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From Spokane to Serbia, Nigel Williams-Goss sees NBA dreams take a detour

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The Grobari was the most shocking part.

After two seasons playing in the Pac-12 and two years at Gonzaga, where The Kennel is renowned as one of the best student sections in college basketball, Nigel Williams-Goss was still not prepared for what he was going to encounter playing for KK Partizan, a Serbian club in Belgrade, one of the few European cities that is as crazy about basketball as they are soccer.

Grobari is what the Partizan fans call themselves — as in, “I’m Grobari” — and they support both Partizan’s basketball and soccer teams. Rabidly. When they behave, they’re called Ultras. When they don’t, which is fairly often, they’re referred to as Hooligans.

“I’ve see the flares being lit in the gym,” Williams-Goss told NBC Sports in a wide-ranging interview last month. “I’ve had times where I had to cover my head with a towel because the fans start throwing lighters and coins because they disagree with a call.”

“I remember one time we were playing a team and as they were warming up, our fans just threw like 100 rolls of toilet paper so they couldn’t warm up. They kept having to sweep off the toilet paper, and then they would throw rolls again.”

That is where Williams-Goss, coming off of a first-team All-American season for a team that lost in the national title game, spent his first season as a professional, wearing the badge of the highest college player selected in the 2017 NBA Draft that did not get a guaranteed contract or wind up as a two-way player for the organization that drafted him.



There may not be a better example of just how hard it is to sign one of the 510 available NBA contracts than Williams-Goss.

His amateur career was as decorated as anyone in recent memory. After becoming the first, and still only, player to spend four seasons as a member of Findlay Prep’s basketball program, where he won two national titles, Williams-Goss was named a McDonald’s All-American and played in the Jordan Brand All-American game. He won a gold medal with USA Basketball playing for the U19s. He spent two all-Pac-12 seasons at Washington before transferring to Gonzaga, where he led the Zags to a nearly-undefeated regular season, a No. 1 ranking for the majority of the year and a trip to the national title game. He was named a first-team All-American for his troubles, becoming one of just five players in Division I history to be named an academic All-American and a first-team All-American.

After that national title game loss, after completing an undergraduate degree in Psychology and starting in on a masters in Organizational Leadership, Williams-Goss left school with a year of eligibility still on the table.

He was selected by the Utah Jazz with the 55th pick.

His lifelong dream of hearing his name called during the NBA draft had come true. The reward was being forced to fight for a roster spot on a team with three established NBA point guards and Donovan Mitchell, a lottery pick that turned into the best player in the draft class.

“That was an emotional night for me,” Williams-Goss said. “Because I know that I did everything I could possibly do to put myself in a better position than that.”

“I had proven myself every step of the way. For me, it was weird, because [NBA teams] had seen [me] perform at a high level on the biggest stages my entire career, and then to fall that far in the draft and watch guys that were nowhere near as accomplished as I was get picked in front of me was really tough.”

He had to face reality: The NBA draft is all about potential — some combination of youth, athletic ability and physical tools — and shooting. Williams-Goss was a redshirt junior when he left school and 23 years old before the season started. He’s a below-average athlete by the standards that come with being an NBA point guard, and in four years he shot 33.1 percent from three on nearly 300 attempts.

That combination is far from ideal, but a death knell for his NBA dreams it is not.

Because the Utah Jazz still want him, or at least they are not yet ready to dispose of him. He wasn’t relegated to Europe as much as he was placed there, a draft-and-stash prospect. He’s stayed in regular contact with people in the Jazz front office and, after winning an MVP award and a tournament title in February, he was sent a care package from Jazz General Manager Dennis Lindsay. According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Jazz brass believed that spending a year overseas would benefit Williams-Goss more than if he had remained stateside as a G League player or on a two-way contract.

So after playing in the NBA summer league, Williams-Goss was faced with a decision: Accept an invite to training camp, where the Jazz had one roster spot available and four point guards on the roster, or get his passport ready. He met face-to-face with Lindsay and talked through all of his options, and all parties agreed that it was best to head to Europe.

“In my first year as a professional, it was important that I continue to develop and further my growth,” Williams-Goss said.

To do that, he needed to play.


Via Partizan

Partizan is one of the most storied clubs in all of European basketball.

A powerhouse in Serbia, Partizan has sent the likes of Vlade Divac, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Nikola Peković and Jan Vesely to the NBA, and they’ve won more trophies than any other club in Serbia: 21 Serbian League championships, 14 Serbian Cups, six Adriatic League titles and the 1992 EuroLeague title, the most prestigious of the bunch.

But prior to Williams-Goss’ arrival in Belgrade, Partizan had been stumbling. It had been four years since the Black And Whites had won one of the four competitions they play in annually, an eternity for the Grobari. To make matters worse, their failures in the Adriatic League, which features teams from the seven countries that previously made up Yugoslavia and is considered one of the very best in the world outside of the NBA, coincided with archrival Red Star-Belgrade was representing Serbia in the EuroLeague, basketball’s equivalent to soccer’s Champions League; Luka Doncic was recently named the EuroLeague MVP.

And, as it would turn out, Williams-Goss would become the savior Partizan was looking for.

Despite beginning the year playing for a coach that spoke no English while playing abroad for the first time in his life on a team that was, and still is, in financial disarray, the Gonzaga product still managed to put together a masterful season, averaging 16.9 points and 6.8 assists across all competitions.

But most importantly, he was the MVP of the Korać Cup — the Serbian League’s equivalent of a conference tournament — as Partizan won their first trophy in four years by defeating the reigning evil empire, Red Star, in the finals.

Williams-Goss had 23 points and seven assists in the title game. He had become a sensation in Belgrade, living up to the burden that came with the All-American tag. The Grobari knew who he was before he showed up in their city. With notoriety comes expectation, and Williams-Goss handled it better than anyone could have asked for.

“There was a lot of pressure on my shoulders from fans even though I was a rookie,” he said. Partizan has always had a reputation for being a place that young talents can go to shine, and Williams-Goss was the latest — and the rare American — to be burdened with that honor. “The success of a season is determined by how many trophies you can rack up in a year, because it’s not like college or the NBA where there’s only one final trophy. There’s a lot of different leagues. Not having a single trophy for almost four years, and then to do it this year with such a young group being led by an American rookie, was special.”

And he wasn’t kidding.

One afternoon, before the season had come to an end and Williams-Goss had returned to the states, he was walking past a cafe on a Belgrade street when he was recognized. Three of the employees of that cafe came sprinting out and grabbed Williams-Goss before he was out of sight.

“They made me come in and made me a cake with my number on it,” he said.

That’s one way to say thank you.


Courtesy Nigel Williams-Goss

Williams-Goss has some options heading into the summer.

The word is out about how well he adjusted to playing European basketball, and EuroLeague suitors have already come calling. There’s a market for him in Europe, one where he should be able to double what was reported to be a $130,000 salary; keep in mind, for most European teams, the salary they pay is take home money. They’ll cover things like rent, travel and even taxes.

As good as that sounds, the dream isn’t to play in the EuroLeague.

The dream is the NBA, and the Utah Jazz still own the rights to Williams-Goss. Mitchell isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and Rubio still has another year on his contract. Exum and Neto are both at the end of their rookie contracts, and while the expectation is that the Jazz will try to sign Exum to a longer deal — he’s been a very effective piece when his body doesn’t fail him — should Williams-Goss head to training camp with the Jazz, he’d likely be competing with Neto for a spot.

If he makes the team, great. If he’s cut, suddenly he’s a free agent and available for other NBA teams to sign, but that comes with a significant amount of risk as well. European teams typically make their signings earlier in the calendar than that, which would make the market for Williams-Goss abroad smaller and, potentially, less lucrative.

He’s going to have some decisions to make, that much is certain.

But this is not a situation where he is going to be choosing between eight-figure deals and deciding which NBA city he wants to live. No matter how you slice it, Williams-Goss is a fringe NBA player right now despite the fact that the former Burger Boy and first-team All-American just finished an outstanding rookie campaign for one of the most storied clubs in Europe.

He knows first-hand just how hard it is to get to the NBA, which is why he was so frustrated seeing how many players without any chance of getting drafted announced their intentions to test the waters of the NBA draft this spring.

“If you know that you’re not that you’re really on that cusp and it is just for feedback, I don’t understand the point of announcing,” he said. “To me, it just looks like you’re doing it for the attention and for the non-basketball knowing peers and other people to think, ‘Aww man, this guy that we know is close to going to the NBA.'”

“There’s 60 picks,” he added, “but the game is international. There’s 60 picks for kids all over the world. It’s definitely one of the toughest jobs to get. But people know how tough it is, which is why this opportunity of announcing they can test the waters kind of gives them a feeling that they can show other people that they’re closer to that reality than they might actually.”

Williams-Goss was one of those kids three years ago. When he left Washington, he had the chance to put his name into the draft but declined. He knew he wasn’t ready. After two more years at Gonzaga, completing his degree and jump-starting his work on a masters, it was time.

“I’ve put myself in a great position moving forward,” Williams-Goss said, “whether that’s the NBA or an opportunity to move up in Europe.”

Hopefully, wherever he lands, he won’t have batteries being thrown at his head.

Providence guard to miss at least a month with foot injury

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Rough news for Providence on Tuesday morning, as the school announced that freshman guard A.J. Reeves will miss the next four-to-six weeks with an unspecified foot injury.

Reeves, a native of Roxbury, Ma., has averaged 14.2 points this season while shooting 45 percent from three. He’s been the best freshman in the Big East and one of the best weapons for a talented Friar team that has yet to truly figure themselves out.

“It’s unfortunate that A.J. has to go through this as he has been having a very productive start to his college career,” head coach Ed Cooley said. “However, he is a great person and will use this time to get better and he will continue to support the team.”

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Ethan Happ is top two, who is Gonzaga’s best?

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1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

Williamson is still the leader for the National Player of the Year race, and it should probably still be a consensus. He’s averaging 20-9-2-2-2, something that hasn’t been done in roughly three decades, and he’s doing it on the team that is the favorite to win the national title even if the silly rules of the polls won’t let us rank them there.

2. ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin

Happ is so integral to what the Badgers do on a nightly basis. I’m not sure there is a player in college basketball that carries a bigger load for his team than Happ does for the Badgers. He’s their anchor defensively, the best rebounder on the team, a guy that brings the ball up the floor as much as anyone, the player that offense runs through offensively and the most dangerous offensive weapon in the conference not named Carsen Edwards.

The thing that really makes a difference for Happ this year is what he’s developed into as a passer. In the past, he’s been susceptible to teams throwing double teams at him, but it’s not something that is as effective this year because of how well he is able to move the ball.

He sees the floor. He understands where the double is coming from, and his ability to dribble into the post makes it really difficult for teams to sends double-teams; the defense can’t move while the ball is in the air. Throw in the fact that he’s capable of grabbing a rebound and going coast-to-coast — or, as you’ll see in the last clip, beating a press on his own — he’s become such a weapon for Greg Gard:

3. RUI HACHIMURA or BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga

Who is the best player on Gonzaga this year?

That’s a debate that can go back and forth for hours. On the one hand, Hachimura is unquestionably their star. He’s the leading scorer, he’s the guy that is a sensation in Japan, he’s the guy that has made the game-winning shots against Duke and Washington this year. He’s deservedly an all-american.

But there’s a very strong argument to make that Clarke is actually the best player on the Gonzaga roster. He’s quite possibly the best defensive player in all of college basketball. He’s an elite rim protector. He’s agile enough to switch ball-screens. He jumps passing lanes. He landed what may go down as the best block in basketball by anyone this year, in college, the NBA, wherever:

Oh, and he also happens to average 16.9 points and 8.2 boards.

But there’s more to this conversation.

For starters, Zach Norvell Jr. is probably the most dangerous player on Gonzaga given his ability to get hot out of nowhere and reel off four or five threes in the time it takes to go from one TV timeout to the next. Josh Perkins is the most important player on the roster, because Gonzaga doesn’t really have another option at the point and because Perkins himself is so consistently inconsistent.

And I haven’t even mentioned Killian Tillie yet.

4. R.J. BARRETT, Duke

Barrett has been terrific since the last time we really needed to pay attention to the Blue Devils. He’s averaging 24.2 points, 7.2 boards and 4.2 assists, but the Blue Devils haven’t played something other than a buy game for two weeks. They’ll get Texas Tech in New York City next Thursday.

5. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia

Hunter has been the best player for Virginia this season, but this is something to keep an eye on as the injury to Kihei Clark could force him to play out of his best position.

6. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech

I am fully on board the Jarrett Culver bandwagon, and depending on how he plays against Duke next Thursday, I’m sure I will be joined there by quite a few other people.

7. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee

Williams has unquestionably been the best player for the Vols this season, averaging 19.9 points, 9.3 boards and 4.6 assists. He’s been an all-american, without a doubt, and it almost seems like a disservice to have him this low. The issue is that, in both of Tennessee’s biggest game, Williams has fouled out late while Admiral Schofield has been the guy tasked with making the biggest plays in the biggest moments.

8. DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas

Lawson hasn’t really been all that flashy, and there’s an argument to be made that his teammate Lagerald Vick has been more important to the Jayhawks this season, but at this point, given Vick’s inconsistency and the fact that he has been benched, Lawson has to be the pick in the Player of the Year race for the Jayhawks.

9. CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue

Sunday’s loss at Texas more or less summed up this Purdue team: Edwards went for 40 points on 15-for-26 shooting. Purdue lost 72-68.

10. NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech

Alexander-Walker burst into the national conversation with a terrific performance in Virginia Tech’s run to the Charleston Classic title. Since then, he’s been fine while the Hokies have played games that mostly haven’t been interesting. Outside of Saturday’s date with Washington, they won’t play another game that we need to pay attention to until the new year.

IN THE MIX: Jordan Caroline (Nevada), Luguentz Dort (Arizona State), Charles Matthews (Michigan), Ja Morant (Murray State), Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s)

Self on Vick’s benching: ‘He had a really bad day Thursday’

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The status of Lagerald Vick in the Kansas basketball program is a storyline that feels like it’s never going to go away.

If you’re just catching up, Vick was run out of the program during the spring. After a poor end to the 2017-18 season, Vick and Bill Self came to an agreement that it would be in the best interest of both parties if Vick moved on after the season. He declared for the draft. He planned on signing with an agent. He realized that the NBA, last spring, was a pipe dream, and he and Self worked things out enough that Vick was allowed back into the program.

The understanding was that the issues that popped up as league play kicked off last season — a lack of effort, a lack of buy-in, a lack of interest in playing defense or playing hard — would not pop-up this year, but it’s fair to wonder whether something did happen. Vick has been benched for the last two Kansas games. He didn’t start against Wofford and played just 22 minutes off the bench. He didn’t start against New Mexico State and played 31 minutes, going 2-for-8 from the floor.

The benching against Wofford was because Vick was late for a shootaround. When asked after the 63-60 win over NMSU on Saturday, Self said, “he had a really bad Thursday, let’s just leave it at that. Hopefully those days are behind us.”

We’ve written plenty about the season that Vick is having. He’s been the Kansas savior on more than one occasion — Vermont, Louisiana, Stanford, Tennessee. There’s no chance that Kansas is undefeated right now if it wasn’t for Vick.

And, with Udoka Azubuike sidelined, there’s no chance that Kansas can hit their ceiling without Vick figuring this out.

CBT Podcast: Monday Overreactions on Gonzaga-Tennessee, Pac-12 is one-bid, Kentucky isn’t top 25

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Rob Dauster was joined by Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo Sports to break down everything that happened in college basketball this weekend. Is there an actual good basketball team in the Pac-12? Is Kentucky a top 25 team? Is there a top tier of teams in the sport, and where does Kansas actually fit into that top tier? We get into all of it in this podcast.

Open: Is the Pac-12 a one-bid league?

11:45: Tennessee beat Gonzaga and The Admiral is awesome

23:30: Is there a top tier of teams, and where does Kansas fit in it?

30:10: Kentucky is not a top 25 team

41:00: Getting to the Elite Eight was actually a bad thing for Bruce Weber

AP Poll: Kansas returns to No. 1 as Gonzaga drops to 4th after loss

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Kansas is back where it started the season.

The preseason No. 1, the Jayhawks are again the top-ranked college basketball team in The Associated Press Top 25 despite struggling to get past New Mexico State at home. Kansas received 57 first-place votes from a 65-person media panel in the poll released Monday, sliding into the top spot after previous No. 1 Gonzaga lost to Tennessee.

No. 2 Duke moved up a spot and received four first-place votes. No. 3 Tennessee, No. 4 Gonzaga, No. 5 Michigan and No. 6 Virginia received the other first-place votes. No. 7 Nevada, Auburn, Michigan State and Florida State rounded out the top 10.

The Jayhawks were the preseason No. 1 but dropped a spot after Duke decimated then-No. 2 Kentucky to open the season.

Gonzaga moved to No. 1 after beating Duke in the Maui Invitational title game, lasting two weeks before losing 76-73 to the Vols on Sunday in Phoenix.

Kansas (8-0) kept winning, though it needed a big game from Dedric Lawson to beat New Mexico State in Kansas City on Saturday. Lawson, a preseason All-American, had 20 points, including the final 14 for Kansas, and 10 rebounds in the tighter-than-expected 63-60 victory.

Kansas played without center Udoka Azubuike, but coach Bill Self was not buying any excuses for the struggles.

“We were fortunate tonight,” he said. “How in the world we’ve won these games … it’s one thing to not play well, it’s another thing to not play well and not be intellectually into the game and that was certainly the case tonight.”

It was good enough to get the Jayhawks past the Aggies — and move to No. 1.

Tennessee picked up its biggest win in four seasons under coach Rick Barnes by knocking off Gonzaga in the Colangelo Classic and has its highest AP ranking since hitting No. 1 in 2007-08.

The Vols (7-1) kept their poise and made the biggest plays down the stretch, holding off the Zags 76-73 after Admiral Schofield scored 25 of his 30 points in the second half and hit two key 3-pointers.

The victory was Tennessee’s first over a No. 1 team since beating Kansas in 2010 and Barnes’ first in 31 years as a head coach.

Tennessee matched the biggest climb of the week, moving up four spots from No. 7, while No. 15 Ohio State, No. 17 Villanova and No. 18 Mississippi State also moved up four.

No. 19 Kentucky had the largest drop this week, losing 10 spots to No. 19 after losing to Seton Hall in overtime. No. 25 Kansas State was next at nine.

Furman moved into the poll for the first time last week, thanks to a resume that includes wins over 2018 Final Four teams Villanova and Loyola-Chicago.

The Paladins (10-0) moved up two spots in this week’s poll to No. 23 after beating Elon and South Carolina Upstate. Furman plays Charleston Southern on Tuesday and UNC Wilmington Saturday.

This week’s poll had a rarity — three teams tied for the final spot, meaning there are 27 teams in the top 25.

Syracuse, Indiana and Kansas State all came in at No. 25 after receiving 118 points. It’s the first three-way tie in the AP Top 25 since three teams shared No. 13 in 1991.

The Hoosiers are ranked for the first time since climbing to No. 3 in 2016-17. The Orange moved back into the Top 25 after beating Northeastern and Georgetown. The Wildcats dropped nine spots from No. 16 after losing to Tulsa.

In addition to Syracuse and Indiana, No. 21 Marquette and No. 24 Houston each moved into the poll this week. The Cougars are ranked for the first time since hitting No. 21 last season and the Golden Eagles are back in the poll after dropping out in Week 3.

AP Top 25 poll
First-place votes in parentheses

TEAM LAST
1. Kansas (57) 2
2. Duke (4) 3
3. Tennessee (1) 7
4. Gonzaga (1) 1
5. Michigan (1) 5
6. Virginia (1) 4
7. Nevada 6
8. Auburn 8
9. Michigan State 10
10. Florida State 11
11. Texas Tech 13
12. North Carolina 14
13. Virginia Tech 15
14. Buffalo 17
15. Ohio State 19
16. Wisconsin 12
17. Villanova 21
18. Mississippi State 22
19. Kentucky 9
20. Arizona State 20
21. Marquette —
22. Iowa 18
23. Furman 25
24. Houston —
t-25. Syracuse —
t-25. Indiana —
t-25. Kansas State 16