By Austin Chappell
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Oklahoma State’s men’s basketball team is highlighted by some of the most talented names in the Big 12; Markel Brown, Le’Bryan Nash and Michael Cobbins.
There’s Marcus Smart, too, whom many consider to be a strong candidate for this year’s Naismith College Player of the Year.
However, to successfully complete a five-man starting lineup, teams need that last piece of the puzzle to fit in just right, usually through the use of a “role player”. For OSU Head Coach Travis Ford and the rest of the Cowboys, that final piece is Brian Williams.
“Love Brian Williams. I’m always itching to get him in the game,” Ford said about the 6’ 5” redshirt junior from Baton Rouge. “I know he’s going to do exactly what we need him to do, whether it’s getting a steal, deflection or guarding anybody. He can guard anybody on the court.”
The most interesting aspect of Williams’ role, though, is that it has taken a complete 180-degree turn between each of his four years with the Oklahoma State basketball program.
After an illustrious high school career that labeled him as one of the top recruits in Louisiana, Williams came to OSU, ready to join Coach Ford and the team and to receive his first role: gym rat.
“Looking back at it, it was probably a good decision to redshirt my first year here so I could tune up some of my game,” Williams said. “A lot of that was working out, taking extra shots after practice and just doing whatever I could in the gym to get me prepared for the next year.”
In 2011, Williams would finally begin his playing career for the Pokes, and he quickly earned a Sixth Man rep throughout the team’s non-conference slate, which included a career-high 41-minute performance off the bench against SMU.
Williams’ strong play landed him another new responsibility for the final 20 games of the season: starter. In a season-ending run that included a 22-point performance in OSU’s upset over No. 2 Missouri, Williams pushed his season scoring average to nearly ten points a game, played around 30 minutes per start and recorded only 1.22 turnovers per 40 minutes, the second-lowest turnover ratio in school history.
In a conference game against Texas, Williams was somehow able to rack up six steals, second-most for a freshman in OSU’s storied basketball history, and block three shots, cementing a strong confidence for himself in the minds of his coach and teammates.
“He has a great deal of respect from his teammates and I,” Ford said. “His teammates know he does everything the right way. He’s probably the most high-energy guy, and he never gets tired, so he’s able to put up stats in any category whenever we need him to.”
“This is also a guy who I didn’t hardly run any plays for and he still figured out how to score 12 points per game in conference play. He’s an x-factor.”
Like the previous two years before, Williams knew coming into 2012 that he would be asked to do even more different things for the team, especially with Smart being added to the roster. Yet, after receiving an unfortunate wrist injury in offseason practice, his newest function would be one that he, nor anyone else, would have ever expected: team cheerleader.
“It’s tough because I was in the trenches with those guys the year before when we had a below .500 season, and I was just expecting to come out and redeem Cowboy basketball with these guys,” Williams said. “But then it turned into them having to do it without me.”
The damage to Williams’ wrist caused him to miss the first 18 games of the 2012-13 season, 18 games in which the Cowboys ran up a 13-5 record, but sat at 3-3 in Big 12 play.
“He was basically Coach Williams at that point, so it was important that he was constantly around,” Ford said. “He was going to have a role on the team no matter what they year. I didn’t name him team captain for nothing. He earned it.”
That became apparent to Oklahoma State fans, as well, when the Cowboys reeled off a six-game winning streak once Williams returned to the bench. That streak also included a win over second-ranked Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse, which turned out to be a season-defining victory for the Pokes.
Fast-forward almost a year later, and Williams is back in his starting role. He’s back to blocking shots, staying consistent and overall being one of the best defenders on the team. However, not everything was the same.
Michael Cobbins, Williams’ teammate who recently suffered a season-ending Achilles injury, says there was still a definite change in Williams’ game in 2014.
“He’s a motivator,” Cobbins said. “He saw how hard it was to sit on the bench and not be able to play, so now he’s helping me out with the same situation. Me and the rest of the guys really respect him because we all know he’s out there doing what he does for us.”
That motivation, along with a team-first mentality, is just one revolving part on this year’s Cowboy Basketball squad that could lead it to the heights expected of this team before the season began.