If you followed the City basketball program closely from 2012 to 2014, Jihar Williams' name might not ring a bell. Though Williams was a student at the Northeast Baltimore magnet school those years, he didn't suit up for the Knights as a 10th-grader.
Two years after his basketball-less sophomore year, however, Williams has finalized plans to play Division I hoops. The 6-foot-5, 190-pound guard committed to William & Mary this week, picking the Tribe over offers from American, Coppin State, High Point, Loyola, Siena, UMBC and Vermont.
How did Williams go from not playing the game competitively during a crucial year of high school to having his pick of quality mid-major scholarship offers?
"I wasn't that serious about basketball," Williams said. "I didn't play AAU my ninth-grade year. I was hurt at first [in 10th grade], then I decided not to play. … But I started AAU after that year. Then I started getting serious about basketball."
Two coaches, in particular, helped facilitate that change in mindset. In AAU, Williams played for Maryland 3D and benefited from coach David Thurston's connections to multiple college coaching staffs. And at the high school level, Williams was introduced to former Milford Mill coach Albert Holley, who had taken over the boys basketball program at Friends.
Williams visited the private Quaker school and decided to transfer there. Because he didn't play for City in 10th grade, he was able to reclassify and have three years at Friends.
"Reclassifying really helped me work more on my game. It basically just gave me another year," said Williams, who averaged around 19 points as a junior last season. "Coach Holley … was the biggest factor in the change in my game. I could always shoot really good since I was little. Then I started working on other areas of my game; dribbling, passing, getting to the bucket. Then I became a better scorer. He would tell me to not shoot a lot. Just take it to the basket. Work on the rest of your game."
Holley told Williams he was a D-I player, though Williams didn't truly believe his coach until he landed his first scholarship offer last July while playing for Maryland 3D. Thurston first told Williams of William & Mary's interest in him that summer, and though he didn't know much about the Tribe, he immediately liked what he heard.
"I knew they were in the CAA and they played against schools like Towson, but I really didn't know much about them at first," said Williams, who now plays AAU for Baltimore United. "But they play a game style like mine, so I fit in perfectly. They get up and down, they shoot a lot of 3s. They move the ball."
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"It's a really good academic school," Williams said. "When I saw the campus, it's really nice. When I saw it, it felt like Friends to me. Something I was comfortable with. It's a smaller school."
Williams, who is undecided on a major, said he's the first member of William & Mary's 2017 class. The coaches told him to expect significant minutes at shooting guard and small forward during his freshman year.
"I'm actually ready to work harder," he said. "I'm more focused. It makes everything easier now that I know where I'm going. I know what I need to do for the rest of this summer in getting ready for next year and getting ready for college."