to put his stamp on Xavier, admits he can’t “reinvent the will.” Xavier has had a lot of success in the past seasons, but he wants to put his own spin on the type of student-athlete brought into the program, along with making the offense a little more up-tempo. He does plan on keeping the defense the same as it’s been in the past.
“Our personnel is going to kind of dictate that, how we play,” Williams said. “With a little structure, I kind of let them do their thing.”His personnel is a 13-member roster, 9 of which are new players. Of those 9 new players, 7 are freshman Kahlil McCoy, Monte Lambert, Evan Howard, Innocent Kukulu, Mike Williams, Donovan Armstrong, and Jerry Gibson. The only two non-freshman players are juniors Hakeem Simon and Jalen David. The returning players are seniors Seth Jackson and Wesley Pluviose-Philip; junior Lucas Martin-Julien; and sophomore Leland Alexander.
As if becoming head coach wasn’t it’s own challenge, Williams has also had to adjust to managing the different personalities.“I’m a business management major, so this goes back to what I do: I’m managing personalities, egos,” Williams said. “It goes back to recruiting a certain type of athlete—one that can handle the academic criteria here and being on the court.”
For Williams and staff, it’s been tough. It’s new to everybody, including the returning players. The playing is totally different from everything they’ve ran so far, according to Williams. It’s taking some adjustment to get them used to that.
The returning players have made it a little bit easier for him. Williams admits to leaning on them heavily because they understand what Xavier basketball means. He relies on them to set the example for the new guys and to carry the weight.It’s been a collective effort from all parties, though. Everybody is putting in to “mesh and gel” together to push the team forward, according to Williams. “It’s been fun, though,” Williams said.
Last season, the Gold Rush went 21-13 overall, and 6-6 in the Gulf Coast Atlantic Conference. They were 15-5 at home and 4-7 away. They lost 84-71 to Dillard to become runner-ups in the GCAC Championships. However, they still made it to the NAIA tournament but lost in the first round to Lewis-Clarke State 6869 during overtime.
On top of that, the Gold Rush lost four seniors: Morris Wright, Gary Smith, RJ Daniels, and Jarvis Thibodeaux.
When Williams replaced former head coach Dannton Jackson, he immediately went to the NAIA to determine recruiting. He wanted to see how the returning players would stack up against their opponents and fill in the holes accordingly.
“I knew that we needed to continuously get better, so we brought in guards that could put the ball on the floor and shoot it and who could create their own shot,” Williams said. “We brought in size.” Williams said they addressed some areas, and when everybody was back on the floor healthy, fans could see everything come together. “There’s three areas that’ll help our basketball team have success: attitude is one, academics is another, and injury is the last one,” Williams said. “Right now, we’re sitting at two out of three.” Currently injured are Pluvoise-Philip, who Williams said had surgery on his foot. Two of the freshman also have some “situations” they are working through, according to Williams. “We’re just trying to hold the fort down until everybody gets healthy,” Williams said. “Once we do that, you’ll see how great this team could be.”
Despite new players, injuries, and this being his first year as Gold Rush head coach, Williams is looking for a successful team. To him, that means winning a conference championship, a national championship. Ideally, he wants them to have an over 20-win season and to get the team back to Kansas City, who hosts the NAIA. If he could do all that his first year, that would be pretty awesome, according to Williams. “If we compete and play like we’re supposed to, I think we have a really good shot at being special,” Williams said