The Marianna High School boys basketball team bolstered its already promising outlook when shooting guard Herman Williams decided to make a pit stop home for his senior season.
Williams, who left for Oldsmar Christian Academy (FL) in April, rejoined the Bulldogs two weeks ago and on Wednesday night committed to the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, a Division I program in the Sun Belt Conference.
Among the other Division I teams interested in Williams were Florida International, South Florida, Murray State and South Alabama.
Williams visited Louisiana-Lafayette this weekend and was immediately convinced it was where he wanted to continue his basketball career.
“It feels so much like home,” Williams said. “Just the atmosphere and the small-town environment. They have great fans. The way they play at Louisiana-Lafayette fits my game perfectly.”
The 6-foot-2 Williams sustained a meniscus tear in his left knee on a dunk right before halftime of the Bulldogs 62-50 victory last season on Nov. 28 at East Gadsden.
In April, Williams transferred to Oldsmar Christian Academy (FL), a member of the SIAA (Sunshine Independent Athletic Association), which were 35-4 while winning its conference regular season championship and ranked as high as No.17 in the nation at one point according to Max Preps.
As he yearned for the comfort of home for his final year of high school, Williams delivered the difficult decision to Oldsmar head coach Jordan Fair, who is also the coach of his AAU squad, Team Breakdown.
“I loved it there,” Williams said of his brief stint at Oldsmar Christian. “I just wanted to be home with my family and friends. I was homesick you could say. It feels great to be back in Marianna.”
Williams is 75 percent recovered from the injury and will have his minutes monitored early on in the season.
Marianna hosts North Florida Christian on Monday then Maclay on Thursday in the preseason.
Marianna begins the regular season at home on Nov. 17 vs. Cottondale. The Bulldogs also play at the Hornets on Jan.28. Marianna plays Malone twice, first on the road on Dec. 10 then at home on Jan. 19. Marianna hosts Graceville on Jan.4.
Former Graceville head coach Matt Anderson is in his first season at the helm for Marianna. Anderson was released after four seasons at Graceville despite registering a 22-6 record and trip to the regional semifinals last year.
Anderson’s predecessor Travis Blanton resigned in April after 14 years at Marianna. Last season the Bulldogs were riddled with injuries, finishing 6-19 overall and 2-4 in the district with a first-round loss to Pensacola Catholic last season.
In his senior season last year, starting point guard Shaquarious Baker went down with an ACL injury at a non-contact football practice.
Anderson feels fortunate for the steadying presence of the Williams as Marianna aims to improve on last season’s mark.
“That’s obviously a huge boost to get a college-level player back on any team but for a team that’s young and inexperienced as ours is it really just helps from a lot of different standpoints,” Anderson said. “It helps with leadership first of all. He can just help those guys that hadn’t been there realize what level they need to get on.”
In their initial discussion since he returned, Williams expressed a total team-first attitude to Anderson.
Williams will be utilized in a variety of ways offensively and defensively. He’ll often guard the opposing team’s best player or be at the top or backline of Marianna’s matchup zone, all while playing anywhere from shooting guard up to power forward.
“He obviously brings some scoring and athleticism and defense and all kinds of things. He said he doesn’t care [what his role is],” Anderson said. “He just wants to do what needs to be done to help us win. He said that’s what’s most important to him.”
Flanking Williams is a very deep roster of talented players. Four Marianna football players (Jaeden Harley, Anton Williams, Deontre Rhynes and Werlene Pollock) are all expected to be heavy contributors for the basketball team.
Harley will play point guard and can also spot up at shooting guard.
Pollock will play both forward positions. Anton Williams and Rhynes will both play power forward and center.
“They’re all about 6-foot-4 and very athletic. They can guard the perimeter as well as the interior,” Anderson said of Pollock, Rhynes and Anton Williams. “It won’t bother us to put them on other team’s guards.”
Anderson intends to use his depth to his advantage by trotting out ten players almost every night.
The starting lineup won’t be itched in stone. Similar to when he was coaching at Malone, where he guided the program to seven victories against nationally ranked opponents, the five starters will be based situational.
“It’s probably one of those years like I use to have at Malone where we may not start the same lineup every week,” Anderson said. “It just depends on who’s working the hardest in practice and who’s the best fit for that particular night.”
What Anderson does know for sure though is he wants the Bulldogs to be fast and aggressive.
“We’ve just tried to get them to get a real defensive mindset as a real up-tempo mindset,” Anderson said. “Because when you’re this deep it really helps you to play fast so you can play more people to take advantage of that over other teams.”
Anderson said Marianna’s poor luck with injuries last season was as bad as he’s ever seen. Now that a new season is upon them, Anderson is telling his players not to focus on the past.
“Them winning six ballgames was really nobody’s fault. Obviously Coach Blanton has done a great job in the past but when you lose those guys that he lost there’s no way to recover from that,” Anderson said. “So we’ve had to get them on a level of thinking that they can win. They’re not the same team that they were.”
Anderson believes the Bulldogs were talented enough to compete at a high level even before Williams returned. With Marianna hosting the district tournament this year, the path to the state tournament could set up favorably.
“Our goal is to get to Lakeland and see what happens when we get there. We’ve tried to play a schedule that we think will get us ready for the playoffs,” Anderson said. “That’s the goal we’ve set early on. We didn’t set those goals any differently without Herman. So then when he came back obviously it has become even more realistic.”