SALTILLO — University of Central Arkansas basketball coach Corliss Williamson slam-dunked a message of winning off the court last week at the Friendship Baptist Church, located in the Saltillo community.
Introducing him to an audience of mostly students, Nate Law, youth minister introduced Williamson as a "man of character."
"He wins at things that are important to him," Law said. "He is a coach that wants his players to not only win on the court but to excel off the court."
Williamson, a retired NBA basketball player, spoke for more than 30 minutes chronicling his "different stages of life including his trials, tribulations and victories."
He grew up in Russellville, he said, much the same as many of those in the audience. He attended church and sang in the church choir. He began playing basketball at an early age. He dunked his first basketball in the seventh grade and broke a backboard when he was in the ninth grade. By the time he was 13, he was tagged with the nickname "Big Nasty," a moniker he received from his cousin, who was also his coach.
As a high school basketball player, he was a three-time all-conference and all-state selection and was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year in 1991 and 1992.
"Some people think that being successful means all is always well," he said, directing his message primarily to students. "That’s not the case."
His trials, he said, began prior to kindergarten. Ignoring his parents’ warnings to not run with a stick in his hand, he said he tripped and fell over his feet with that stick going into his left eye. He said he entered kindergarten with an eye patch and nearly missed losing an eye which would have resulted in his dream of a basketball career ending before it began.
"I am a little shy," he said. "That’s what happens when you grow up head and shoulders taller than everyone."
The audience laughed when he said as a kindergartner he was taller than his teacher and had "big feet."
When he was in the eighth grade, he said, his parents made him quit playing basketball for a while until he brought a C in algebra up to a B. He said he had been warned on several occasions by his parents regarding the consequences of bringing home a report card with anything less than a B average. Seeing the C, his parents followed through on their promise. He had to go to the gym and tell his coach and team that he couldn’t play. That, he said, was a tough lesson for a 6-foot-5 teenager sitting on the bench crying.
"I let them down because I didn’t do my best," he said. "I had to show my parents I could do better in the classroom before I could get back on the team."
When he was about 16, he said he went through a period of depression requiring some counseling. He also touched on the subject of peer pressure.
He told the gathering there are two "very important dates in his life." Aug. 24, 1981, he said, he gave his life to Christ. About 16 years ago, on Aug. 24, his first son was born.
"Aug. 24 is a special day for me. I was double blessed," he said.
He talked about the importance of family and expressed his love for his family and shared some insight into the lives of his three sons. Coaching, he said is important to him but not as important as being a good parent.
Lastly, he talked about his career and his spiritual relationship.
Williamson touched on his stardom at the University of Arkansas. He led Arkansas to a 31-3 record in 1994. He was named Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament while helping the Razorbacks to win their only NCAA basketball championship. That game, he said, is his most memorable. He also played for four teams during his 12-year NBA career.
In his freshman year of college, he broke his foot twice and missed 13 games. Before his NBA career, he had back surgery.
He talked about being down more than once during his professional career. On occasion, he said, he would receive phone calls from family members reminding him that he needed "to give God more attention." He said he was told that God might be trying to get his attention.
In a related matter, he said he is often told that he is lucky. To which, he said, he responds "I’m not lucky. I’m blessed." On that note, he encouraged he students to do their best and set good examples for younger children.
"My faith in God always keeps me strong," he concluded. "That’s what has always brought me through a lot."
Prior to Williamson speaking, a quiz was conducted with students 7-12 participating. Four were given an autographed basketball. Williamson also stayed afterward signing autographs.