By Marc Pruitt
The smile on Daivien Williamson’s face may fool you.
It would be wise not to be taken in by it. Not on the basketball court, at least.
That’s the first mistake opposing players might make when they step on the floor against the senior at Winston-Salem Prep.
There’s a fierce competitor behind the grin; a player who believes that he has still managed to fly under the radar despite a four-year career that has proven to be prolific enough to land him a scholarship to East Tennessee State University.
In a recent Twitter post, Williamson wrote “Best kept secret, but I like it that way.”
“I like that I’ve kind of been under the radar since I got serious about basketball,” Williamson said. “It keeps me focused on continuing to grind and improve every day.”
A four-year starter for the Phoenix, Williamson surpassed the 1,000-point career scoring mark last season in the NCHSAA 1-A playoffs during the third round. His production hasn’t slowed down this season, as he currently leads the Phoenix by averaging 21.5 points per game.
“He’s been a special player for us since he stepped on the floor as a freshman,” Coach Andre Gould said. “Most importantly, he’s a great kid. That’s first and foremost. When you get that kind of kid that is as talented as he is, that makes it easy to coach. He has never, not once in four years, questioned anything I’ve asked him to do. He always responds with a ‘yes sir’. He has always bought in to what we’re doing here. He’s been an absolute joy to have in our program and is a great representative of this school and this city.”
Williamson said he started to get serious about basketball in seventh grade. He joined Team Winston to play AAU during the summer months beginning in eighth grade, which is where he noticed things starting to take off.
“Playing AAU was a huge part of my growth,” Williamson said. “I also started working out with a trainer, Kenneth Bates with LAAB Work. That first summer playing 14 and under AAU was when my confidence really started to grow. I feel like every part of my game started to get better.”
Mike Russell coached Williamson for four seasons of AAU (14, 15, 16 and 17 & under) and was taken with Williamson from the beginning.
“He’s got this spirit about him that impossible to break,” Russell said. “There’s always a smile on his face. The energy he has is so pure. He was always the happiest kid to be at practice. Be it during practice or when we played a game, being in a gym is his happy place. Next to his mom, it’s his No. 1 love.”
Between high school and AAU ball, Williamson’s development over the last four years has continued to flourish.
“I’ve always challenged him to compete on both ends of the floor,” Gould said. “I think the biggest area he has improved since his freshman year has been his defense. He recognized that his defense needed to get better. Offense has always come pretty easy for him. But I challenged him to become a complete player, mentally and physically. And that’s where he has made the most strides. And that only makes our team that much better. He came in here four years ago as a little chihuahua. Now, he’s a pit bull.”
Williamson glides down the floor and is just as comfortable moving without the ball in his hands as he is at finding the open man. His jump shot is smooth and pure. He can beat you off the dribble and finish in traffic.
“You have to be sure to know where he is on the floor,” Gould said. “He can beat you in a lot of different ways. He’s a tough match-up for defenders because of his ability, and that doesn’t just mean he can score. His decision-making when he has the ball can also lead to a lot of points for us because we’ve got lots of pieces that can also hurt people. He knows where the ball needs to go.”
Williamson smiled while discussing how his team came up short in the NCHSAA 1-A state championship games during his freshman and sophomore years. The smile grew wider when he talked about losing to Lincoln Charter in the Western Regional championship last season. Why the smile?
“Motivation,” he said.
The Prep players have a photo of Lincoln Charter celebrating its win last season on the home screens of their phones to serve as a reminder of the ultimate goal for this season.
“It’s a photo of them smiling and celebrating after beating us,” Williamson said. “We thought last year was going to be our year after being so close the two years before. We aren’t taking anything for granted this year. Our goal since that game was to win the state championship and we’ve been doing the work to make that happen. We just need to keep our heads the rest of the way.”
Williamson said he picked East Tennessee State over James Madison, Drexel, and Wofford because of its style of play and comfort level.
“They like to get up and down, kind of like what we do here,” Williamson said. “They also have my major, sports management. I loved my visit and It felt like the best situation for me.”
Russell knows that the transition for Williamson will be as smooth as his jump shot.
“He is leaps and bounds better now than when I first coached him four years ago,” Russell said. “The only adjustment he’ll need to focus on when he gets to college is the speed of the game. And I know he’ll put in the work with a smile on his face.”
The smiles were abundant the day Williamson signed his National Letter of Intent. The widest smile may have belonged to Williamson’s mother, Laquita.
“That was definitely my proudest moment, not only for me, but for my mother,” Williamson said. “It’s so gratifying to me to know that she won’t have to pay for my college. And seeing how big she was smiling that day made me happy too.”
That’s a smile that won’t fool you.