McClain might be the most intimidating coach in the state, and he won four consecutive state titles by demanding discipline and teamwork.
But when he realized Manual's starting lineup included a 6-2 center and forwards that stood 6-0 and 5-11, his game plan was reduced to four words.
In Frank, we trust.
"I'm a big fan of Quentin Richardson, and Corey Maggette had quite a year," McClain said. "But nobody in America had to do more for his team than Frank. I've never put so much on one player.
"Quentin had Dennis Gates and Cordell Henry. Corey had Chris Williams. We had to get on Frankie's shoulders every night. I don't think we should've been within 15 points of Milwaukee Vincent. It took some great plays by Frankie to steal it."
The mini-Rams stole some hearts along the way in outhustling physically superior opponents and defying the experts with a 27-3 record before bowing out in the supersectionals.
"When I heard I had won Mr. Basketball, I was a little surprised--but I was happy," the laid-back Williams said. "My mother started jumping around, yelling and dancing. I've never seen her act like that before.
"Quentin had a great year, won the state championship, and I figured he would get it. If it wasn't him, I thought it would be Corey, for sure. I guess people just thought they had more help than I did."
It was Manual's opponents who needed help during a one-week stretch early in the season. That's when Williams scored 40 points in a victory over Farragut, 42 in a decision over East St. Louis Lincoln and 38 in a victory over Proviso West.
"When we got to Peoria, the local media asked me how I was going to defend Frankie," Proviso West coach Mark Schneider said. "Jokingly, I said we'll do our best to hold him under 40. How did I know that's what he was averaging at the time. That kid is an amazing basketball player."
And what a reunion Williams will have in the next two years at Illinois with former Manual four-peat teammates Sergio McClain and Marcus Griffin.
McClain, Williams and Corey Bradford will form a dynamite backcourt for the Illini next season, and the following year, the 6-9 Griffin will arrive at Champaign from Lincoln College. Griffin was the junior college player of the year in Illinois after averaging 25 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and six blocks.
"I told Frank he had to keep (the Mr. Basketball award) in the family," Sergio said. "I feel like Frank is the little brother I never had. Not winning the state championship again really hurt him, and I think this will console him a little bit."
Peoria has produced such stars as Howard Nathan, David Booth, Doug Altenberger, Mike Robinson, McClain and Griffin, and Peoria Central coach Charles Buescher would put Williams at the top of that list.
"It would be real close between Williams and Nathan," Buescher said. "Frank can beat you in so many ways, and has the uncanny knack of hitting big shots.
"He is a tremendous defensive player who steals the ball four times a game, and not many guys can guard a powerful postup player and a quick point guard with equal success.
"The guy hit 11 three-pointers in one game this season and when he wasn't scoring, he was attacking the boards. He has a presence, and totally understands the game. I'd be real surprised if he doesn't become a very good college player. At least now, I can root for him."
Mr. Basketball of Illinois 1998 | Peoria Manual's Frank Williams: Frankly speaking
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
Los Angeles Times welcomes civil dialogue about our stories; you must register with the site to participate. We filter comments for language and adherence to our Terms of Service, but not for factual accuracy. By commenting, you agree to these legal terms. Please flag inappropriate comments.
Having technical problems? Check here for guidance.